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Argentina

Executive Summary

Argentina presents investment and trade opportunities, particularly in agriculture, energy, health, infrastructure, information technology, and mining. However, economic uncertainty, interventionist policies, high inflation, and persistent economic stagnation have prevented the country from maximizing its potential. Argentina fell into recession in 2018, the same year then-President Mauricio Macri signed a three-year $57 billion Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Efforts to rationalize spending contributed to Macri’s defeat by the Peronist ticket of Alberto Fernandez and former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (CFK) in 2019. The new administration took office on December 10, 2019 and reversed fiscal austerity measures, suspended the IMF program, and declared public debt levels unsustainable. The COVID-19 pandemic deepened the country´s multi-year economic recession. This led the government to intensify price, capital, and foreign trade controls, rolling back some of the market driven polices of the previous administration. After recording its ninth sovereign default in May 2020, the government of Argentina restructured international law bonds for $65 billion and domestic law bonds for $42 billion. The debt restructuring provides financial relief of $37.7 billion during the period 2020-2030, lowering average interest payments from 7 percent to 3 percent. In August 2020, the government formally notified the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of its intent to renegotiate $45 billion due to the Fund from the 2018 Stand-by Arrangement. In 2020, the Argentine peso (official rate) depreciated 29 percent, inflation reached 36 percent, the poverty rate reached 42 percent, and the economy contracted 10 percent.

The Fernandez administration’s economic agenda during 2020 focused on restructuring the country’s sovereign debt and addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The government increased taxes on foreign trade, further tightened capital controls, and initiated or renewed price control programs. The administration also expanded fiscal expenditures, which were primarily directed at mitigating the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Citing a need to preserve Argentina’s diminishing foreign exchange reserves and raise government revenues for social programs, the Fernandez administration passed a sweeping “economic emergency” law in December 2019, that included a 35 percent advance income tax plus a 30 percent tax on purchases of foreign currency and all individual expenses incurred abroad, whether in person or online.

After the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Argentina on March 3, 2020, the country imposed a strict nationwide quarantine on March 20, which became one of the longest in the world. The confinement measures were relaxed starting in the second semester of 2020, although multiple restrictions remained in place. Hotel and lodging, travel and tourism, and entertainment activities were deeply affected and were still not fully operational as of March 2021. According to estimates from the Argentine Small and Medium-Sized Confederation´s (CAME), 90,700 retail stores and 41,200 businesses permanently closed in Argentina during 2020, accounting for more than 185,300 jobs losses. As a result of the confinement measures, economic activity dropped 10 percent during 2020 compared to 2019, reaching levels similar to the 2002 economic crisis.

The Argentine government issued a series of economic relief measures, primarily focusing on the informal workers that account for 40 percent of the labor force as well as small and medium size enterprises (SMEs). The government prohibited employers from terminating employment until April 2021 and mandated a double severance payment until December 31, 2021. The government also prohibited the suspension of utility services (water, natural gas, electricity, mobile and land line services, and internet and cable TV) for failure to pay. The government’s ninth sovereign default and self-declared insolvency has limited its access to international credit, obligating it to finance pandemic-related stimulus measures and COVID-19 vaccine purchases via money printing, which may hamper its efforts to restrain inflation and maintain a stable exchange rate in the near term. The government is expected to further expand fiscal expenditures ahead of mid-term elections in October 2021.

Both domestic and foreign companies frequently point to a high and unpredictable tax burden and rigid labor laws, which make responding to changing macroeconomic conditions more difficult, as obstacles to further investment in Argentina. In July 2020, the government passed a teleworking law which imposed restrictive regulations on remote work. The law discourages companies from granting workplace flexibility and lowering labor costs via telework. In 2019, Argentina ranked 36 out of 41 countries evaluated in the Competitiveness Ranking of the World Economic Forum (WEF), which measures how productively a country uses its available resources.

As a MERCOSUR member, Argentina signed a free trade and investment agreement with the European Union (EU) in June 2019. Argentina has not ratified the agreement yet. In May 2020, Argentina proposed slowing the pace and adjusting the negotiating parameters of MERCOSUR’s ongoing trade liberalization talks with South Korea, Canada, and other partners to help protect vulnerable populations and account for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Argentina previously ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement on January 22, 2018. Argentina and the United States continue to expand bilateral commercial and economic cooperation, specifically through the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), the Commercial Dialogue, and under the Growth in the Americas initiative, in order to improve and facilitate public-private ties and communication on trade, investment, energy, and infrastructure issues, including market access and intellectual property rights. More than 300 U.S. companies operate in Argentina, and the United States continues to be the top investor in Argentina with more than USD $10.7 billion (stock) of foreign direct investment as of 2019.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 78 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 126 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 80 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 10.7 billion https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 11,130 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Government of Argentina has identified its top economic priorities for 2021 as resolving its debt situation with the IMF, controlling inflation, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by providing financial aid to the most vulnerable sectors of society. When the Fernandez administration took office in late 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Worship became the lead governmental entity for investment promotion.  The Fernandez administration does not have a formal business roundtable or other dialogue established with international investors, although it does engage with domestic and international companies.

Market regulations such as capital controls, trade restrictions, and price controls enhance economic distortion that hinders the investment climate in the country.

Foreign and domestic investors generally compete under the same conditions in Argentina. The amount of foreign investment is restricted in specific sectors such as aviation and media. Foreign ownership of rural productive lands, bodies of water, and areas along borders is also restricted.

Argentina has a National Investment and Trade Promotion Agency that provides information and consultation services to investors and traders on economic and financial conditions, investment opportunities, and Argentine laws and regulations. The agency also provides matchmaking services and organizes roadshows and trade delegations. Upon the change of administration, the government placed the Agency under the direction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to improve coordination between the Agency and Argentina´s foreign policy. The Under Secretary for Trade and Investment Promotion of the MFA works as a liaison between the Agency and provincial governments and regional organizations. The new administration also created the National Directorate for Investment Promotion under the Under Secretary for Trade and Investment Promotion, making the Directorate responsible for promoting Argentina as an investment destination. The Directorate´s mission also includes determining priority sectors and projects and helping Argentine companies expand internationally and/or attract international investment.

The agency’s web portal provides information on available services ( https://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/ ). The 23 provinces and the City of Buenos Aires also have their own provincial investment and trade promotion offices.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic commercial entities in Argentina are regulated by the Commercial Partnerships Law (Law 19,550), the Argentina Civil and Commercial Code, and rules issued by the regulatory agencies. Foreign private entities can establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity in nearly all sectors.

Full foreign equity ownership of Argentine businesses is not restricted, for the most part, with exception in the air transportation and media industries. The share of foreign capital in companies that provide commercial passenger transportation within the Argentine territory is limited to 49 percent per the Aeronautic Code Law 17,285. The company must be incorporated according to Argentine law and domiciled in Buenos Aires. In the media sector, Law 25,750 establishes a limit on foreign ownership in television, radio, newspapers, journals, magazines, and publishing companies to 30 percent.

Law 26,737 (Regime for Protection of National Domain over Ownership, Possession or Tenure of Rural Land) establishes that a foreigner cannot own land that allows for the extension of existing bodies of water or that are located near a Border Security Zone. In February 2012, the government issued Decree 274/2012 further restricting foreign ownership to a maximum of 30 percent of national land and 15 percent of productive land. Foreign individuals or foreign company ownership is limited to 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) in the most productive farming areas. In June 2016, the Government of Argentina issued Decree 820 easing the requirements for foreign land ownership by changing the percentage that defines foreign ownership of a person or company, raising it from 25 percent to 51 percent of the social capital of a legal entity. Waivers are not available.

Argentina does not maintain an investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment. U.S. investors are not at a disadvantage to other foreign investors or singled out for discriminatory treatment.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Argentina was last subject to an investment policy review by the OECD in 1997 and a trade policy review by the WTO in 2013. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has not done an investment policy review of Argentina.

Business Facilitation

In 2019, stemming from the country’s deteriorating financial and economic situation, the Argentine government re-imposed capital controls on business and consumers, limiting their access to foreign exchange.  Strict capital controls and increases in taxes on exports and imports the Argentine government instituted at the end of 2019 have generated uncertainty in the business climate.

With the stated aim of keeping inflation under control and avoiding production shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government increased market interventions in 2020, creating further market distortions that may deter investment. Argentina currently has two consumer goods price control programs, “Precios Cuidados, a voluntary program established in 2014, and “Precios Máximos, an emergency program established in March 2020. The Argentine Congress also passed the Shelves Law (No. 27,545), which regulates the supply, display, and distribution of products on supermarket shelves and virtual stores. Key articles of the Law are still pending implementing regulations. Private companies expressed concern over the final regulatory framework of the Law, which could affect their production, distribution, and marketing business model.

In August 2020, the government issued an edict freezing prices for telecommunication services (mobile and land), cable and satellite TV, and internet services until December 2020, later extending the measure into 2021. In Argentina’s high inflation environment, companies sought a 20 to 25 percent increase, however, the regulator allowed the telecom sector a five percent rate increase as of January 2021. The health sector was also subject to limits on price increases. In February 2021, the Secretary of Trade took administrative action against major consumer firms and food producers for purportedly causing supermarket shortages by withholding production and limiting distribution. Companies are currently contesting this decision. In March 2021, the Secretary of Domestic Trade issued Resolution 237/2021 establishing a national registry to monitor the production levels, distribution, and sales of private companies. If companies fail to comply, they could be subject to fines or closure. Tighter import controls imposed by the Fernandez administration have affected the business plans of private companies that need imported inputs for production. The private sector noted increased discretion on the part of trade authorities responsible for approving import licenses.

The Ministry of Production eased bureaucratic hurdles for foreign trade through the creation of a Single Window for Foreign Trade (“VUCE” for its Spanish acronym) in 2016. The VUCE centralizes the administration of all required paperwork for the import, export, and transit of goods (e.g., certificates, permits, licenses, and other authorizations and documents). The Argentine government has not fully implemented the VUCE for use across the country. Argentina subjects imports to automatic or non-automatic licenses that are managed through the Comprehensive Import Monitoring System (SIMI, or Sistema Integral de Monitoreo de Importaciones), established in December 2015 by the National Tax Agency (AFIP by its Spanish acronym) through Resolutions 5/2015 and 3823/2015. The SIMI system requires importers to submit detailed information electronically about goods to be imported into Argentina. Once the information is submitted, the relevant Argentine government agencies can review the application through the VUCE and make any observations or request additional information. The list of products subject to non-automatic licensing has been modified several times since the beginning of the SIMI system. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government reclassified goods needed to combat the health emergency previously subject to non-automatic import licenses to automatic import licenses. Approximately 1,500 tariff lines are currently subject to non-automatic licenses.

The Argentine Congress approved an Entrepreneurs’ Law in March 2017, which allows for the creation of a simplified joint-stock company (SAS, or Sociedad por Acciones Simplificada) online within 24 hours of registration. However, in March 2020, the Fernandez administration annulled the 24-hour registration system. Industry groups said this hindered the entrepreneurship ecosystem by revoking one of the pillars of the Entrepreneurs´ Law.

In December 2020, the government issued the regulatory framework for the Knowledge Based-Economy Law, which was passed in October 2020. The Law establishes tax benefits for entrepreneurs until December 2029. The complete list of activities included in the tax benefit can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do;jsessionid=56625A2FC5152F34ECE583158D581896?id=346218 .

Foreign investors seeking to set up business operations in Argentina follow the same procedures as domestic entities without prior approval and under the same conditions as local investors. To open a local branch of a foreign company in Argentina, the parent company must be legally registered in Argentina. Argentine law requires at least two equity holders, with the minority equity holder maintaining at least a five percent interest. In addition to the procedures required of a domestic company, a foreign company establishing itself in Argentina must legalize the parent company’s documents, register the incoming foreign capital with the Argentine Central Bank, and obtain a trading license.

A company must register its name with the Office of Corporations (IGJ, or Inspección General de Justicia). The IGJ website describes the registration process and some portions can be completed online ( https://www.argentina.gob.ar/justicia/igj/guia-de-tramites ). Once the IGJ registers the company, the company must request that the College of Public Notaries submit the company’s accounting books to be certified with the IGJ. The company’s legal representative must obtain a tax identification number from AFIP, register for social security, and obtain blank receipts from another agency. Companies can register with AFIP online at www.afip.gob.ar or by submitting the sworn affidavit form No. 885 to AFIP.

Details on how to register a company can be found at the Ministry of Productive Development’s website: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion/crear-una-empresa . Instructions on how to obtain a tax identification code can be found at: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/obtener-el-cuit-por-internet .

The enterprise must also provide workers’ compensation insurance for its employees through the Workers’ Compensation Agency (ART, or Aseguradora de Riesgos del Trabajo). The company must register and certify its accounting of wages and salaries with the Secretariat of Labor, within the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security.

In April 2016, the Small Business Administration of the United States and the Ministry of Production of Argentina signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to set up small and medium sized business development centers (SBDCs) in Argentina.  Under the MOU, in June 2017, Argentina set up a SBDC in the province of Neuquén to provide small businesses with tools to improve their productivity and increase their growth.

The Ministry of Productive Development offers attendance-based courses and online training for businesses. The training menu can be viewed at: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion/capacitacion .

Outward Investment

The National Directorate for Investment Promotion under the Under Secretary for Trade and Investment Promotion at the MFA assists Argentine companies in expanding their business overseas, in coordination with the National Investment and Trade Promotion Agency. Argentina does not have any restrictions regarding domestic entities investing overseas, nor does it incentivize outward investment.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Government incentives do not make any distinction between foreign and domestic investors.

The Argentine government offers a number of investment promotion programs at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels to attract investment to specific economic sectors such as capital assets and infrastructure, innovation and technological development, and energy, with no discrimination between national or foreign-owned enterprises. Some of the investment promotion programs require investments within a specific region or locality, industry, or economic activity. Some programs offer refunds on Value-Added Tax (VAT) or other tax incentives for local production of capital goods. The Investment and International Trade Promotion Agency provides cost-free assessment and information to investors to facilitate operations in the country. Argentina’s investment promotion programs and regimes can be found at: https://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/es/inversores , https://www.investargentina.org.ar/, and https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion .

The National Fund for the Development of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises provides low- cost credit to small and medium-sized enterprises for investment projects, labor, capital, and energy efficiency improvement with no distinction between national or foreign-owned enterprises. More information can be found at: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion/financiamiento 

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Productive Development launched several financial assistance programs for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) affected by the pandemic. More information can be found at: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion/medidas-pymes-covid .

The Ministry of Productive Development supports employment training programs that are frequently free to the participants and do not differentiate based on nationality.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Argentina has two types of tax-exempt trading areas: Free Trade Zones (FTZ), which are located throughout the country, and the more comprehensive Special Customs Area (SCA), which covers all of Tierra del Fuego Province and is scheduled to expire at the end of 2023.

Argentine law defines an FTZ as a territory outside the “general customs area” (GCA, i.e., the rest of Argentina) where neither the inflows nor outflows of exported final merchandise are subject to tariffs, non-tariff barriers, or other taxes on goods. Goods produced within a FTZ generally cannot be shipped to the GCA unless they are capital goods not produced in the rest of the country. The labor, sanitary, ecological, safety, criminal, and financial regulations within FTZs are the same as those that prevail in the GCA. Foreign firms receive national treatment in FTZs.

Merchandise shipped from the GCA to a FTZ may receive export incentive benefits, if applicable, only after the goods are exported from the FTZ to a third country destination. Merchandise shipped from the GCA to a FTZ and later exported to another country is not exempt from export taxes. Any value added in an FTZ or re-export from an FTZ is exempt from export taxes. For more information on FTZ in Argentina see: http://www.afip.gob.ar/zonasFrancas/ .

Products manufactured in the SCA may enter the GCA free from taxes or tariffs. In addition, the government may enact special regulations that exempt products shipped through the SCA (but not manufactured therein) from all forms of taxation except excise taxes. The SCA program provides benefits for established companies that meet specific production and employment objectives.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The Argentine national government does not have local employment mandates nor does it apply such schemes to senior management or boards of directors. However, certain provincial governments do require employers to hire a certain percentage of their workforce from provincial residents. There are no excessively onerous visa, residence, work permit, or similar requirements inhibiting mobility of foreign investors and their employees. Under Argentine law, conditions to invest are equal for national and foreign investors. As of March 2018, citizens of MERCOSUR countries can obtain legal residence within five months and at little cost, which grants permission to work. Argentina suspended its method for expediting this process in early 2018.

Argentina has local content requirements for specific sectors. Requirements are applicable to domestic and foreign investors equally. Argentine law establishes a national preference for local industry for most government procurement if the domestic supplier’s tender is no more than five to seven percent higher than the foreign tender. The amount by which the domestic bid may exceed a foreign bid depends on the size of the domestic company making the bid. In May 2018, Argentina issued Law 27,437, giving additional priority to Argentine small and medium-sized enterprises and, separately, requiring that foreign companies that win a tender must subcontract domestic companies to cover 20 percent of the value of the work. The preference applies to procurement by all government agencies, public utilities, and concessionaires.  There is similar legislation at the sub-national (provincial) level.

In November 2016, the government passed a public-private partnership (PPP) law (27,328) that regulates public-private contracts. The law lowered regulatory barriers to foreign investment in public infrastructure projects with the aim of attracting more foreign direct investment. Several projects under the PPP initiative have been canceled or put on hold due to an ongoing investigation on corruption in public works projects during the last administration. The PPP law contains a “Buy Argentina” clause that mandates at least 33 percent local content for every public project.

Argentina is not a signatory to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA), but it became an observer to the GPA in February 1997.

In July 2016, the Ministry of Production and Labor and the Ministry of Energy and Mining issued Joint Resolutions 123 and 313, which allow companies to obtain tax benefits on purchases of solar or wind energy equipment for use in investment projects that incorporate at least 60 percent local content in their electromechanical installations.  In cases where local supply is insufficient to reach the 60 percent threshold, the threshold can be reduced to 30 percent.  The resolutions also provide tax exemptions for imports of capital and intermediate goods that are not locally produced for use in the investment projects.

In 2016, Argentina passed law 27,263, implemented by Resolution 599-E/2016, which provides tax credits to automotive manufacturers for the purchase of locally-produced automotive parts and accessories incorporated into specific types of vehicles. The tax credits range from 4 percent to 15 percent of the value of the purchased parts.  The list of vehicle types included in the regime can be found here: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/260000-264999/263955/norma.htm . In 2018, Argentina issued Resolution 28/2018, simplifying the procedure for obtaining the tax credits. The resolution also establishes that if the national content drops below the minimum required by the resolution because of relative price changes due to exchange rate fluctuations, automotive manufacturers will not be considered non-compliant with the regime. However, the resolution sets forth that tax benefits will be suspended for the quarter when the drop was registered.

The Media Law, enacted in 2009 and amended in 2015, requires companies to produce advertising and publicity materials locally or to include 60 percent local content. The Media Law also establishes a 70 percent local production content requirement for companies with radio licenses. Additionally, the Media Law requires that 50 percent of the news and 30 percent of the music that is broadcast on the radio be of Argentine origin. In the case of private television operators, at least 60 percent of broadcast content must be of Argentine origin. Of that 60 percent, 30 percent must be local news and 10 to 30 percent must be local independent content.

Argentina establishes percentages of local content in the production process for manufacturers of mobile and cellular radio communication equipment operating in Tierra del Fuego province.  Resolution 66/2018 maintains the local content requirement for products such as technical manuals, packaging, and labeling. The percentage of local content required ranges from 10 percent to 100 percent depending on the process or item. In cases where local supply is insufficient to meet local content requirements, companies may apply for an exemption that is subject to review every six months. A detailed description of local content percentage requirements can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do;jsessionid=0CA1B74C2D7EC353E66F1CC6CFD8B41D?id=255494 .

There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption, nor does the government prevent companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the country’s territory.

Argentina does not have forced localization of content in technology or requirements of data storage in country.

There is no discrimination between domestic and foreign investors in investment incentives. There are no performance requirements. A complete guide of incentives for investors in Argentina can be found at: https://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/es/inversores .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Argentine Constitution sets as a general principle that foreign investors have the same status and the same rights as local investors. Foreign investors have free access to domestic and international financing.

Argentina’s economic recession began in 2018 and deepened further in 2019 after the presidential primary election. To slow the outflow of dollars from its reserves, in September 2019 the Argentine Central Bank introduced tight capital controls prohibiting transfers and payments that are likely in conflict with IMF Article VIII and tightened them thereafter. The Argentine government also implemented price controls and trade restrictions. In December 2019, the Fernandez administration passed an economic emergency law that created new taxes, increased export duties, and delegated broad powers to the Executive Branch, with the objectives of increasing social spending for the most vulnerable populations and negotiating revised terms for Argentina’s sovereign debt. These measures deteriorated the investment climate for local and foreign investors.

In April 2020, the government issued a decree postponing debt payments (both interest and principal) of dollar-denominated debt issued under local law until December 31, 2020. In May 2020, Argentina recorded its ninth sovereign default.

The government of Argentina restructured international law bonds for $65 billion and domestic law bonds for $42 billion in September 2020 bringing financial relief of $37.7 billion over the period 2020-2030. In August 2020, the government of Argentina formally notified the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of its intent to renegotiate $45 billion due to the Fund from the 2018 Stand-By Arrangement starting in 2021.

The Argentine Securities and Exchange Commission (CNV or Comisión Nacional de Valores) is the federal agency that regulates securities markets offerings. Securities and accounting standards are transparent and consistent with international norms. Foreign investors have access to a variety of options on the local market to obtain credit. Nevertheless, the domestic credit market is small – credit is 16 percent of GDP, according to the World Bank. To mitigate the recessionary impact of the COVID-19 crisis, the government introduced low-cost lending credit lines (carrying negative real interest rates), and the Central Bank reduced banks’ minimum reserve requirements to encourage banks to expand credit, particularly to SMEs. The Buenos Aires Stock Exchange is the organization responsible for the operation of Argentina’s primary stock exchange, located in Buenos Aires city. The most important index of the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange is the MERVAL (Mercado de Valores).

U.S. banks, securities firms, and investment funds are well-represented in Argentina and are dynamic players in local capital markets. In 2003, the government began requiring foreign banks to disclose to the public the nature and extent to which their foreign parent banks guarantee their branches or subsidiaries in Argentina.

Money and Banking System

Argentina has a relatively sound banking sector based on diversified revenues, well-contained operating costs, and a high liquidity level. Argentina’s banking sector has been resilient in the face of a multi-year economic contraction. Supported by government measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, credit to the private sector in local currency (for both corporations and individuals) increased 10 percent in real terms in 2020. Non-performing private sector loans constitute less than four percent of banks’ portfolios. However, the performance of the financial system has largely been driven by a series of temporary counter-cyclical measures, namely subsidized government-backed loans for small businesses. The banking sector is well positioned due to macro and micro-prudential policies introduced since 2002 that have helped to reduce asset-liability mismatches. The sector is highly liquid and its exposure to the public sector is modest, while its provisions for bad debts are adequate.

Private banks have total assets of approximately ARS 6.1 billion (USD $65 billion). Total financial system assets are approximately ARS 9.9 billion (USD $105 billion). The Central Bank of Argentina acts as the country’s financial agent and is the main regulatory body for the banking system.

Foreign banks and branches can establish operations in Argentina. They are subject to the same regulation as local banks. Argentina’s Central Bank has many correspondent banking relationships, none of which are known to have been lost in the past three years.

In November 2020, the Central Bank launched a new payment system, “Transfers 3.0,” seeking to reduce the use of cash. This system will boost digital payments and further financial inclusion in Argentina, expanding the reach of instant transfers to build an open and universal digital payment ecosystem.

The Central Bank has enacted a resolution recognizing cryptocurrencies and requiring that they comply with local banking and tax laws. No implementing regulations have been adopted. Block chain developers report that several companies in the financial services sector are exploring or considering using block chain-based programs externally and are using some such programs internally.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Beginning in September 2019 and throughout 2020, the Argentine government and Central Bank issued a series of decrees and norms regulating and restricting access to foreign exchange markets.

As of October 2019, the Central Bank (Notice A6815) limits cash withdrawals made abroad with local debit cards to foreign currency bank accounts owned by the client in Argentina. Pursuant to Notice A6823, cash advances made abroad from local credit cards are limited to a maximum of USD $50 per transaction.

As of September 2020, and pursuant to Notice A7106, Argentine individuals can purchase no more than USD $200 per month on a rolling monthly basis. However, purchases abroad with credit and debit cards will be deducted from the USD $200 per month quota. While no limit on credit/debit card purchases is imposed, if the monthly expenses surpass the USD $200 limit, the deduction will be carried over to subsequent months until the amount acquired is completed. Also, the regulation prohibits individual recipients of government assistance programs and high-ranking federal government officials from purchasing foreign exchange. Purchases above the USD $200 limit require Central Bank approval. Pursuant to Public Emergency Law 27,541, issued December 23, 2019, all dollar purchases and individual expenses incurred abroad, in person or online, including international online purchases from Argentina, paid with credit or debit cards will be subject to a 30 percent tax. Pursuant to AFIP Resolution 4815 a 35 percent withholding tax in advance of the payment of income and/or wealth tax is also applied.

Non-Argentine residents are required to obtain prior Central Bank approval to purchase more than USD $100 per month, except for certain bilateral or international organizations, institutions and agencies, diplomatic representation, and foreign tribunals.

Companies and individuals need to obtain prior clearance from the Central Bank before transferring funds abroad. In the case of individuals, if transfers are made from their own foreign currency accounts in Argentina to their own accounts abroad, they do not need to obtain Central Bank approval.

Per Notice A6869 issued by the Central Bank in January 2020, companies will be able to repatriate dividends without Central Bank authorization equivalent to a maximum of 30 percent of new foreign direct investment made by the company in the country. To promote foreign direct investment the Central Bank announced in October 2020 (Notice A7123) that it will allow free access to the official foreign exchange market to repatriate investments as long as the capital contribution was transferred and sold in Argentine Pesos through the foreign exchange market as of October 2, 2020 and the repatriation takes place at least two years after the transfer and settlement of those funds.

Exporters of goods are required to transfer the proceeds from exports to Argentina and settle in pesos in the foreign currency market. Exporters must settle according to the following terms: exporters with affiliates (irrespective of the type of good exported) and exporters of certain goods (including cereals, seeds, minerals, and precious metals, among others) must convert their foreign currency proceeds to pesos within 15 days (or 30 days for some products) after the issuance of the permit for shipment; other exporters have 180 days to settle in pesos. Despite these deadlines, exporters must transfer the funds to Argentina and settle in pesos within five business days from the actual collection of funds. Argentine residents are required to transfer to Argentina and settle in pesos the proceeds from services exports rendered to non-Argentine residents that are paid in foreign currency either in Argentina or abroad, within five business days from collection of funds.

Payment of imports of goods and services from third parties and affiliates require Central Bank approval if the company needs to purchase foreign currency. Since May 2020, the Central Bank requires importers to submit an affidavit stating that the total amount of payments associated with the import of goods made during the year (including the payment that is being requested). The total amount of payments for importation of goods should also include the payments for amortizations of lines of credit and/or commercial guarantees.

In September 2020, the Central Bank limited companies’ ability to purchase foreign currency to cancel any external financial debt (including other intercompany debt) and dollar denominated local securities offerings. Companies were granted access to foreign currency for up to 40 percent of the principal amount coming due from October 15, 2020 to December 31, 2020. For the remaining 60 percent of the debt, companies had to file a refinancing plan with the Central Bank. In February 2021, the Central Bank extended the regulation to include debt maturing up to December 31, 2021. Indebtedness with international organizations or their associated agencies or guaranteed by them and indebtedness granted by official credit agencies or guaranteed by them are exempted from this restriction.

The Central Bank (Notice A7001) prohibited access to the foreign exchange market to pay for external indebtedness, imports of goods and services, and saving purposes for individuals and companies that have made sales of securities with settlement in foreign currency or transfers of these to foreign depositary entities within the last 90 days. They also should not make any of these transactions for the following 90 days.

Pre-cancellation of debt coming due abroad in more than three business days requires Central Bank approval to purchase dollars.

Per Resolution 36,162 of October 2011, locally registered insurance companies are mandated to maintain all investments and cash equivalents in the country. The Central Bank limits banks’ dollar-denominated asset holdings to 5 percent of their net worth.

In January 2020, the Central Bank presented its monetary policy framework showing that monetary and financial policies will be subject to the government’s objective of addressing current social and economic challenges. In particular, the Central Bank acknowledged that it would continue to provide direct financial support to the government (in foreign and domestic currency) as external credit markets remain closed. The Central Bank determined that a managed exchange rate is a valid instrument to avoid sharp fluctuations in relative prices, international competitiveness, and income distribution. The Central Bank also noted the exchange rate policy should also facilitate the preemptive accumulation of international reserves.

Remittance Policies

In response to the economic crisis in Argentina, the government introduced capital controls in September 2019 and tightened them in 2020.  Under these restrictions, companies in Argentina (including local affiliates of foreign parent companies) must obtain prior approval from the Central Bank to access the foreign exchange market to purchase foreign currency and to transfer funds abroad for the payment of dividends and profits.  In January 2020, the Central Bank amended the regime for the payment of dividends abroad to non-residents. The new regime allows companies to access the foreign exchange market to transfer profits and dividends abroad without prior authorization of the Central Bank, provided the following conditions are met:

  1. Profits and dividends are be declared in closed and audited financial statements.
  2. The dividends in foreign currency should not exceed the dividends determined by the shareholders’ meeting in local currency.
  3. The total amount of dividends to be transferred cannot exceed 30 percent of the amount of new capital contributions made by non-residents into local companies since January 2020.
  4. The resident entity must be in compliance with filing the Central Bank Survey of External Assets and Liabilities.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Argentine government does not maintain a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The Argentine government has state-owned enterprises (SOEs) or significant stakes in mixed-capital companies in the following sectors: civil commercial aviation, water and sanitation, oil and gas, electricity generation, transport, paper production, satellite, banking, railway, shipyard, and aircraft ground handling services.

By Argentine law, a company is considered a public enterprise if the state owns 100 percent of the company’s shares. The state has majority control over a company if the state owns 51 percent of the company’s shares. The state has minority participation in a company if the state owns less than 51 percent of the company’s shares. Laws regulating SOEs and enterprises with state participation can be found at http://www.saij.gob.ar/13653-nacional-regimen-empresas-estado-lns0001871-1955-03-23/123456789-0abc-defg-g17-81000scanyel .

Through the government’s social security agency (ANSES), the Argentine government owns stakes ranging from one to 31 percent in 46 publicly listed companies. U.S. investors also own shares in some of these companies. As part of the ANSES takeover of Argentina’s private pension system in 2008, the government agreed to commit itself to being a passive investor in the companies and limit the exercise of its voting rights to 5 percent, regardless of the equity stake the social security agency owned. A list of such enterprises can be found at: http://fgs.anses.gob.ar/participacion .

State-owned enterprises purchase and supply goods and services from the private sector and foreign firms. Private enterprises may compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to market share, products/services, and incentives. Private enterprises also have access to financing terms and conditions similar to SOEs. SOEs are subject to the same tax burden and tax rebate policies as their private sector competitors. SOEs are not currently subject to firm budget constraints under the law and have been subsidized by the central government in the past. Between 2016 and 2019, the Government of Argentina reduced subsidies in the energy, water, and transportation sectors. However, in 2019 the Government postponed its subsidy reduction program and redesigned it several times, citing pressing macroeconomic issues. During 2020 subsidies increased to maintain a tariff freeze on public services given the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 budget targets a reduction in subsidies in an effort to contain spending. Argentina does not have regulations that differentiate treatment of SOEs and private enterprises. Argentina has observer status under the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement and, as such, SOEs are subject to the conditions of Argentina’s observance.

Argentina does not have a specified ownership policy, guideline or governance code for how the government exercises ownership of SOEs. The country generally adheres to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs. The practices for SOEs are mainly in compliance with the policies and practices for transparency and accountability in the OECD Guidelines. In 2018, the OECD released a report evaluating the corporate governance framework for the Argentine SOE sector relative to the OECD Guidelines, which can be viewed here: http://www.oecd.org/countries/argentina/oecd-review-corporate-governance-soe-argentina.htm .

Argentina does not have a centralized ownership entity that exercises ownership rights for each of the SOEs. The general rule in Argentina is that requirements that apply to all listed companies also apply to publicly-listed SOEs.

Privatization Program

The current administration has not developed a privatization program.

10. Political and Security Environment

Demonstrations are common in metropolitan Buenos Aires and in other major cities and rural areas. Nevertheless, political violence is not widely considered a hindrance to the investment climate in Argentina.

Protesters regularly block streets, highways, and major intersections, causing traffic jams and delaying travel. While demonstrations are usually non-violent, individuals sometimes seek confrontation with the police and vandalize private property. Groups occasionally protest in front of the U.S. Embassy or U.S.-affiliated businesses. In February 2016, the Ministry of Security approved a National Anti-Street Pickets Protocol that provides guidelines to prevent the blockage of major streets and public facilities during demonstrations. However, this protocol did not often apply to venues within the City of Buenos Aires (CABA), which fall under the city’s jurisdiction. The CABA government often did not enforce security protocols against illegal demonstrations.

In December 2017, while Congress had called an extraordinary session to address the retirement system reforms, several demonstrations against the bill turned violent, causing structural damage to public and private property, injuries to 162 people (including 88 policemen), and arrests of 60 people. The demonstrations ultimately dissipated, and the government passed the bill.

Union disputes and politicized worker movements are common in CABA and the Provinces. In 2019 and early 2020, foreign-owned diamond mining companies in Neuquén were targeted by work stoppages and insider attacks in failed attempts to intimidate and force employers to increase salaries and benefits. These protesters were seemingly allowed to act without fear of response from local police forces, even after direct requests for assistance had been made. The companies believe the unions and protesters feel emboldened by the government’s stance towards Western companies and were forced to shut down operations for weeks in December 2019 and January 2020, in fear of the safety of their personnel at the local headquarters.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $361,496 2019 $445.445 www.worldbank.org/en/country

www.indec.gob.ar

Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 N/A 2019 $10.7 billion BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 N/A 2019 $561 million BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 N/A 2019 1.4% UNCTAD data available at

https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html

* Source for Host Country Data:

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 70,458 100% Total Outward 42,671 100%
United States 17,210 24.44% Uruguay 17,319 40.59%
Spain 10,481 24.43% United States 5,041 11.81%
Netherlands 6,949 9.87% Paraguay 1,908 4.47%
Brazil 3,984 5.65% Mexico 1,273 2.98%
Germany 3,467 4.92% Brazil 801 1.88%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 31,304 100% All Countries 18,978 100% All Countries 12,326 100%
United States 30,654 98% United States 18,685 98% United States 11,969 97%
Brazil 85 1% Brazil 111 1% Brazil 231 2%
Luxembourg 83 0% Luxembourg 85 0% Germany 83 1%
Germany 51 0% Canada 51 0% Chile 6 0%
Canada 27 0% Russia 11 0% Ireland 3 0%

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section
U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires
Avenida Colombia 4300
(C1425GMN)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
+54-11-5777-474
ECONBA@state.gov

Bolivia

Executive Summary

In general, Bolivia is open to foreign direct investment (FDI). In 2019, gross FDI flows received reached USD 560 million, lower than in 2018, while divestment reached USD 720 million, making net FDI received negative USD 160 million.  FDI flows were greatest in the sectors of hydrocarbons, manufacturing, industry, and commerce, together representing 81% of the total. Additional sectors receiving some FDI included the transport sector, storage and communications, insurance companies, and real estate services.

The year 2020 was characterized by a high degree of economic, political and social uncertainty in Bolivia.  After Bolivia’s October 2019 elections were annulled, the transitional government had little political authority to make policy changes.  New elections occurred in October 2020, with the new government taking office in November.  The pandemic-induced global economic slowdown led to a contraction of GDP in Bolivia of -7.7%.  Bolivia was the fastest growing economy in the region for five consecutive years through 2018, when growth fell to 2.2% due largely to lower demand, supply, and world natural gas prices, which led to a drop in gas export earnings.

U.S. companies interested in investing in Bolivia should note that in 2012 Bolivia abrogated the Bilateral Investment Treaties (BIT) it signed with the U.S. and a number of other countries.  The Bolivian Government claimed the abrogation was necessary for Bolivia to comply with the 2009 Constitution.  Companies that invested under the U.S. – Bolivia BIT will be covered until June 10, 2022, but investments made after June 10, 2012 are not covered.

Notwithstanding the uncertain political situation, Bolivia’s investment climate has remained relatively steady over the past several years.  Lack of legal security, corruption allegations, and unclear investment incentives are all impediments to investment in Bolivia.  At the moment, there is no significant foreign direct investment from the United States in Bolivia, and there are no initiatives designed specifically to encourage U.S. investment.  But Bolivia’s current macroeconomic stability, abundant natural resources, and strategic location in the heart of South America make it a country to watch.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 124 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 150 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 105 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 USD 556 https://www.bea.gov/data/economic-accounts/international 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 3,520 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

In 2019, the investment rate as percentage of GDP (19 percent) was in line with regional averages.  There has also been a shift from private to public investment.  In recent years private investment was particularly low because of the deterioration of the business environment.  From 2006 to 2019, private investment, including local and foreign investment, averaged 8 percent of GDP.  In contrast, from 2006 to the present, public investment grew significantly, reaching an annual average of 11 percent of GDP through 2019.

FDI is highly concentrated in natural resources, especially hydrocarbons and mining, which account for nearly two-thirds of FDI.  Since 2006 the net flow of FDI averaged 2.4 percent of GDP.  Before 2006 it averaged around 6.7 percent of GDP.

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

In general, Bolivia remains open to FDI.  The 2014 investment law guarantees equal treatment for national and foreign firms.  However, it also stipulates that public investment has priority over private investment (both national and foreign) and that the Bolivian Government will determine which sectors require private investment.

U.S. companies interested in investing in Bolivia should note that in 2012 Bolivia abrogated the BIT it signed with the United States and a number of other countries.  The Bolivian Government of former President Evo Morales claimed the abrogation was necessary for Bolivia to comply with the 2009 Constitution.  Companies that invested under the U.S. –Bolivia BIT will be covered until June 10, 2022, but investments made after June 10, 2012 are not covered.

Pursuant to Article 320 of the 2009 Constitution, Bolivia no longer recognizes international arbitration forums for disputes involving the government.  The parties also cannot settle the dispute in an international court.  However, the implementation of this article is still uncertain.

Specifically, Article 320 of the Bolivian Constitution states:

  1. Bolivian investment takes priority over foreign investment.
  2. Every foreign investment will be subject to Bolivian jurisdiction, laws, and authorities, and no one may invoke a situation for exception, nor appeal to diplomatic claims to obtain more favorable treatment.
  3. Economic relations with foreign states or enterprises shall be conducted under conditions of independence, mutual respect and equity.  More favorable conditions may not be granted to foreign states or enterprises than those established for Bolivians.
  4. The state makes all decisions on internal economic policy independently and will not accept demands or conditions imposed on this policy by states, banks or Bolivian or foreign financial institutions, multilateral entities or transnational enterprises.
  5. Public policies will promote internal consumption of products made in Bolivia.

Article 262 of the Constitution states:

“The fifty kilometers from the border constitute the zone of border security.  No foreign person, individual, or company may acquire property in this space, directly or indirectly, nor possess any property right in the waters, soil or subsoil, except in the case of state necessity declared by express law approved by two thirds of the Plurinational Legislative Assembly.  The property or the possession affected in case of non-compliance with this prohibition will pass to the benefit of the state, without any indemnity.”

The judicial system faces a huge backlog of cases, is short staffed, lacks resources, has problems with corruption, and is believed to be influenced by political actors.  Swift resolution of cases, either initiated by investors or against them, is unlikely.  The Marcelo Quiroga Anti-Corruption law of 2010 makes companies and their signatories criminally liable for breach of contract with the government, and the law can be applied retroactively.  Authorities can use this threat of criminal prosecution to force settlement of disputes.  Commercial disputes can often lead to criminal charges and cases are often processed slowly.  See our Human Rights Report as background on the judicial system, labor rights and other important issues.

Article 129 of the Bolivian Arbitration Law No. 708, established that all controversies and disputes that arise regarding investment in Bolivia will have to be addressed inside Bolivia under Bolivian Laws.  Consequently, international arbitration is not allowed for disputes involving the Bolivian Government or state-owned enterprises.

Bolivia does not currently have an investment promotion agency to facilitate foreign investment.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There is a right for foreign and domestic private entities to establish and own business enterprises and engage in remunerative activity.

There are some areas where investors may judge that preferential treatment is being given to their Bolivian competitors, for example in key sectors where private companies compete with state owned enterprises.  Additionally, foreign investment is not allowed in matters relating directly to national security.

The Constitution specifies that all hydrocarbon resources are the property of the Bolivian people and that the state will assume control over their exploration, exploitation, industrialization, transport, and marketing (Articles 348 and 351).  The state-owned and operated company, Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB) manages hydrocarbons transport and sales and is responsible for ensuring that the domestic market demand is satisfied at prices set by the hydrocarbons regulator before allowing any hydrocarbon exports.  YPFB benefitted from government action in 2006 that required operators to turn over their production to YPFB and to sign new contracts that gave YPFB control over the distribution of gasoline, diesel, and liquid petroleum gas (LPG) to gas stations.  The law allows YPFB to enter into joint venture contracts with national or foreign individuals or companies wishing to exploit or trade hydrocarbons or their derivatives.  For companies working in the industry, contracts are negotiated on a service contract basis and there are no restrictions on ownership percentages of the companies providing the services.

The Constitution (Article 366) specifies that every foreign enterprise that conducts activities in the hydrocarbons production chain will submit to the sovereignty of the state, and to the laws and authority of the state.  No foreign court case or foreign jurisdiction will be recognized, and foreign investors may not invoke any exceptional situation for international arbitration, nor appeal to diplomatic claims.

According to the Constitution, no concessions or contracts may transfer the ownership of natural resources or other strategic industries to private interests.  Instead, temporary authorizations to use these resources may be requested at the pertinent ministry (Mining, Water and Environment, Public Works, etc.).  The Bolivian Government needs to renegotiate commercial agreements related to forestry, mining, telecommunications, electricity, and water services, in order to comply with these regulations.

The Telecommunications, Technology and Communications General Law from 2012 (Law 164, Article 28) stipulates that the licenses for radio broadcasts will not be given to foreign persons or entities.  Further, in the case of broadcasting associations, the share of foreign investors cannot exceed 25 percent of the total investment, except in those cases approved by the state or by international treaties.

The Central Bank of Bolivia is responsible for registering all foreign investments.  According to the 2014 investment law, any investment will be monitored by the ministry related to the particular sector.  For example, the Mining Ministry is in charge of overseeing all public and private mining investments.  Each Ministry assesses industry compliance with the incentive objectives.  To date, only the Ministry of Hydrocarbons and Energy has enacted a Law (N 767) to incentivize the exploration and production of hydrocarbons.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Bolivia underwent a World Trade Organization (WTO) trade policy review in 2017.  In his concluding remarks, the Chairperson noted that several WTO members raised challenges impacting investor confidence in Bolivia, due primarily to Bolivia’s abrogation of 22 BITs following the passage of its 2009 constitution.  However, some WTO members also commended Bolivia for enacting a new investment promotion law in 2014 and a law on conciliation and arbitration, both of which increased legal certainty for investors, according to those members.

Business Facilitation

According to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 rankings, Bolivia ranks 150 out of 190 countries on the ease of doing business, much lower than most countries in the region.  Bolivia ranks 175 out of 190 on the ease of starting a business.

FUNDEMPRESA is a mixed public/private organization authorized by the central government to register and certify new businesses.  Its website is www.fundempresa.org.bo and the business registration process is laid out clearly within the tab labeled “processes, requirements and forms.”  However the registration cannot be completed entirely online. A user can download the required forms from the site and can fill them out online but then has to mail the completed forms or deliver them to the relevant offices.  A foreign applicant would be able to use the registration forms.  The forms do ask for a “cedula de identidad,” which is a national identification document; however, foreign users usually enter their passport numbers instead.  Once a company submits all documents required to FUNDEMPRESA, the process takes between 2-4 working days.

The steps to register a business are: (1) register and receive a certificate from Fundempresa; (2) register with the Bolivian Internal Revenue Service (Servicio de Impuestos Nacionales) and receive a tax identification number; (3) register and receive authorization to operate from the municipal government in which the company will be established; (4) if the company has employees, it must register with the national health insurance service and the national retirement pension agency in order to contribute on the employees’ behalf;  and (5) if the company has employees, it must register with the Ministry of Labor.  According to Fundempresa, the process should take 30 days from start to finish.  All steps are required and there is no simplified business creation regime.

Outward Investment

The Bolivian Government does not promote or incentivize outward investment.  Nor does the government restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

In an effort to attract more investment, the government enacted an investment law in 2014, which says that each Ministry will provide incentives for sector-specific investment.

Article 14 of the 2014 investment law requires technology transfer from foreign companies operating in Bolivia to Bolivian workers and institutions.  The law also specifies that Bolivians should work in operational, administrative, and executive offices of foreign companies.  Also, companies investing in Bolivia should donate equipment and machinery to universities and technical schools in the same area as the investment, and conduct research activities that will find solutions that contribute to public welfare.

Article 21 of the investment law stipulates that the government can incentivize investment in certain sectors that contribute to the economic and social development of the country.

Law 767 from 2015 aims to promote investments in the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons.  However, many companies considered this regulation as skewed to production and insufficient to incentivize new exploration.  In 2016, Supreme Decree 2830 was issued, providing a 12 percent reduction in the payment of the direct tax on hydrocarbons and other incentives in order to better incentive exploration.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

In 2016, Supreme Decree 2779 was enacted, approving regulations for a new system of free trade zones in Bolivia.  The decree establishes a period of one year for existing free trade zones to transform into free industrial zones, which allow for industrial operations and assembly.  Free industrial zones exist in El Alto, Patacamaya, Oruro, Puerto Suarez, and Warnes.  Cobija is the only remaining free trade zone under this new system, with operations approved until 2038.  Concessions within free industrial zones are 15 years in duration and renewable.  The decree also eased customs procedures for goods entering the zones and established stronger government support for the promotion of productive investments in the zones.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Bolivian labor law requires businesses to limit foreign employees to 15 percent of their total work force and requires that such foreign hires be part of the technical staff.  These workers require a work visa that can be obtained in any Bolivian consulate, and in the case that they work for a Bolivian company, both the company and the workers should also contribute to the Bolivian Pension System (Pension Law Article 104.1)

Supreme Decree 27328 regulates national and local level government procurement, which give priority to national sourcing.  If an item required is not produced in Bolivia, buying decisions are made based on price.  Supreme Decree 28271 (Article 10), establishes the following preference margins for sourcing with Bolivian products:

Except for national tenders, 10 percent preference margin for Bolivian products regardless of the origin of materials.

For national public tenders, if the cost of Bolivian materials represents more than 50 percent of the total cost of the product, the producers receive a 10 percent preference margin over other sellers.

In national and international public tenders, if Bolivian inputs and labor represent more than the 50 percent of the total cost of the product, the seller receives a 25 percent preference margin over other sellers.  If the Bolivian inputs and labor represent between 30 percent and 50 percent of the total cost of the product, the seller receives a 15 percent preference margin over other sellers.

Under the Bolivian Criminal Code (Article 226), it is a crime to raise or lower the price of a product based on false information, interests, or actions.  For those caught doing so, punishment is six months to three years in prison.  It is also a crime to hoard or conceal products in order to raise prices.  The Bolivian Government has applied these provisions in a number of cases, applying regulations that allow them to request accounting records and audit companies’ financial actions looking for evidence of speculation.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The government’s general attitude toward foreign portfolio investment is neutral.  Established Bolivian firms may issue short or medium-term debt in local capital markets, which act primarily as secondary markets for fixed-return securities.  Bolivian capital markets have sought to expand their handling of local corporate bond issues and equity instruments.  Over the last few years, several Bolivian companies and some foreign firms have been able to raise funds through local capital markets.  However, the stock exchange is small and is highly concentrated in bonds and debt instruments (more than 95 percent of transactions).  The amount of total transactions in 2020 was around 35 percent of GDP.

From 2008-2019, the financial markets experienced high liquidity, which led to historically low interest rates.  However, liquidity has been more limited in recent years, and there are some pressures to increase interest rates.  The Bolivian financial system is not well integrated with the international system and there is only one foreign bank among the top ten banks of Bolivia.

In October 2012, Bolivia returned to global credit markets for the first time in nearly a century, selling USD 500 million worth of 10-year bonds at the New York Stock Exchange.  The sovereign bonds were offered with an interest rate of 4.875 percent and demand for the bonds well surpassed the offer, reaching USD 1.5 billion.  U.S. financial companies Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, and Goldman Sachs were the lead managers of the deal.  In 2013, Bolivia sold another USD 500 million at 5.95 percent for ten years.  HSBC, Bank of America, and Merrill Lynch were the lead managers of the deal.  In 2017, Bolivia sold another USD 1 billion at 4.5 percent for ten years, with Bank of America and JP Morgan managing the deal.  The resources gained from the sales were largely used to finance infrastructure projects.  A sovereign bond issuance of up to $3 billion was approved by the National Assembly for 2021 but had not yet occurred as of May 2021.

The government and central bank respect their obligations under IMF Article VIII, as the exchange system is free of restrictions on payments and transfers for international transactions.

Foreign investors legally established in Bolivia are able to get credits on the local market.  However, due to the size of the market, large credits are rare and may require operations involving several banks.  Credit access through other financial instruments is limited to bond issuances in the capital market.  The 2013 Financial Services Law directs credit towards the productive sectors and caps interest rates.

Money and Banking System

The Bolivian banking system is small, composed of 16 banks, 6 banks specialized in mortgage lending, 3 private financial funds, 30 savings and credit cooperatives, and 8 institutions specialized in microcredit.  Of the total number of personal deposits made in Bolivia through December 2020 (USD 29 billion), the banking sector accounted for 80 percent of the total financial system.  Similarly, of the total loans and credits made to private individuals (USD 28 billion) through December 2020, 80 percent were made by the banking sector, while private financial funds and the savings and credit cooperatives accounted for the other 20 percent.

Bolivian banks have developed the capacity to adjudicate credit risk and evaluate expected rates of return in line with international norms.  The banking sector was stable and healthy with delinquency rates at less than 2.0 percent in 2020. In 2020, delinquency rates rose after the government permitted clients to defer bank loan payments until June 2021 without penalty as a mitigating measure for the COVID-19 pandemic.  While delinquency rates still remain relatively low, there are concerns this measure could potentially harm the banking sector’s stability.

In 2013, a new Financial Services Law entered into force.  This new law enacted major changes to the banking sector, including deposit rate floors and lending rate ceilings, mandatory lending allocations to certain sectors of the economy and an upgrade of banks’ solvency requirements in line with the international Basel standards.  The law also requires banks to spend more on improving consumer protection, as well as providing increased access to financing in rural parts of the country.

Credit is now allocated on government-established rates for productive activities, but foreign investors may find it difficult to qualify for loans from local banks due to the requirement that domestic loans be issued exclusively against domestic collateral.  Since commercial credit is generally extended on a short-term basis, most foreign investors prefer to obtain credit abroad.  Most Bolivian borrowers are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

In 2007, the government created a Productive Development Bank (Banco de Desarrollo Productivo) to boost the production of small, medium-sized and family-run businesses.  The bank was created to provide loans to credit institutions which meet specific development conditions and goals, for example by giving out loans to farmers, small businesses, and other development focused investors.  The loans are long term and have lower interest rates than private banks can offer in order to allow for growth of investments and poverty reduction.

In September 2010, the Bolivian Government bought the local private bank Banco Union as part of a plan to gain partial control of the financial sector.  Banco Union is one of the largest banks, with a share of 10.8 percent of total national credits and 12.7 percent of the total deposits; one of its principal activities is managing public sector accounts.  Bolivian government ownership of Banco Union was illegal until December 2012, when the government enacted the State Bank Law, allowing for state participation in the banking sector.

There is no strong evidence of “cross-shareholding” and “stable-shareholding” arrangements used by private firms to restrict foreign investment, and the 2009 Constitution forbids monopolies and supports antitrust measures.  In addition, there is no evidence of hostile takeovers (other than government nationalizations that took place from 2006-14).

The financial sector is regulated by ASFI (Supervising Authority of Financial Institutions), a decentralized institution that is under the Ministry of Economy.  The Central Bank of Bolivia (BCB) oversees all financial institutions, provides liquidity when necessary, and acts as lender of last resort.  The BCB is the only monetary authority and is in charge of managing the payment system, international reserves, and the exchange rate.

Foreigners are able to establish bank accounts only with residency status in Bolivia.

Blockchain technologies in Bolivia are still in the early stages.  Currently, the banking sector is analyzing blockchain technologies and the sector intends to propose a regulatory framework in coordination with ASFI in the future.

Three different settlement mechanisms are available in Bolivia: (1) the high-value payment system administered by the Central Bank for inter-bank operations; (2) a system of low value payments utilizing checks and credit and debit cards administered by the local association of private banks (ASOBAN); and (3) the deferred settlement payment system designed for small financial institutions such as credit cooperatives.  This mechanism is also administered by the Central Bank.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Banking Law (#393, 2013) establishes regulations for foreign currency hedging and authorizes banks to maintain accounts in foreign currencies.  A significant, but dropping, percentage of deposits are denominated in U.S. dollars (currently less than 14 percent of total deposits).  Bolivian law currently allows repatriation of profits, with a 12.5 percent withholding tax.  However, a provision of the 2009 Constitution (Article 351.2) requires reinvestment within Bolivia of private profits from natural resources.  Until specific implementing legislation is passed, it is unclear how this provision will be applied.  In addition, all bank transfers in U.S. dollars within the financial system and leaving the country must pay a Financial Transaction Tax (ITF) of 2 percent.  This tax applies to foreign transactions for U.S. dollars leaving Bolivia, not to money transferred internally.

Any banking transaction above USD 10,000 (in one operation or over three consecutive days) requires a form stating the source of funds.  In addition, any hard currency cash transfer from or to Bolivia equal to or greater than USD 10,000 must be registered with the customs office.  Amounts between USD 20,000 and USD 500,000 require authorization by the Central Bank and quantities above USD 500,000 require authorization by the Ministry of the Economy and Public Finance.  The fine for underreporting any cash transaction is equal to 30 percent of the difference between the declared amount and the quantity of money found.  The reporting standard is international, but many private companies in Bolivia find the application cumbersome due to the government requirement for detailed transaction breakdowns rather than allowing for blanket transaction reporting.

Administrative Resolution 398/10 approved in June 2010 forces Bolivian banks to reduce their investments and/or assets outside the country to an amount that does not exceed 50 percent of the value of their net equity.

The Central Bank charges a fee for different kinds of international transactions related to banking and trade.  The current list of fees and the details can be found at:

https://www.bcb.gob.bo/webdocs/01_resoluciones/RD%20152%202019.pdf

Law 843 on tax reform directly affects the transfer of all money to foreign countries.  All companies are charged 25 percent tax, except for banks which can be charged 37.5 percent, on profits under the Tax Reform Law, but when a company sends money abroad, the presumption of the Bolivian Tax Authority is that 50 percent of all money transmitted is profit.  Under this presumption, the 25 percent tax is applied to half of all money transferred abroad, whether actual or only presumed profit.  In practical terms, it means there is a payment of 12.5 percent as a transfer tax.

Currency is freely convertible at Bolivian banks and exchange houses.  The Bolivian Government describes its official exchange system as an “incomplete crawling peg.”  Under this system, the exchange rate is fixed, but undergoes micro-readjustments that are not pre-announced to the public.  There is a spread of 10 basis points between the exchange rate for buying and selling U.S. dollars.  The Peso Boliviano (Bs) has remained fixed at 6.96 Bs/USD  1 for selling and 6.86 Bs/USD  1 for buying since October 2011.  The parallel rate closely tracks the official rate, suggesting the market finds the Central Bank’s policy acceptable.  In order to avoid distortions in the exchange rate market, the Central Bank requires all currency exchange to occur at the official rate ±1 basis point.

Remittance Policies

Each remittance transaction from Bolivia to other countries has a USD 2,500 limit per transaction, but there is no limit to the number of transactions that an individual can remit.  The volume of remittances sent to and from Bolivia has increased considerably in the past five years, and the central bank and banking regulator are currently analyzing whether to impose more regulations sometime in the future.  Foreign investors are theoretically able to remit through a legal parallel market utilizing convertible, negotiable instruments, but, in practice, the availability of these financial instruments is limited in Bolivia.  For example, the Bolivian Government mainly issues bonds in Bolivianos and the majority of corporate bonds are also issued in Bolivianos.

The official exchange rate between Bolivianos and dollars is the same as the informal rate.  The government allows account holders to maintain bank accounts in Bolivianos or dollars and make transfers freely between them.  Business travelers may bring up to USD 10,000 in cash into the country.  For amounts greater than USD 10,000, government permission is needed through sworn declaration.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Neither the Bolivian Government nor any government-affiliated entity maintains a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The Bolivian Government has set up companies in sectors it considers strategic to the national interest and social well-being, and has stated that it plans to do so in every sector it considers strategic or where there is either a monopoly or oligopoly.

The Bolivian Government owns and operates more than 60 businesses including energy and mining companies, a telecommunications company, a satellite company, a bank, a sugar factory, an airline, a packaging plant, paper and cardboard factories, and milk and Brazil nut processing factories, among others.  In 2005, income from state-owned business in Bolivia other than gas exports represented only a fraction of a percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  As of 2015, public sector contribution to GDP (including SOEs, investments, and consumption of goods and services) has risen to over 40 percent of GDP.

The largest SOEs are able to acquire credit from the Central Bank at very low interest rates and convenient terms.  Some private companies complain that it is impossible for them to compete with this financial subsidy.  Moreover, SOEs appear to benefit from easier access to licenses, supplies, materials and land; however, there is no law specifically providing SOEs with preferential treatment in this regard.  In many cases, government entities are directed to do business with SOEs, placing other private companies and investors at a competitive disadvantage.

The government registered budget surpluses from 2006 until 2013, but began experiencing budget deficits in 2014.  Close to 50 percent of the deficit was explained by the performance of SOEs, such as Bolivia’s state-owned oil and gas company.  According to the 2009 Constitution, all SOEs are required to publish an annual report and are subject to financial audits.  Additionally, SOEs are required to present an annual testimony in front of civil society and social movements, a practice known as social control.

Privatization Program

There are currently no privatization programs in Bolivia.

10. Political and Security Environment

Bolivia is prone to social unrest, which can include violence.  Given the country’s reliance on a few key thoroughfares, conflict often disrupts transportation and distribution networks.  The majority of civil disturbances are related to domestic issues, usually workers pressuring the government for concessions by marching or closing major transportation arteries.  Protests in late 2019 surrounding fraudulent elections and the subsequent resignation of long-serving president Evo Morales did get violent, but none of the political violence targeted foreigners.  Outside of the volatile months of October and November 2019, while protests and blockades are frequent, they only periodically affect commerce.  In November 2019, however, election-related conflicts and protests led to two weeks of significant interruption to commerce in La Paz and elsewhere, directly affecting distribution of essential services or travel in and out of the city.  In 2020, strict quarantine and lockdown measures severely affected commerce economy-wide and caused numerous businesses to close or otherwise impeded business operations.  In addition, during approximately ten days in August 2020 during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, protestors blocked key highways, denying resident access to foodstuffs, fuel, and badly needed oxygen supplies.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $40,895 2019 $41,193 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $556 2018 $556 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 -2 2017 NA BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 -0.4% 2019 0.4% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx

* Source for Host Country Data: BEA, UNCTAD, World Bank

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment From/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 11,878 100% Total Outward 815 100%
Spain 2,637 22.3% Netherlands 346 42.5%
Sweden 1,995 16.8% Other Countries (not specified) 142 17%
Netherlands 1,253 10.6% Panama 63 7.72%
Peru 1,125 9.5% Brazil 61 7.52%
France 741 6.3% Spain 49 6.1%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 3,884 100% All Countries 246 100% All Countries 3,638 100%
United States 1,949 50.2% Other Countries (not specified) 98 39.9% United States 1,863 51.2%
 Other Countries (not specified) 473 14.8% United States 86 34.8% Other Countries (not specified) 476 13.1%
The Netherlands 473 12.2% Cayman Islands 62 25.3% The Netherlands 473 13.0%
Germany 143 3.7% International Organizations 210 5.8%
Canada 105 2.7% Germany 145 4.0%

14. Contact for More Information

Jeremy Slezak
Economic Officer
SlezakJD@state.gov

Chile

Executive Summary

With the sixth largest GDP per capita in the Western Hemisphere, Chile has historically enjoyed levels of stability and prosperity among the highest in the region. Widespread civil unrest broke out in 2019, however, in response to perceived systemic economic inequality. Pursuant to a political accord, Chile held a plebiscite in October 2020 in which citizens chose to redraft the constitution. Uncertainty about the outcome may impact investment. Chile’s solid macroeconomic policy framework the country boasts one of the strongest sovereign bond ratings in Latin America has provided the fiscal space to respond to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic through economic relief and stimulus packages and other measures. After a 5.8 percent contraction in 2020, the Chilean Central Bank forecasts Chile’s economic growth in 2021 will be in the range of 6.0 to 7.0 percent.

Chile has successfully attracted Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) despite its relatively small domestic market. The country’s market-oriented policies have created significant opportunities for foreign investors to participate in the country’s economic growth. Chile has a sound legal framework and general respect for private property rights. Sectors that attract significant FDI include mining, finance/insurance, energy, telecommunications, chemical manufacturing, and wholesale trade. Mineral, hydrocarbon, and fossil fuel deposits within Chilean territory are restricted from foreign ownership, but companies may enter into contracts with the government to extract these resources. Corruption exists in Chile but on a much smaller scale than in most Latin American countries, ranking 25 – along with the United States – out of 170 countries worldwide and second in Latin America in Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Although Chile is an attractive destination for foreign investment, challenges remain. Legislative and constitutional reforms proposed in response to the social unrest and the pandemic have generated concern about the potential impact on investments in the mining, energy, healthcare, insurance, and pension sectors. Importantly, the legislation enabling the constitutional reform process requires that the new constitution must respect Chile’s character as a democratic republic, its judicial sentences, and its international treaties (including the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement). Despite a general respect for intellectual property (IP) rights, Chile has not fully complied with its IP obligations set forth in the U.S.-Chile FTA. Environmental permitting processes, indigenous consultation requirements, and cumbersome court proceedings have made large project approvals increasingly time consuming and unpredictable, especially in cases with political sensitivities. The current administration prioritizes attracting foreign investment and implemented measures to streamline the process.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 25 of 170 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 59 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 54 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country (USD billion, historical stock positions) 2019 25.1 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita (USD) 2019 15,010 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

For more than four decades, promoting inward FDI has been an essential part of the Chilean government’s national development strategy. The country’s market-oriented economic policy creates significant opportunities for foreign investors to participate. Laws and practices are not discriminatory against foreign investors, who receive treatment similar to Chilean nationals. Chile’s business climate is generally straightforward and transparent, and its policy framework has remained consistent despite developments such as civil unrest in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic starting in 2020. However, the permitting process for infrastructure, mining, and energy projects is contentious, especially regarding politically sensitive environmental impact assessments, water rights issues, and indigenous consultations.

InvestChile is the government agency in charge of facilitating the entry and retention of FDI into Chile. It provides services related to investment attraction (information about investment opportunities); pre-investment (sector-specific advisory services, including legal); landing (access to certificates, funds and networks); and after-care (including assistance for exporting and re-investment).

Regarding government-investor dialogue, in May 2018, the Ministry of Economy created the Sustainable Projects Management Office (GPS). This agency provides support to investment projects, both domestic and foreign, serving as a first point of contact with the government and coordinating with different agencies in charge of evaluating investment projects, which aims to help resolve issues that emerge during the permitting process.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign investors have access to all productive activities, except for the domestic maritime freight sector, in which foreign ownership of companies is capped at 49 percent. Maritime transportation between Chilean ports is open since 2019 to foreign cruise vessels with more than 400 passengers. Some international reciprocity restrictions exist for fishing.

Most enterprises in Chile may be 100 percent owned by foreigners. Chile only restricts the right to private ownership or establishment in what it defines as certain “strategic” sectors, such as nuclear energy and mining. The Constitution establishes the “absolute, exclusive, inalienable and permanent domain” of the Chilean state over all mineral, hydrocarbon, and fossil fuel deposits within Chilean territory. However, Chilean law allows the government to grant concession rights and lease agreements to individuals and companies for exploration and exploitation activities, and to assign contracts to private investors, without discrimination against foreign investors.

Chile has not implemented an investment screening mechanism for national security purposes. FDI is subject to pro forma screening by InvestChile. Businesses in general do not consider these screening mechanisms as barriers to investment because approval procedures are expeditious and investments are usually approved. Some transactions require an anti-trust review by the office of the national economic prosecutor (Fiscalía Nacional Económica) and/or sector-specific regulators.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has not conducted a Trade Policy Review for Chile since June 2015 (available here: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp415_e.htm). The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has not conducted an Investment Policy Review for Chile since 1997 (available here: http://www.oecd.org/daf/inv/investment-policy/34384328.pdf), and the country is not part of the countries covered to date by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) Investment Policy Reviews.

Business Facilitation

The Chilean government took significant steps towards business facilitation during the past decade. Starting in 2018, the government introduced updated electronic and online systems for providing some tax information, complaints related to contract enforcement, and online registration of closed corporations (non-public corporations). In June 2019, the Ministry of Economy launched the Unified System for Permits (SUPER), a new online single-window platform that brings together 182 license and permit procedures, simplifying the process of obtaining permits for investment projects.

According to the World Bank, Chile has one of the shortest and smoothest processes among Latin American and Caribbean countries – 11 procedures and 29 days – to establish a foreign-owned limited liability company (LLC). Drafting statutes of a company and obtaining an authorization number can be done online at the platform https://www.registrodeempresasysociedades.cl/. Electronic signature and invoicing allow foreign investors to register a company, obtain a tax payer ID number and get legal receipts, invoices, credit and debit notes, and accountant registries. A company typically needs to register with Chile’s Internal Revenue Service, obtain a business license from a municipality, and register either with the Institute of Occupational Safety (public) or with one of three private nonprofit entities that provide work-related accident insurance, which is mandatory for employers. In addition to the steps required of a domestic company, a foreign company establishing a subsidiary in Chile must authenticate the parent company’s documents abroad and register the incoming capital with the Central Bank. This procedure, established under Chapter XIV of the Foreign Exchange Regulations, requires a notice of conversion of foreign currency into Chilean pesos when the investment exceeds $10,000 (USD). The registration process at the Registry of Commerce of Santiago is available online.

Outward Investment

The Government of Chile does not have an active policy of promotion or incentives for outward investment, nor does it impose restrictions on it.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Chilean government generally does not subsidize foreign investment, nor does it issue guarantees or joint financing for FDI projects. There are, however, some incentives directed toward isolated geographical zones and to the information technology sector. These benefits relate to co-financing of feasibility studies as well as to incentives for the purchase of land in industrial zones, the hiring of local labor, and the facilitation of project financing. Other important incentives include accelerated depreciation accounting for tax purposes and legal guarantees for remitting profits and capital. Additionally, the Start-Up Chile program provides selected entrepreneurs with grants of up to USD 80,000, along with a Chilean work visa to develop a “startup” business in Chile over a period of four to seven months. Chile has other special incentive programs aimed at promoting investment and employment in remote regions, as well as other areas that suffer development lags.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Chile has two free trade zones: one in the northern port city of Iquique (Tarapaca Region) and the other in the far south port city of Punta Arenas (Magallanes Region). Merchants and manufacturers in these zones are exempt from corporate income tax, value added taxes (VAT) – on operations and services that take place inside the free trade zone – and customs duties. The same exemptions also apply to manufacturers in the Chacalluta and Las Americas Industrial Park in Arica (Arica and Parinacota Region). Mining, fishing, and financial services are not eligible for free zone concessions. Foreign-owned firms have the same investment opportunities in these zones as Chilean firms. The process for setting up a subsidiary is the same inside as outside the zones, regardless of whether the company is domestic or foreign-owned.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Chile mandates that 85 percent of a firm’s workers must be local employees. Exceptions are described in Section 11. The costs associated with migration regulations do not significantly inhibit the mobility of foreign investors and their employees.

Chile does not follow “forced localization.” A draft bill that is pending in Chile’s Congress could result in additional requirements (owner’s consent) for international data transfers in cases involving jurisdictions with data protection regimes below Chile’s standards. The bill, modeled after the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) also proposes the creation of an independent Chilean Data Protection Agency that would be responsible for enforcing data protection standards.

Neither Chile’s Foreign Investment Promotion Agency nor the Central Bank applies performance requirements in their reviews of proposed investment projects. The investment chapter in the U.S.–Chile FTA establishes rules prohibiting performance requirements that apply to all investments, whether by a third party or domestic investors. The FTA investment chapter also regulates the use of mandatory performance requirements as a condition for receiving incentives and spells out certain exceptions. These include government procurement, qualifications for export and foreign aid programs, and non-discriminatory health, safety, and environmental requirements.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Chile’s authorities are committed to developing capital markets and keeping them open to foreign portfolio investors. Foreign firms offer services in Chile in areas such as financial information, data processing, financial advisory services, portfolio management, voluntary saving plans and pension funds. Under the U.S.-Chile FTA, Chile opened up significantly its insurance sector, with very limited exceptions. The Santiago Stock Exchange is Chile’s dominant stock exchange, and the third largest in Latin America. However, when compared to other OECD countries, it has lower market liquidity.

Existing policies facilitate the free flow of financial resources into Chile’s product and factor markets and adjustment to external shocks in a commodity export-dependent economy. Chile accepted the obligations of Article VIII (sections 2, 3 and 4) and maintains a free-floating exchange rate system, free of restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. Credit is allocated on market terms and its various instruments are available to foreigners. The Central Bank reserves the right to restrict foreign investors’ access to internal credit if a credit shortage exists. To date, this authority has not been exercised.

Money and Banking System

Nearly one fourth of Chileans have a credit card from a bank and nearly one third have a non-bank credit card, but less than 20 percent have a checking account. However, financial inclusion is higher than banking penetration: a large number of lower-income Chilean residents have a CuentaRut, which is a commission-free card with an electronic account available for all, launched by the state-owned Banco Estado, also the largest provider of microcredit in Chile.

The Chilean banking system is healthy and competitive, and many Chilean banks already meet Basel III standards. The new General Banking Act (LGB), published in January 2019, defined general guidelines for establishing a capital adequacy system in line with Basel standards, and gave the CMF the authority to establish the capital framework. All Basel III regulations were published by December 2020. Due to the pandemic, the CMF decided on March 2020 to postpone the implementation of Basel III requirements for one year. The system’s liquidity position (Liquidity Coverage Ratio) remains above regulatory limits (70 percent). Capital adequacy ratio of the system equaled 14.3 percent as of October 2020 and remains robust even when including discounts due to market and/or operational risks. Non-performing loans decreased after August 2020 due to government relief measures for households, including legislation authorizing two rounds of withdrawals from pension accounts. As of December 2020, non-performing loans equaled 1.58 percent compared to 2 percent at the end of 2019) when measured by the standard 90 days past due criterion.

As of December 2020, the total assets of the Chilean banking system amounted to USD 454.3 billion, according to the Superintendence of Banks and Financial Institutions. The largest six banks (Banco de Crédito e Inversiones, Banco Santander-Chile, Banco Estado, Banco de Chile, Scotiabank Chile and Itaú-Corpbanca) accounted for 88 percent of the system’s assets. Chile’s Central Bank conducts the country’s monetary policy, is constitutionally autonomous from the government, and is not subject to regulation by the Superintendence of Banks.

Foreign banks have an important presence in Chile, comprising three out of the six largest banks of the system. Out of 18 banks currently in Chile, five are foreign-owned but legally established banks in Chile and four are branches of foreign banks. Both categories are subject to the requirements set out under the Chilean banking law. There are also 21 representative offices of foreign banks in Chile. There are no reports of correspondent banking relationships withdrawal in Chile.

In order to open a bank account in Chile, a foreigner must present his/her Chilean ID Card or passport, Chilean tax ID number, proof of address, proof of income/solvency, photo, and fingerprints.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Law 20.848, which regulates FDI (described in section 1), prohibits arbitrary discrimination against foreign investors and guarantees access to the formal foreign exchange market, as well as the free remittance of capital and profits generated by investments. There are no other restrictions or limitations placed on foreign investors for the conversion, transfer or remittance of funds associated with an investment.

Investors, importers, and others are guaranteed access to foreign exchange in the official inter-bank currency market without restriction. The Central Bank of Chile (CBC) reserves the right to deny access to the inter-bank currency market for royalty payments in excess of five percent of sales. The same restriction applies to payments for the use of patents that exceed five percent of sales. In such cases, firms would have access to the informal market. The Chilean tax service reserves the right to prevent royalties of over five percent of sales from being counted as expenses for domestic tax purposes.

Chile has a free floating (flexible) exchange rate system. Exchange rates of foreign currencies are fully determined by the market. The CBC reserves the right to intervene under exceptional circumstances to correct significant deviations of the currency from its fundamentals. This authority was used in 2019 following an unusual 20.5 percent depreciation of the Chilean peso (CLP) after six weeks of civil unrest, an unprecedented circumstance that triggered a similarly unusual USD 20 billion intervention (half of the CBC foreign currency reserves) that successfully arrested the currency slide.

Remittance Policies

Remittances of profits generated by investments are allowed at any time after tax obligations are fulfilled; remittances of capital can be made after one year following the date of entry into the country. In practice, this permanency requirement does not constitute a restriction for productive investment, because projects normally need more than one year to mature. Under the investment chapter of the U.S.–Chile FTA, the parties must allow free transfer and without delay of covered investments into and out of its territory. These include transfers of profits, royalties, sales proceeds, and other remittances related to the investment. However, for certain types of short-term capital flows this chapter allows Chile to impose transfer restrictions for up to 12 months as long as those restrictions do not substantially impede transfers. If restrictions are found to impede transfers substantially, damages accrue from the date of the initiation of the measure. In practice, these restrictions have not been applied in the last two decades.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Government of Chile maintains two sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) built with savings from years with fiscal surpluses. The Economic and Social Stabilization Fund (FEES) was established in 2007 and was valued at USD 8.7 billion as of February 2021. The purpose of the FEES is to fund public debt payments and temporary deficit spending, in order to keep a countercyclical fiscal policy. The Pensions Reserve Fund (FRP) was built up in 2006 and amounted to USD 10.1 billion as of February 2021. The purpose of the FRP is to anticipate future needs of payments to those eligible to receive pensions, but whose contributions to the private pension system fall below a minimum threshold.

Chile is a member of the International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds (IWG) and adheres to the Santiago Principles.

Chile’s government policy is to invest SWFs entirely abroad into instruments denominated in foreign currencies, including sovereign bonds and related instruments, corporate and high-yield bonds, mortgage-backed securities from U.S. agencies, and stocks.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Chile had 29 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in operation as of 2019. Twenty-eight SOEs are commercial companies and the newest one (FOINSA) is an infrastructure fund that was created to facilitate public-private partnership projects. 26 SOEs are not listed and are fully owned by the government, while the remaining three are majority government owned. Ten Chilean SOEs operate in the port management sector, seven in the services sector, three in the defense sector, three in the mining sector (including CODELCO, the world’s largest copper producer, and ENAP, an oil and gas company), two in transportation, one in the water sector, one is a TV station, and one is a state-owned bank (Banco Estado). The state holds a minority stake in four water companies as a result of a privatization process. In 2019, total assets of Chilean SOEs amounted to USD 74.2 billion, while their total net income was USD 556.7 million. SOEs employed 50,208 people in 2019.

Twenty SOEs in Chile fall under the supervision of the Public Enterprises System (SEP), a state holding in charge of overseeing SOE governance. The rest – including the largest SOEs such as CODELCO, ENAP and Banco Estado – have their own governance and report to government ministries. Allocation of seats on the boards of Chilean SOEs is determined by the SEP, as described above, or outlined by the laws that regulate them. In CODELCO’s corporate governance, there is a mix between seats appointed by recommendation from an independent high-level civil service committee, and seats allocated by political authorities in the government.

A list of SOEs made by the Budget Directorate, including their financial management information, is available in the following link: http://www.dipres.gob.cl/599/w3-propertyvalue-20890.html.

In general, Chilean SOEs work under hard budget constraints and compete under the same regulatory and tax frameworks as private firms. The exception is ENAP, which is the only company allowed to refine oil in Chile. As an OECD member, Chile adheres to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs.

Privatization Program

Chile does not have a privatization program.

10. Political and Security Environment

Pursuant to a political accord in response to the 2019 civil unrest, Chile held a plebiscite in October 2020 in which citizens voted to draft a new constitution. The process to create and ratify the new constitution will begin in 2021 and continue until at least mid-2022. Uncertainty over what changes could be made to Chile’s political and regulatory environment could negatively impact investor confidence. Importantly, the legislation enabling the constitutional reform process requires that the new constitution must respect Chile’s character as a democratic republic, its judicial sentences, and its international treaties (including the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement). The coronavirus pandemic and government measures led to a reduction of vandalism and attacks on businesses that began in 2019.

Prior to 2019, there were generally a few incidents of politically motivated attacks on investment projects or installations with the exception of the southern Araucania region and its neighboring Arauco province in the southwest of Bio-Bio region. This area, home to nearly half a million indigenous inhabitants, has seen a growing trend of politically motivated violence and organized criminal activity. Land claims and conflicts with forestry companies are the main grievances underneath the radicalization of a relatively small number of indigenous Mapuche communities, which has led to the rise of organized groups that pursue their demands by violent means. Incidents include arson attacks on churches, farms, forestry plantations, forestry contractors’ machinery and vehicles, and private vehicles, as well as occupation of private lands, resulting in over a half-dozen deaths (including some by police forces), injuries, and damage to property. The indigenous issue has been further politicized due to anger among landowners, forestry transport contractors, and farmers affected by violence, as well as the illegal killing of a young Mapuche activist by special police forces in 2018 and the controversy over accusations of fraud by the police during the investigation of indigenous organized groups. In March 2020, a truck driver died in an arson attack on his vehicle.

Since 2007, Chile has experienced a number of small-scale attacks with explosive and incendiary devices, targeting mostly banks, police stations, and public spaces throughout Santiago, including ATM’s, metro stations, universities, and churches. Anarchist groups often claim responsibility for these acts, as well as violent incidents during student and labor protests. In January 2017, an eco-terrorist group claimed responsibility for a parcel bomb that detonated at the home of the chairman of the board of Chilean state-owned mining giant. The same group detonated a bomb of similar characteristics in 2019 at a bus stop in downtown Santiago, causing five injuries, and sent a letter bomb to the office of the president of the Metro system, which was defused by police. One suspect was arrested in 2019 and the investigation of the crimes is ongoing. Another group sent a package bombs to a police station in the Santiago metro area, wounding 8 police officers, and to a former Interior Minister, which was defused by police. Two suspects were arrested in 2020, and the investigation remains ongoing at the time of this report.

On occasion, illegal activity by striking workers resulted in damage to corporate property or a disruption of operations. Some firms have publicly expressed concern that during a contentious strike, law enforcement has appeared to be reluctant to protect private property.

Chilean civil society is active and demonstrations occur frequently. Although the vast majority of demonstrations are peaceful, protestors have veered off pre-approved routes. In a few instances, criminal elements have taken advantage of civil society protests to loot stores along the protest route and have clashed with the police. Demonstrations to mark March 29, the Day of the Young Combatant, and September 11, the anniversary of the 1973 coup against the government of President Salvador Allende, have resulted in damage to property.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International
Source of Data: BEA; IMF;
Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $282.318 2018 $298.258 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international
Source of data: BEA; IMF;
Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country (USD billion, stock positions) 2019 $35.46 2019 25.08 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States (USD billion, stock positions) 2019 $13.19 2019 2.9 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-
multinational-enterprises-
comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 91.0% 2019 56.6% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html 

* Source for Host Country Data: Central Bank of Chile.

According to the IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS), total stock of FDI in Chile in 2019 amounted to USD 254.3 billion, compared to USD 251.9 billion in 2018. Spain, the United States and Canada are the main sources of FDI to Chile with USD 34.5 billion, USD 34.4 billion and USD 34.2 billion, respectively, concentrating 40.6 percent of the total.

Chile’s outward direct investment stock in 2019 remains concentrated in South America, where Brazil, Peru, Argentina and Colombia together represented 33.4 percent of total Chilean outward FDI. The United States accounted for 9.2 percent of the total.

The data below is consistent with host country statistics. Although not included in the table below, tax havens are relevant sources of inward FDI to Chile, with the Cayman Islands and Bermuda ranking sixth and eighth in inbound sources of FDI, respectively, according to the Central Bank of Chile. The British Virgin Islands and Panama rank sixth and seventh, respectively, among Chile´s main outward FDI destinations.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 254,252 100% Total Outward 130,234 100%
Spain 34,541 13.6% Brazil 21,458 16.5%
Canada 34,426 13.5% Peru 12,909 9.9%
United States 34,213 13.5% United States 11,944 9.2%
The Netherlands 20,494 8.1% Argentina 9,226 7.1%
United Kingdom 18,773 7.4% Colombia 9,071 7.0%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

According to the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS), total stock of portfolio investment in Chile as of June 2020 amounted to USD 192.1 billion, of which USD 149.9 billion were equity and investment funds shares, and the rest were debt securities. The United States and Luxembourg (a tax haven) were the main sources of portfolio investment to Chile with US $69.3 billion and $54.3 billion, representing 36.1 percent and 28.3 percent of the total, respectively. Both countries also represent 68 percent of the total of equity investment. Ireland, the United Kingdom and Germany are the following top sources of equity portfolio investment to Chile, while the United States, Mexico and Japan are the top sources of debt securities investment.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 192,070 100% All Countries 149,887 100% All Countries 42,183 100%
United States 69,304 36.1% Luxembourg 54,115 36.1% United States 21,263 50.4%
Luxembourg 54,327 28.3% United States 48,041 32.1% Mexico 4,018 9.5%
Ireland 17,048 8.9% Ireland 16,995 11.3% Japan 3,068 7.3%
United Kingdom 7,171 3.7% United Kingdom 5,756 3.8% Germany 2,406 5.7%
Germany 5,587 2.9% Germany 3,181 2.1% United Kingdom 1,415 3.4%

14. Contact for More Information

Alexis Gutiérrez
Economic Specialist
Avenida Andrés Bello 2800, Las Condes, Santiago, Chile
(56-9) 4268 9005
gutierrezaj@state.gov 

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