Algeria’s state enterprise-dominated economy is challenging for U.S. businesses, but multiple sectors offer opportunities for long-term growth. The government is prioritizing investment in agriculture, information and communications technology, mining, hydrocarbons (both upstream and downstream), renewable energy, and healthcare.
Following his December 2019 election, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune launched a series of political reforms, which led to the adoption of a new constitution in December 2020 and the election of a new parliament in June 2021. Tebboune has declared his intention to focus on economic issues in 2022 and beyond.
In 2020, the government eliminated the so-called “51/49” restriction that required majority Algerian ownership of all new businesses, though it retained the requirement for “strategic sectors,” identified as energy, mining, defense, transportation infrastructure, and pharmaceuticals manufacturing (with the exception of innovative products). In the 2021 Finance Law, the government reinstated the 51/49 ownership requirement for any company importing items into Algeria with an intent to resell. The government passed a new hydrocarbons law in 2019, improving fiscal terms and contract flexibility in order to attract new international investors. The new law encourages major international oil companies to sign memorandums of understanding with the national hydrocarbons company, Sonatrach. Though the 43 regulatory texts enacting the legislation have not been formally finalized, the government is using the new law as the basis for negotiating new contracts with international oil companies. In recent years, the Algerian government took several steps, including establishing a standalone ministry dedicated to the pharmaceutical industry and issuing regulations to resolve several long-standing issues, to improve market access for U.S. pharmaceutical companies. The government is in the process of drafting and finalizing a new investment law. Algeria has established ambitious renewable energy adoption targets to reduce carbon emissions and reduce domestic consumption of natural gas.
Algeria’s economy is driven by hydrocarbons production, which historically accounts for 95 percent of export revenues and approximately 40 percent of government income. Following the significant drop in oil prices at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the government cut budgeted expenditures by 50 percent and significantly reduced investment in the energy sector. The implementation of broad-based import reductions coupled with a recovery in hydrocarbon prices in 2021 led to Algeria’s first trade surplus since 2014. Though successive government budgets have boosted state spending, Algeria continues to run a persistent budget deficit, which is projected to reach 20 percent of GDP in 2022. Despite a significant reduction in revenues, the historically debt-averse government continues to resist seeking foreign financing, preferring to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) to boost employment and replace imports with local production. Traditionally, Algeria has pursued protectionist policies to encourage the development of local industries. The import substitution policies it employs tend to generate regulatory uncertainty, supply shortages, increased prices, and a limited selection for consumer goods. The government depreciated the Algerian dinar approximately 5% in 2021 after a 10% depreciation in 2020 to conserve its foreign exchange reserves, contributing to significant food inflation.
The government has taken measures to minimize the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including delaying tax payments for small businesses, extending credit and restructuring loan payments, and decreasing banks’ reserve requirements. Though the government has lifted domestic COVID_19 related confinement measures, continued restrictions on international flight volumes complicate travel to Algeria for international investors.
Economic operators deal with a range of challenges, including complicated customs procedures, cumbersome bureaucracy, difficulties in monetary transfers, and price competition from international rivals particularly the People’s Republic of China, France, and Turkey. International firms operating in Algeria complain that laws and regulations are constantly shifting and applied unevenly, raising commercial risk for foreign investors. An ongoing anti-corruption campaign has increased weariness regarding large-scale investment projects and put a chill on bureaucratic decision making. Business contracts are subject to changing interpretation and revision of regulations, which has proved challenging to U.S. and international firms. Other drawbacks include limited regional integration, which hampers opportunities to rely on international supply chains.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
The Algerian economy is challenging yet potentially highly rewarding. While the Algerian government publicly welcomes FDI, a difficult business climate, an inconsistent regulatory environment, and sometimes contradictory government policies complicate foreign investment. There are business opportunities in nearly every sector, including agribusiness, consumer goods, conventional and renewable energy, healthcare, mining, pharmaceuticals, power, recycling, telecommunications, and transportation.
The urgency for Algeria to diversify its economy away from reliance on hydrocarbons has increased amid low and fluctuating oil prices since mid-2014, a youth population bulge, and increased domestic consumption of energy resources. The government reiterated its intention to diversify in its August 2020 plan to recover from the COVID-19 crisis. The government has sought to reduce the country’s persistent trade deficit through import substitution policies, currency depreciation, and import tariffs as it attempts to preserve rapidly diminishing foreign exchange reserves. On January 29, 2019, the government implemented tariffs, known as DAPs, between 30-200 percent on over 1,000 goods it assessed were destined for direct sale to consumers. In January 2022, the Ministry of Commerce said it would expand the number of items subject to DAPs to 2,600; it has yet to publish the new list of affected goods. Companies that set up local manufacturing operations can receive permission to import materials the government would not otherwise approve for import if the importer can show materials will be used in local production. Certain regulations explicitly favor local firms at the expense of foreign competitors, and frequent, unpredictable changes to business regulations have added to the uncertainty in the market.
There are two main agencies responsible for attracting foreign investment, the National Agency of Investment Development (ANDI) and the National Agency for the Valorization of Hydrocarbons (ALNAFT).
ANDI is the primary Algerian government agency tasked with recruiting and retaining foreign investment. ANDI runs branches in Algeria’s 58 states (wilayas) which are tasked with facilitating business registration, tax payments, and other administrative procedures for both domestic and foreign investors. U.S. companies report that the agency is understaffed and ineffective. Its “one-stop shops” only operate out of physical offices and do not maintain dialogue with investors after they have initiated an investment. The agency’s effectiveness is undercut by its lack of decision-making authority, particularly for industrial projects, which is exercised by the Ministry of Industry in general, the Minister of Industry specifically, and in many cases the Prime Minister. While the government operates an ombudsman’s office (Mediateur de la Republique), the office’s activities are not explicitly targeted toward investment retention.
ALNAFT is charged with attracting foreign investment to Algeria’s upstream oil and gas sector. In addition to organizing events marketing upstream opportunities to potential investors, the agency maintains a paid-access digital database with extensive technical information about Algeria’s hydrocarbons resources.
Establishing a presence in Algeria can take any of four basic forms: 1) a liaison office with no local partner requirement and no authority to perform commercial operations, 2) a branch office to execute a specific contract, with no obligation to have a local partner, allowing the parent company to conduct commercial activity (considered a resident Algerian entity without full legal authority), 3) a local company with 51 percent of capital held by a local company or shareholders, or 4) a foreign investor with up to 100% ownership in non-strategic sectors. A business can be incorporated as a joint stock company (JSC), a limited liability company (LLC), a limited partnership (LP), a limited partnership with shares (LPS), or an undeclared partnership. Groups and consortia are also used by foreign companies when partnering with other foreign companies or with local firms.
Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity. However, the 51/49 rule requires majority Algerian ownership in all projects involving foreign investments in the “strategic sectors” of energy, mining, defense, transportation infrastructure, and pharmaceuticals (with the exception of innovative products), as well as for importers of goods for resale in Algeria.
The 51/49 investment rule poses challenges for investors. For example, the requirement hampers market access for foreign small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as they often do not have the human resources or financial capital to navigate complex legal and regulatory requirements. Large companies can find creative ways to work within the law, sometimes with the cooperation of local authorities who are more flexible with large investments that promise significant job creation and technology and equipment transfers. SMEs usually do not receive this same consideration. There are also allegations that Algerian partners sometimes refuse to invest the required funds in the company’s business, require non-contract funds to win contracts, and send unqualified workers to job sites. Manufacturers are also concerned about intellectual property rights (IPR), as foreign companies do not want to surrender control of their designs and patents. Several U.S. companies have reported they have policies that preclude them from investing overseas without maintaining a majority share, out of concerns for both IPR and financial control of the local venture, which thus prevent them from establishing businesses in Algeria.
Algerian government officials defended the 51/49 requirement as necessary to prevent capital flight, protect Algerian businesses, and provide foreign businesses with local expertise. For sectors where the requirement remains, officials contend a range of tailored measures can mitigate the effect of the 51/49 rule and allow the minority foreign shareholder to exercise other means of control. Some foreign investors use multiple local partners in the same venture, effectively reducing ownership of each individual local partner to enable the foreign partner to own the largest share.
The Algerian government does not officially screen FDI, though Algerian state enterprises have a “right of first refusal” on transfers of foreign holdings to foreign shareholders in identified strategic industries. Companies must notify the Council for State Participation (CPE) of these transfers. In addition, initial foreign investments remain subject to approvals from a host of ministries that cover the proposed project, most often the Ministries of Commerce, Health, Pharmaceutical Industry, Energy and Mines, Telecommunications and Post, and Industry. U.S. companies have reported that certain high-profile industrial proposals, such as for automotive assembly, are subject to informal approval by the Prime Minister. In 2017, the government instituted an Investments Review Council chaired by the Prime Minister for the purpose of “following up” on investments; in practice, the establishment of the council means FDI proposals are subject to additional government scrutiny. According to the 2016 Investment Law, projects registered through the ANDI deemed to have special interest for the national economy or high employment generating potential may be eligible for extensive investment advantages. For any project over 5 billion dinars (approximately USD 35 million) to benefit from these advantages, it must be approved by the Prime Minister-chaired National Investments Council (CNI). The CNI previously met regularly, though it is not clear how the agenda of projects considered at each meeting is determined. Critics allege the CNI is a non-transparent mechanism which could be subject to capture by vested interests. In 2020 the operations of the CNI and the CPE were temporarily suspended pending review by the former Ministry of Industry, and in November 2021 the Prime Minister reported that almost 2,500 projects are awaiting approval from the council once it resumes activities.
Algeria has not conducted an investment policy review through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or the World Trade Organization (WTO). The last investment policy review by a third party was conducted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 2003 and published in 2004. Civil society organizations have not provided reviews of investment policy-related concerns.
Algeria offers an online information portal dedicated to business creation, www.jecreemonentreprise.dz, though the business registration website www.cnrc.org.dz is under maintenance and has been for more than two years. The Ministry of Commerce is currently developing a new electronic portal at https://cnrcinfo.cnrc.dz/qui-somme-nous/ . The websites provide information about several business registration steps applicable for registering certain kinds of businesses. Entrepreneurs report that additional information about requirements or regulation updates for business registration are available only in person at the various offices involved in the creation and registration process. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also recently established an Information Bureau for the Promotion of Investments and Exports (BIPIE) to support Algerian diplomats working on economic issues abroad, as well as provide local points of contact for Algerian companies operating overseas.
Algeria does not restrict domestic investors from investing overseas, though the process for accessing foreign currency for such investments is heavily regulated. The exchange of Algerian dinars outside of Algerian territory is illegal, as is the carrying abroad of more than 10,000 dinars in cash at a time (approximately USD 72; see section 7 for more details on currency exchange restrictions).
Algeria’s National Agency to Promote External Trade (ALGEX), housed in the Ministry of Commerce, is the agency responsible for supporting Algerian businesses outside the hydrocarbons sector that want to export abroad. ALGEX controls a special promotion fund to promote exports, but the funds can only be accessed for limited purposes. For example, funds might be provided to pay for construction of a booth at a trade fair, but travel costs associated with getting to the fair – which can be expensive for overseas shows – would not be covered. The Algerian Company of Insurance and Guarantees to Exporters (CAGEX), also housed under the Ministry of Commerce, provides insurance to exporters. In 2003, Algeria established a National Consultative Council for Promotion of Exports (CCNCPE) that is supposed to meet annually. Algerian exporters claim difficulties working with ALGEX including long delays in obtaining support funds, and the lack of ALGEX offices overseas despite a 2003 law for their creation. The Bank of Algeria’s 2002 Money and Credit law allows Algerians to request the conversion of dinars to foreign currency in order to finance their export activities, but exporters must repatriate an equivalent amount to any funds spent abroad, for example money spent on marketing or other business costs incurred.
3. Legal Regime
The national government manages all regulatory processes. Legal and regulatory procedures, as written, are considered consistent with international norms, although the decision-making process is at times opaque.
Algeria implemented the Financial Accounting System (FAS) in 2010. Though legislation does not make explicit references, FAS appears to be based on International Accounting Standards Board and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Operators generally find accounting standards follow international norms, though they note that some particularly complex processes in IFRS have detailed explanations and instructions but are explained relatively briefly in FAS.
There is no mechanism for public comment on draft laws, regulations, or regulatory procedures. Copies of draft laws are generally not made publicly accessible before enactment, although the Ministry of Finance published drafts of the 2021 and 2022 Finance Laws in advance of consideration by Parliament. Government officials often give testimony to Parliament on draft legislation, and that testimony typically receives press coverage. Occasionally, copies of bills are leaked to the media. All laws and some regulations are published in the Official Gazette (www.joradp.dz ) in Arabic and French, but the database has only limited online search features and no summaries are published. Secondary legislation and/or administrative acts (known as “circulaires” or “directives”) often provide important details on how to implement laws and procedures. Administrative acts are generally written at the ministry level and not made public, though may be available if requested in person at a particular agency or ministry. Public tenders are often accompanied by a book of specifications only provided upon payment. The government does not specifically promote or require companies’ environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure.
In some cases, authority over a matter may rest among multiple ministries, which may impose additional bureaucratic steps and the likelihood of either inaction or the issuance of conflicting regulations. The development of regulations occurs largely away from public view; internal discussions at or between ministries are not usually made public. In some instances, the only public interaction on regulations development is a press release from the official state press service at the conclusion of the process; in other cases, a press release is issued earlier. Regulatory enforcement mechanisms and agencies exist at some ministries, but they are usually understaffed, and enforcement remains weak.
The National Economic, Social, and Environmental Council (CNESE) studies the effects of Algerian government policies and regulations in economic, social, and environmental spheres. CNESE provides feedback on proposed legislation, but neither the feedback nor legislation are necessarily made public.
Information on external debt obligations up to fiscal year 2019 is publicly available online via the Central Bank’s quarterly statistical bulletin. The statistical bulletin describes external debt and not public debt, but the Ministry of Finance’s budget execution summaries reflect amalgamated debt totals. The Ministry of Finance is planning to create an electronic, consolidated database of internal and external debt information, and in 2019 published additional public debt information on its website. A 2017 amendment to the 2003 law on currency and credit covering non-conventional financing authorizes the Central Bank to purchase bonds directly from the Treasury for a period of up to five years. The Ministry of Finance indicated this would include purchasing debt from state enterprises, allowing the Central Bank to transfer money to the treasury, which would then provide the cash to, for example, state owned enterprises in exchange for their debt. In September 2019, the Prime Minister announced Algeria would no longer use non-conventional financing, although the Ministry of Finance stressed the program remains available until 2022. In 2021, the non-profit Cercle d’Action et de Réflexion pour l’Entreprise (CARE) launched an online dashboard compiling key economic figures published by various ministries within the Algerian government.
Algeria is not a member of any regional economic bloc or of the WTO. The structure of Algerian regulations largely follows European – specifically French – standards.
Algeria’s legal system is based on the French civil law tradition. The commercial law was established in 1975 and most recently updated in 2007 ( www.joradp.dz/TRV/FCom.pdf). The judiciary is nominally independent from the executive branch, but U.S. companies have reported allegations of political pressure exerted on the courts by the executive. Organizations representing lawyers and judges have protested during the past year against alleged executive branch interference in judicial independence. Regulation enforcement actions are adjudicated in the national courts system and are appealable. Algeria has a system of administrative tribunals for adjudicating disputes with the government, distinct from the courts that handle civil disputes and criminal cases. Decisions made under treaties or conventions to which Algeria is a signatory are binding and enforceable under Algerian law.
The 51/49 investment rule requires a majority Algerian ownership in “strategic sectors” as prescribed in the 2020 Complementary Finance Law (see section 2), as well as for importers of goods available for resale domestically as prescribed in the 2021 Finance Law. There are few other laws restricting foreign investment. In practice, the many regulatory and bureaucratic requirements for business operations provide officials avenues to informally advance political or protectionist policies. The investment law enacted in 2016 charged ANDI with creating four new branches to assist with business establishment and the management of investment incentives. ANDI’s website (www.andi.dz/index.php/en/investir-en-algerie ) lists the relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors. Much of the information lacks detail – particularly for the new incentives elaborated in the 2016 investments law – and refers prospective investors to ANDI’s physical “one-stop shops” located throughout the country.
There is an ongoing effort by the customs service, under the Ministry of Finance, to establish a new digital platform featuring one-stop shops for importers and exporters to streamline bureaucratic processes. The Ministry announced the service would begin in 2021, but the Ministry of Industry clarified in February 2022 that the one-stop shop would be set up with the approval of the new investment law.
The National Competition Council (www.conseil-concurrence.dz/) is responsible for reviewing both domestic and foreign competition-related concerns. Established in late 2013, it is housed under the Ministry of Commerce. Once the economic concentration of an enterprise exceeds 40 percent of a market’s sales or purchases, the Competition Council is authorized to investigate, though a 2008 directive from the Ministry of Commerce exempted economic operators working for “national economic progress” from this review.
The Algerian state can expropriate property under limited circumstances, with the state required to pay “just and equitable” compensation to the property owners. Expropriation of property is extremely rare, with no reported cases within the last 10 years. In late 2018, however, a government measure required farmers to comply with a new regulation altering the concession contracts of their land in a way that would cede more control to the government. Those who refused to switch contract type by December 31, 2018, lost the right to their land.
Algeria’s bankruptcy system is underdeveloped. While bankruptcy per se is not criminalized, management decisions (such as company spending, investment decisions, and even procedural mistakes) can be subject to criminal penalties including fines and incarceration, so decisions that lead to bankruptcy could be punishable under Algerian criminal law. However, bankruptcy cases rarely proceed to a full dissolution of assets. The Algerian government generally props up public companies on the verge of bankruptcy via cash infusions from the public banking system. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business report, debtors and creditors may file for both liquidation and reorganization.
Since the resignation of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in early 2019, the courts have given the government authority to put several companies in receivership and have appointed temporary heads to direct them following the arrests of their CEOs as part of a broad anti-corruption drive. The government has since nationalized some of the companies following the conviction of the owners.
6. Financial Sector
The Algiers Stock Exchange has five stocks listed – each at no more than 35 percent equity. There is a small and medium enterprise exchange with one listed company. The exchange has a total market capitalization representing less than 0.1 percent of Algeria’s GDP. Daily trading volume on the exchange averages around USD 2,000. Despite the lack of tangible activity, the market is regulated by an independent oversight commission that enforces compliance requirements on listed companies and traders.
Government officials have previously expressed their desire to reach a capitalization of USD 7.8 billion and enlist up to 50 new companies. Attempts to list additional companies have been stymied by a lack both of public awareness and appetite for portfolio investment, as well as by private and public companies’ unpreparedness to satisfy due diligence requirements that would attract investors. Proposed privatizations of state-owned companies have also been opposed by the public. Algerian society generally prefers material investment vehicles for savings, namely cash. Public banks, which dominate the banking sector (see below), are required to purchase government securities when offered, meaning they have little leftover liquidity to make other investments. Foreign portfolio investment is prohibited – the purchase of any investment product in Algeria, whether a government or corporate bond or equity stock, is limited to Algerian residents only.
The banking sector is roughly 85 percent public and 15 percent private as measured by value of assets held and is regulated by an independent central bank. Publicly available data from private institutions and U.S. Federal Reserve Economic Data show estimated total assets in the commercial banking sector in 2017 were roughly 13.9 trillion dinars (USD 116.7 billion) against 9.2 trillion dinars (USD 77.2 billion) in liabilities. In response to liquidity concerns caused by the oil price decline and COVID-19 crisis, the bank progressively decreased the reserve requirement from 12 percent to 3 percent between March and September 2020.
The IMF and Bank of Algeria have noted moderate growth in non-performing assets since 2015, currently estimated between 12 and 13 percent of total assets. The quality of service in public banks is generally considered low as generations of public banking executives and workers trained to operate in a statist economy lack familiarity with modern banking practices. Most transactions are materialized (non-electronic). Many areas of the country suffer from a dearth of branches, leaving large amounts of the population without access to banking services. ATMs are not widespread, especially outside the major cities, and few accept foreign bankcards. Outside of major hotels with international clientele, hardly any retail establishments accept credit cards. Algerian banks do issue debit cards, but the system is distinct from any international payment system. The Minister of Commerce has announced multiple plans to require businesses to use electronic payments for all commercial and service transactions, though the most recent government deadline for all stores to deploy electronic payment terminals by the end of 2021 was indefinitely delayed. In addition, analysts estimate that between one-third and one-half of the money supply circulates in the informal economy.
Foreigners can open foreign currency accounts without restriction, but proof of a work permit or residency is required to open an account in Algerian dinars. Foreign banks are permitted to establish operations in the country, but they must be legally distinct entities from their overseas home offices.
In 2015, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) removed Algeria from its Public Statement, and in 2016 it removed Algeria from the “gray list.” The FATF recognized Algeria’s significant progress and the improvement in its anti-money laundering/counter terrorist financing (AML/CFT) regime. The FATF also indicated Algeria has substantially addressed its action plan since strategic deficiencies were identified in 2011.
Algeria’s sovereign wealth fund (SWF) is the “Fonds de Regulation des Recettes (FRR).” The Finance Ministry’s website shows the fund decreased from 4408.2 billion dinars (USD 37.36 billion) in 2014 to 784.5 billion dinars (USD 6.65 billion) in 2016. The data has not been updated since 2016. Algerian media reported the FRR was spent down to zero as of February 2017. Algeria is not known to have participated in the IMF-hosted International Working Group on SWFs.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
State-owned enterprises (SOEs) comprise more than half of the formal Algerian economy. SOEs are amalgamated into a single line of the state budget and are listed in the official business registry. To be defined as an SOE, a company must be at least 51 percent owned by the state.
Algerian SOEs are bureaucratic and may be subject to political influence. There are competing lines of authority at the mid-levels, and contacts report mid- and upper-level managers are reluctant to make decisions because internal accusations of favoritism or corruption are often used to settle political and personal scores. Senior management teams at SOEs report to their relevant ministry; CEOs of the larger companies such as national hydrocarbons company Sonatrach, national electric utility Sonelgaz, and airline Air Algerie report directly to ministers. Boards of directors are appointed by the state, and the allocation of these seats is considered political. SOEs are not known to adhere to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance.
Legally, public and private companies compete under the same terms with respect to market share, products and services, and incentives. In reality, private enterprises assert that public companies sometimes receive more favorable treatment. Private enterprises have the same access to financing as SOEs, but they work with private banks, and they are less bureaucratic than their public counterparts. Public companies generally refrain from doing business with private banks and a 2008 government directive ordered public companies to work only with public banks. The directive was later officially rescinded, but public companies continued the practice. However, the heads of Algeria’s two largest state enterprises, Sonatrach and Sonelgaz, both indicated in 2020 that given current budget pressures they are investigating recourse to foreign financing, including from private banks. SOEs are subject to the same tax burden and tax rebate policies as their private sector competitors, but business contacts report that the government favors SOEs over private sector companies in terms of access to land.
SOEs are subject to budget constraints. Audits of public companies can be conducted by the Court of Auditors, a financially autonomous institution. The constitution explicitly charges it with “ex post inspection of the finances of the state, collectivities, public services, and commercial capital of the state,” as well as preparing and submitting an annual report to the President, heads of both chambers of Parliament, and Prime Minister. The Court makes its audits public on its website, for free, but with a time delay, which does not conform to international norms.
The Court conducts audits simultaneously but independently from the Ministry of Finance’s year-end reports. The Court makes its reports available online once finalized and delivered to the Parliament, whereas the Ministry withholds publishing year-end reports until after the Parliament and President have approved them. The Court’s audit reports cover the entire implemented national budget by fiscal year and examine each annual planning budget that is passed by Parliament.
The General Inspectorate of Finance (IGF), the public auditing body under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance, can conduct “no-notice” audits of public companies. The results of these audits are sent directly to the Minister of Finance, and the offices of the President and Prime Minister. They are not made available publicly. The Court of Auditors and IGF previously had joint responsibility for auditing certain accounts, but they are in the process of eliminating this redundancy. Further legislation clarifying whether the delineation of responsibility for particular accounts which could rest with the Court of Auditors or the Ministry of Finance’s General Inspection of Finance (IGF) unit has yet to be issued.
There has been limited privatization of certain projects previously managed by SOEs, and so far restricted to the water sector and possibly a few other sectors. However, the privatization of SOEs remains publicly sensitive and has been largely halted.
10. Political and Security Environment
Following nearly two months of massive protests, known as the hirak, former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned on April 2, 2019, after 20 years in power. His resignation launched an eight-month transition, resulting in the election of Abdelmadjid Tebboune as president in December 2019. Voter turnout was approximately 40 percent and the new administration continues to focus on restoring government authority and legitimacy. Following historically low turnout of 24 percent in the November 2020 constitutional referendum and President Tebboune’s lengthy medical absences in late 2020 and early 2021, hirak protests resumed in February 2021 before government security services brought them to a halt in May 2021. Demonstrations have taken place in Algeria’s major wilayas (states) and have focused largely on political reform, as protestors continue to call for an overhaul of the Algerian government. President Tebboune dissolved parliament in February 2021 and Algeria held parliamentary elections in June 2021 and local elections in November 2021.
Prior to the hirak, which began in 2019, demonstrations in Algeria tended to concern housing and other social programs and were generally smaller than a few hundred participants. While most protests were peaceful, there were occasional outbreaks of violence that resulted in injuries, sometimes resulting from efforts of security forces to disperse the protests. Hirak protests were relatively peaceful, though security forces occasionally use heavy-handed tactics to suppress protesters. In 2021, the government adopted laws that give authorities more leeway to arrest political opponents.
In 2013, a terrorist group now known as al-Murabitoun claimed responsibility for the attack against the Tiguentourine gas facility near In Amenas, in southeastern Algeria. More than 800 people were taken hostage during the four-day siege, resulting in the deaths of 39 civilians, including 3 U.S. citizens, and resulting in damage to the facilities. Seven other U.S. citizens escaped. Since the attack, the Algerian government has increased security personnel and preventative security procedures in Algeria’s oil and gas producing regions.
Government reactions to public unrest typically include tighter security control on movement between and within cities to prevent further clashes, significant security presence in anticipated protest zones, temporary detention of protestors, and promises of either greater public expenditures on local infrastructure or increased local hiring for state-owned companies. During the first few months of 2015, there were a series of protests in several cities in southern Algeria against the government’s program to drill test wells for shale gas. These protests were largely peaceful but sometimes resulted in clashes, injury, and rarely, property damage. Government pronouncements in 2017 that shale gas exploration would recommence did not generate protests.
On April 27, 2020, an Algerian court sentenced an expatriate manager and an Algerian employee of a large hotel to six months in prison on charges of “undermining the integrity of the national territory” for allegedly sharing publicly available security information with corporate headquarters outside of Algeria.
The Algerian government requires all foreign employees of foreign companies or organizations based in Algeria to contact the Foreigners Office of the Ministry of the Interior before traveling in the country’s interior so that the government can evaluate security conditions. The Algerian government also requires U.S. Embassy employees to coordinate travel with the government on any trip outside of the Algiers wilaya (state). The Algerian government continues to limit the weekly number of authorized international flights in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, and they remain at less than 40 percent of pre-COVID levels two years after the onset of the pandemic.
In February 2020, ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bomber who attacked a military barrack in southern Algeria, killing a soldier. This was met with a swift response by Algerian security services against the militants responsible for the attacks, and the Algerian army continues to carry out counterterrorism operations throughout the country.
According to official Defense Ministry announcements, Algerian security forces “neutralized” 37 terrorists (21 killed, 9 arrested, and 7 surrendered) and arrested an additional 108 “supporters” of terrorism in 2020. Army detachments also destroyed 251 terrorist hideouts and seized a large quantity of ammunition and explosives during the year. In 2021, the government broadened the definition of terrorism to include any act – peaceful or otherwise – that undermines Algeria’s national unity, prompting a slew of terrorism arrests for acts not necessarily in line with the internationally recognized definition of terrorism.
U.S. citizens living or traveling in Algeria are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) via the State Department’s travel registration website, https://step.state.gov/step, to receive security messages and make it easier to be located in an emergency.
Australia is generally welcoming to foreign investment, which is widely considered to be an essential contributor to Australia’s economic growth and productivity. The United States is by far the largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) for Australia. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the stock of U.S. FDI totaled USD 170 billion in January 2020. The Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, which entered into force in 2005, establishes higher thresholds for screening U.S. investment for most classes of direct investment. While welcoming toward FDI, Australia does apply a “national interest” test to qualifying investment through its Foreign Investment Review Board screening process.
Various changes to Australia’s foreign investment rules, primarily aimed at strengthening national security, have been made in recent years. This continued in 2020 with the passage of the Foreign Investment Reform (Protecting Australia’s National Security) Act 2020, which broadens the classes of foreign investments that require screening, with a particular focus on defense and national security supply chains. All foreign investments in these industries now require screening, regardless of their value or national origin. The Foreign Investment Reform legislation commenced in January 2021. Despite the increased focus on foreign investment screening, the rejection rate for proposed investments has remained low and there have been no cases of investment from the United States having been rejected in recent years, although some U.S. companies have reported greater scrutiny of their investments in Australia.
In response to a perceived lack of fairness, the Australian government has tightened anti-tax avoidance legislation targeting multi-national corporations with operations in multiple tax jurisdictions. While some laws have been complementary to international efforts to address tax avoidance schemes and the use of low-tax countries or tax havens, Australia has also gone further than the international community in some areas.
Australia has increased funding for clean technology projects and both local and international companies can apply for grants to implement emission-saving equipment to their operations. Australia adopted a net-zero emissions target at the national level in November 2021 although made no change to its short-term goal of a 26-28 percent emission reduction by 2030 on 2005 levels. Australia’s eight states and territories have adopted both net-zero targets and a range of interim emission reduction targets set above the federal target. Various state incentive schemes may also be available to U.S. investors.
The Australian government is strongly focused on economic recovery from the COVID-driven recession Australia experienced in 2020, the country’s first in three decades. In addition to direct stimulus and business investment incentives, it has announced investment attraction incentives across a range of priority industries, including food and beverage manufacturing, medical products, clean energy, defense, space, and critical minerals processing. U.S. involvement and investment in these fields is welcomed.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Australia is generally welcoming to foreign direct investment (FDI), with foreign investment widely considered to be an essential contributor to Australia’s economic growth. Other than certain required review and approval procedures for designated types of foreign investment described below, there are no laws that discriminate against foreign investors.
A number of investment promotion agencies operate in Australia. The Australian Trade Commission (often referred to as Austrade) is the Commonwealth Government’s national “gateway” agency to support investment into Australia. Austrade provides coordinated government assistance to promote, attract, and facilitate FDI, supports Australian companies to grow their business in international markets, and delivers advice to the Australian Government on its trade, tourism, international education and training, and investment policy agendas. Austrade operates through a number of international offices, with U.S. offices primarily focused on attracting foreign direct investment into Australia and promoting the Australian education sector in the United States. Austrade in the United States operates from offices in Boston, Chicago, Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. In addition, state and territory investment promotion agencies also support international investment at the state level and in key sectors.
Within Australia, foreign and domestic private entities may establish and own business enterprises and may engage in all forms of remunerative activity in accordance with national legislative and regulatory practices. See Section 4: Legal Regime – Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment below for information on Australia’s investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment.
Other than the screening process described in Section 4, there are few limits or restrictions on foreign investment in Australia. Foreign purchases of agricultural land greater than AUD 15 million (USD 11 million) are subject to screening. This threshold applies to the cumulative value of agricultural land owned by the foreign investor, including the proposed purchase. However, the agricultural land screening threshold does not affect investments made under the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA). The current threshold is AUD 1.25 billion (USD 925 million) for U.S. non-government investors. Investments made by U.S. non-government investors are subject to inclusion on the foreign ownership register of agricultural land and to Australian Tax Office (ATO) information gathering activities on new foreign investment.
The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), which advises Australia’s Treasurer, may impose conditions when approving foreign investments. These conditions can be diverse and may include: retention of a minimum proportion of Australian directors; certain requirements on business activities, such as the requirement not to divest certain assets; and certain taxation requirements. Such conditions are in keeping with Australia’s policy of ensuring foreign investments are in the national interest.
Australia has not conducted an investment policy review in the last three years through either the OECD or UNCTAD system. The WTO reviewed Australia’s trade policies and practices in 2019, and the final report can be found at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp496_e.htm.
The Australian Trade Commission compiles an annual “Why Australia Benchmark Report” that presents comparative data on investing in Australia in the areas of Growth, Innovation, Talent, Location, and Business. The report also compares Australia’s investment credentials with other countries and provides a general snapshot on Australia’s investment climate. The 2021 Benchmark Report can be found at: http://www.austrade.gov.au/International/Invest/Resources/Benchmark-Report.
Australia’s private sector frequently provides policy recommendations to the government, including as part of annual federal budget reviews and ad hoc policy reviews. In 2021 the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia published a report titled “The Opportunity is Now: Attracting U.S. Investors to Australia,” which provides a range of recommendations to government relating to Australia’s investment screening and general investment environment. The report is available via the following link: https://www.pwc.com.au/amcham-pwc-opportunity-is-now.html
Business registration in Australia is relatively straightforward and is facilitated through a number of government websites. The government’s business.gov.au website provides an online resource and is intended as a “whole-of-government” service providing essential information on planning, starting, and growing a business. Foreign entities intending to conduct business in Australia as a foreign company must be registered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). As Australia’s corporate, markets, and financial services regulator, ASIC’s website provides information and guides on starting and managing a business or company in the country.
In registering a business, individuals and entities are required to register as a company with ASIC, which then gives the company an Australian Company Number, registers the company, and issues a Certificate of Registration. According to the World Bank “Starting a Business” indicator, registering a business in Australia takes two days, and Australia ranks 7th globally on this indicator.
Australia generally looks positively towards outward investment as a way to grow its economy. There are no restrictions on investing abroad. Austrade, Export Finance Australia (EFA), and various other government agencies offer assistance to Australian businesses looking to invest abroad, and some sector-specific export and investment programs exist. The United States is the top destination, by far, for Australian investment overseas.
3. Legal Regime
The Australian Government utilizes transparent policies and effective laws to foster national competition and is consultative in its policy making process. The government generally allows for public comment of draft legislation and publishes legislation once it enters into force. Details of the Australian government’s approach to regulation and regulatory impact analysis can be found on the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s website: https://www.pmc.gov.au/regulation
Regulations drafted by Australian Government agencies must be accompanied by a Regulation Impact Statement when submitted to the final decision maker (which may be the Cabinet, a Minister, or another decision maker appointed by legislation.) All Regulation Impact Statements must first be approved by the Office of Best Practice Regulation (OBPR) which sits within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, prior to being provided to the relevant decision maker. They are required to demonstrate the need for regulation, the alternative options available (including non-regulatory options), feedback from stakeholders, and a full cost-benefit analysis. Regulations are subsequently required to be reviewed periodically. All Regulation Impact Statements, second reading speeches, explanatory memoranda, and associated legislation are made publicly available on Government websites. Australia’s state and territory governments have similar processes when making new regulations.
The Australian Government has tended to prefer self-regulatory options where industry can demonstrate that the size of the risks are manageable and that there are mechanisms for industry to agree on, and comply with, self-regulatory options that will resolve the identified problem. This manifests in various ways across industries, including voluntary codes of conduct and similar agreements between industry players.
The Australian Government has recognized the impost of regulations and has undertaken a range of initiatives to reduce red tape. This has included specific red tape reduction targets for government agencies and various deregulatory groups within government agencies. In 2019, the Australian Government established a Deregulation Taskforce within its Treasury Department, stating its goal was to “drive improvements to the design, administration and effectiveness of the stock of government regulation to ensure it is fit for purpose.” The taskforce’s work is ongoing.
Australian accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international standards. Accounting standards are formulated by the Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB), an Australian Government agency under the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001. Under that Act, the statutory functions of the AASB are to develop a conceptual framework for the purpose of evaluating proposed standards; make accounting standards under section 334 of the Corporations Act 2001, and advance and promote the main objects of Part 12 of the ASIC Act, which include reducing the cost of capital, enabling Australian entities to compete effectively overseas and maintaining investor confidence in the Australian economy. The Australian Government conducts regular reviews of proposed measures and legislative changes and holds public hearings into such matters.
Australian government financing arrangements are transparent and well governed. Legislation governing the type of financial arrangements the government and its agencies may enter into is publicly available and adhered to. Updates on the Government’s financial position are regularly posted on the Department of Finance and Treasury websites. Issuance of government debt is managed by the Australian Office of Financial Management, which holds regular tenders for the sale of government debt and the outcomes of these tenders are publicly available. The Australian Government also publishes and adheres to strict procurement guidelines. Australia formally joined the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement in 2019.
Environmental Social Governance (ESG) reporting is not currently mandated for companies in Australia. However, companies are required to disclose any information that shareholders may deem relevant in assessing the performance of value of the company and this may include ESG components. Companies are also increasingly disclosing ESG aspects of their operations in response to shareholder demands and in order to secure an advantage over competitors. Further, financial services companies are required to disclose their exposure to climate risk as part of their standard risk disclosures (see further detail here: https://asic.gov.au/about-asic/news-centre/speeches/corporate-governance-update-climate-change-risk-and-disclosure/)
Australia is a member of the WTO, G20, OECD, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and became the first Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) Dialogue Partner in 1974. While not a regional economic block, Australia’s free trade agreement with New Zealand provides for a high level of integration between the two economies with the ultimate goal of a single economic market. Details of Australia’s involvement in these international organizations can be found on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s website: https://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/organisations/Pages/wto-g20-oecd-apec
The Australian legal system is firmly grounded on the principles of equal treatment before the law, procedural fairness, judicial precedent, and the independence of the judiciary. Strong safeguards exist to ensure that people are not treated arbitrarily or unfairly by governments or officials. Property and contractual rights are enforced through the Australian court system, which is based on English Common Law. Australia’s judicial system is fully independent and separate from the executive branch of government.
Foreign investment in Australia is regulated by the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 and Australia’s Foreign Investment Policy. The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) is a non-statutory body, comprising independent board members advised by a division within the Treasury Department, established to advise the Treasurer on Australia’s foreign investment policy and its administration. The FIRB screens potential foreign investments in Australia above threshold values, and based on advice from the FIRB the Treasurer may deny or place conditions on the approval of particular investments above that threshold on national interest grounds. In January 2021 new legislation, the Foreign Investment Reform (Protecting Australia’s National Security) Act 2020, took effect. This legislation tightened Australia’s investment screening rules by introducing the concept of a “national security business” and “national security land,” the acquisition of which trigger a FIRB review. Further details on national security considerations, including the definitions of national security businesses, are available on the FIRB website: https://firb.gov.au/guidance-resources/guidance-notes/gn8.
The Australian Government applies a “national interest” consideration in reviewing foreign investment applications. “National interest” covers a broader set of considerations than national security alone and may include tax or competition implications of an investment. Further information on foreign investment screening, including screening thresholds for certain sectors and countries, can be found at FIRB’s website: https://firb.gov.au/. Under the AUSFTA agreement, all U.S. greenfield investments are exempt from FIRB screening.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) enforces the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and a range of additional legislation, promotes competition, and fair trading, and regulates national infrastructure for the benefit of all Australians. The ACCC plays a key role in assessing mergers to determine whether they will lead to a substantial lessening of competition in any market. The ACCC also engages in consumer protection enforcement and has, in recent years, been given expanded responsibilities to monitor energy assets, the national gas market, and digital industries.
Private property can be expropriated for public purposes in accordance with Australia’s constitution and established principles of international law. Property owners are entitled to compensation based on “just terms” for expropriated property. There is little history of expropriation in Australia.
Bankruptcy is a legal status conferred under the Bankruptcy Act 1966 and operates in all of Australia’s states and territories. Only individuals can be made bankrupt, not businesses or companies. Where there is a partnership or person trading under a business name, it is the individual or individuals who make up that firm that are made bankrupt. Companies cannot become bankrupt under the Bankruptcy Act though similar provisions (called “administration and winding up”) exist under the Corporations Act 2001. Bankruptcy is not a criminal offense in Australia.
Creditor rights are established under the Bankruptcy Act 1966, the Corporations Act 2001, and the more recent Insolvency Law Reform Act 2016. The latter legislation commenced in two tranches over 2017 and aims to increase the efficiency of insolvency administrations, improve communications between parties, increase the corporate regulator’s oversight of the insolvency market, and “improve overall consumer confidence in the professionalism and competence of insolvency practitioners.” Under the combined legislation, creditors have the right to: request information during the administration process; give direction to a liquidator or trustee; appoint a liquidator to review the current appointee’s remuneration; and remove a liquidator and appoint a replacement.
The Australian parliament passed the Corporations Amendment (Corporation Insolvency Reforms) Act 2020 in December 2020. The legislation is a response to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and is designed to both assist viable businesses remain solvent and simplify the liquidation process for insolvent businesses. The new insolvency process under this legislation came into effect in January 2021.
Australia ranks 20th globally on the World Bank’s Doing Business Report “resolving insolvency” measure.
6. Financial Sector
The Australian Government takes a favorable stance towards foreign portfolio investment with no restrictions on inward flows of debt or equity. Indeed, access to foreign capital markets is crucial to the Australian economy given its relatively small domestic savings. Australian capital markets are generally efficient and able to provide financing options to businesses. While the Australian equity market is one of the largest and most liquid in the world, non-financial firms face a number of barriers in accessing the corporate bond market. Large firms are more likely to use public equity, and smaller firms are more likely to use retained earnings and debt from banks and intermediaries. Australia’s corporate bond market is relatively small, driving many Australian companies to issue debt instruments in the U.S. market. Foreign investors are able to obtain credit from domestic institutions on market terms. Australia’s stock market is the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).
Australia’s banking system is robust, highly evolved, and international in focus. Bank profitability is strong and has been supported by further improvements in asset performance. Total assets of Australian banks at the end of 2020 was USD4.2 trillion and the sector has delivered an annual average return on equity of around 10 percent (only falling to six percent in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, before rebounding to 11 percent in 2021).
According to Australia’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), the ratio of non-performing assets to total loans was approximately one percent at the end of 2021, having remained at around that level for the last five years after falling from highs of nearly two percent following the Global Financial Crisis. The RBA is responsible for monitoring and reporting on the stability of the financial sector, while the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) monitors individual institutions. The RBA is also responsible for monitoring and regulating payments systems in Australia.
Foreign banks are allowed to operate as a branch or a subsidiary in Australia. Australia has generally taken an open approach to allowing foreign companies to operate in the financial sector, largely to ensure sufficient competition in an otherwise small domestic market.
Australia’s main sovereign wealth fund, the Future Fund, is a financial asset investment fund owned by the Australian Government. The Fund’s objective is to enhance the ability of future Australian Governments to discharge unfunded superannuation (pension) liabilities. As a founding member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds (IFSWF), the Future Fund’s structure, governance, and investment approach is in full alignment with the Generally Accepted Principles and Practices for Sovereign Wealth Funds (the “Santiago principles”).
The Future Fund’s investment mandate is to achieve a long-term return of at least inflation plus 4-5 percent per annum. As of December 2021, the Fund’s portfolio consists of: 23 percent global equities, 8 percent Australian equities, 25 percent private equity (including 8 percent in infrastructure and 7 percent in property), and the remaining 37 percent in debt, cash, and alternative investments.
In addition to the Future Fund, the Australian Government manages five other specific-purpose funds: the DisabilityCare Australia Fund; the Medical Research Future Fund; the Emergency Response Fund; the Future Drought Fund; and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land and Sea Future Fund. In total, these five funds have assets of AUD 50 billion (USD 37 billion), while the main Future Fund has assets of AUD 204 billion (USD 150 billion) as of December 31, 2021.
In Australia, the term used for a Commonwealth Government State-Owned Enterprise (SOE) is “government business enterprise” (GBE). According to the Department of Finance, there are nine GBEs: two corporate Commonwealth entities and seven Commonwealth companies. (See: https://www.finance.gov.au/resource-management/governance/gbe/) Private enterprises are generally allowed to compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions with respect to markets, credit, and other business operations, such as licenses and supplies. Public enterprises are not generally accorded material advantages in Australia. Remaining GBEs do not exercise power in a manner that discriminates against or unfairly burdens foreign investors or foreign-owned enterprises.
Australia does not have a formal and explicit national privatization program. Individual state and territory governments may have their own privatization programs. Foreign investors are welcome to participate in any privatization programs subject to the rules and approvals governing foreign investment.
10. Political and Security Environment
Political protests (including rallies, demonstrations, marches, public conflicts between competing interests) form an integral, though generally minor, part of Australian cultural life. Such protests rarely degenerate into violence.
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
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)
* Source for Host Country Data: Australian Bureau of Statistics
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
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Brazil is the second largest economy in the Western Hemisphere behind the United States, and the twelfth largest economy in the world (in nominal terms) according to the World Bank. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) named Brazil the seventh largest destination for global foreign direct investment (FDI) flows in 2021 with inflows of $58 billion, an increase of 133percent in comparison to 2020 but still below pre-pandemic levels (in 2019, inflows totaled $65.8 billion). In recent years, Brazil has received more than half of South America’s total amount of incoming FDI, and the United States is a major foreign investor in Brazil. According to Brazilian Central Bank (BCB) measurements, U.S. stock was 24 percent ($123.9 billion) of all FDI in Brazil as of the end of 2020, the largest single-country stock by ultimate beneficial owner (UBO), while International Monetary Fund (IMF) measurements assessed the United States had the second largest single-country stock of FDI by UBO, representing 18.7 percent of all FDI in Brazil ($105 billion) and second only to the Netherlands’ 19.9 percent ($112.5 billion). The Government of Brazil (GoB) prioritized attracting private investment in its infrastructure and energy sectors during 2018 and 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 delayed planned privatization efforts and despite government efforts to resume in 2021, economic and political conditions hampered the process.
The Brazilian economy resumed growth in 2017, ending the deepest and longest recession in Brazil’s modern history. However, after three years of modest recovery, Brazil entered a recession following the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic in 2020. The country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased 4.6 percent in 2021, in comparison to a 4.1 percent contraction in 2020. As of February 2022, analysts had forecasted 0.3 percent 2022 GDP growth. The unemployment rate was 11.1 percent at the end of 2021, with over one-quarter of the labor force unemployed or underutilized. The nominal budget deficit stood at 4.4 percent of GDP ($72.4 billion) in 2021, and is projected to rise to 6.8 percent by the end of 2022 according to Brazilian government estimates. Brazil’s debt-to-GDP ratio reached 89.4 percent in 2020 and fell to around 82 percent by the end of 2021. The National Treasury projections show the debt-to-GDP ratio rising to 86.7 percent by the end of 2022, while the Independent Financial Institution (IFI) of Brazil’s Senate projects an 84.8 percent debt-to-GDP ratio. The BCB increased its target for the benchmark Selic interest rate from 2 percent at the end of 2020 to 9.25 percent at the end of 2021, and 11.75 percent in March 2022. The BCB’s Monetary Committee (COPOM) anticipates raising the Selic rate to 12.25 percent before the end of 2022.
President Bolsonaro took office on January 1, 2019, and in that same year signed a much-needed pension system reform into law and made additional economic reforms a top priority. Bolsonaro and his economic team outlined an agenda of further reforms to simplify Brazil’s complex tax system and complicated code of labor laws in the country, but the legislative agenda in 2020 was largely consumed by the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the Brazilian government passed a major forex regulatory framework and strengthened the Central Bank’s autonomy in executing its mandate. The government also passed a variety of new regulatory frameworks in transportation and energy sectors, including a major reform of the natural gas market. In addition, the government passed a law seeking to improve the ease of doing business as well as advance the privatization of its major state-owned enterprise Electrobras.
Brazil’s official investment promotion strategy prioritizes the automobile manufacturing, renewable energy, life sciences, oil and gas, and infrastructure sectors. Foreign investors in Brazil receive the same legal treatment as local investors in most economic sectors; however, there are foreign investment restrictions in the health, mass media, telecommunications, aerospace, rural property, and maritime sectors. The Brazilian congress is considering legislation to liberalize restrictions on foreign ownership of rural property.
Analysts contend that high transportation and labor costs, low domestic productivity, and ongoing political uncertainties hamper investment in Brazil. Foreign investors also cite concerns over poor existing infrastructure, rigid labor laws, and complex tax, local content, and regulatory requirements; all part of the extra costs of doing business in Brazil.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Brazil was the world’s seventh-largest destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2019, with inflows of $58 billion, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The GoB actively encourages FDI – particularly in the automobile, renewable energy, life sciences, oil and gas, mining, and transportation infrastructure sectors – to introduce greater innovation into Brazil’s economy and to generate economic growth. GoB investment incentives include tax exemptions and low-cost financing with no distinction made between domestic and foreign investors in most sectors. Foreign investment is restricted in the health, mass media, telecommunications, aerospace, rural property, maritime, and insurance sectors.
The Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (APEX-Brasil) plays a leading role in attracting FDI to Brazil by working to identify business opportunities, promoting strategic events, and lending support to foreign investors willing to allocate resources to Brazil. APEX-Brasil is not a “one-stop shop” for foreign investors, but the agency can assist in all steps of the investor’s decision-making process, to include identifying and contacting potential industry segments, sector and market analyses, and general guidelines on legal and fiscal issues. Their services are free of charge. The website for APEX-Brasil is: http://www.apexbrasil.com.br/en .
In 2016, the Ministry of Economy created the Direct Investments Ombudsman (OID) at the Board of Foreign Trade and Investments (CAMEX), to provide assistance to foreign investors through a single body for issues related to FDI in Brazil. This structure aims to help and eventually speed up foreign investments in Brazil, providing foreign and national investors with a simpler process for establishing new businesses and implementing additional investments in their current companies. Since 2019, the OID has acted as a “single window” of the Brazilian government for FDI. It supports and guides investors in their requests, recommending solutions to their complaints (Policy Advocacy) as well as proposing improvements to the legislation or administrative procedures to public agencies whenever necessary. The OID is responsible for receiving requests and inquiries on matters related to foreign investments, to be answered together with government agencies and entities (federal, state and municipal) involved in each case (Focal Points Network). This new structure provides a centralized support system to foreign investors, and must respond in a timely manner to investors’ requests.
A 1995 constitutional amendment (EC 6/1995) eliminated distinctions between foreign and local capital, ending favorable treatment (i.e. tax incentives, preference for winning bids) for companies using only local capital. However, constitutional law restricts foreign investment in healthcare (Law 8080/1990, altered by 13097/2015), mass media (Law 10610/2002), telecommunications (Law 12485/2011), aerospace (Law 7565/1986 a, Decree 6834/2009, updated by Law 12970/2014, Law 13133/2015, and Law 13319/2016), rural property (Law 5709/1971), maritime (Law 9432/1997, Decree 2256/1997), and insurance (Law 11371/2006).
Brazil does not have a national security-based foreign investment screening process. Foreign investors in Brazil must electronically register their investment with the Central Bank of Brazil (BCB) within 30 days of the inflow of resources to Brazil. In cases of investments involving royalties and technology transfer, investors must register with Brazil’s patent office, the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI). Since the approval of the Doing Business Law in 2021, companies are no longer required to have an administrator residing in Brazil, but they must appoint a local proxy attorney to receive legal notifications. Portfolio investors must have a Brazilian financial administrator and register with the Brazilian Securities Exchange Commission (CVM). Brazil does not have an investment screening mechanism based on national security interests. A bill was proposed in the Chamber of Deputies in 2020 (PL 2491) to change the parameters under which to review foreign investments could be reviewed, but the bill has not yet been analyzed by the necessary commissions.
To enter Brazil’s insurance and reinsurance market, U.S. companies must establish a subsidiary, enter a joint venture, acquire a local firm, or enter a partnership with a local company. The BCB reviews banking license applications on a case-by-case basis. Foreign interests own or control 20 of the top 50 banks in Brazil, but Santander is the only major wholly foreign-owned retail bank.
Since June 2019, foreign investors may own 100 percent of capital in Brazilian airline companies.
While 2015 and 2017 legislative and regulatory changes relaxed some restrictions on insurance and reinsurance, rules on preferential offers to local reinsurers remain unchanged. Foreign reinsurance firms must have a representational office in Brazil to qualify as an admitted reinsurer. Insurance and reinsurance companies must maintain an active registration with Brazil’s insurance regulator, the Superintendence of Private Insurance (SUSEP), and maintain a solvency classification issued by a risk classification agency equal to Standard & Poor’s or Fitch ratings of at least BBB-.
Foreign ownership of cable TV companies is allowed, and telecom companies may offer television packages with their service. Content quotas require every channel to air at least three and a half hours per week of Brazilian programming during primetime. Additionally, one-third of all channels included in any TV package must be Brazilian.
The National Land Reform and Settlement Institute administers the purchase and lease of Brazilian agricultural land by foreigners. Under the applicable rules, the area of agricultural land bought or leased by foreigners cannot account for more than 25 percent of the overall land area in a given municipal district. Additionally, no more than 10 percent of agricultural land in any given municipal district may be owned or leased by foreign nationals from the same country. The law also states that prior consent is needed for purchase of land in areas considered indispensable to national security and for land along the border. The rules also make it necessary to obtain congressional approval before large plots of agricultural land can be purchased by foreign nationals, foreign companies, or Brazilian companies with majority foreign shareholding. In December 2020, the Senate approved a bill (PL 2963/2019; source: https://www25.senado.leg.br/web/atividade/materias/-/materia/136853) to ease restrictions on foreign land ownership and the Chamber of Deputies began to deliberate on the bill; however, the bill was shelved with no plans to advance it further after President Bolsonaro expressed concerns regarding the legislation.
Brazil is not yet a signatory to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA), but submitted its application for accession in May 2020. In February 2021, Brazil formalized its initial offer to start negotiations. The submission establishes a series of thresholds above which foreign sellers will be allowed to bid for procurements. Such thresholds vary for different procuring entities and types of procurements. The proposal also includes procurements by some states and municipalities (with restrictions) as well as state-owned enterprises, but it excludes certain sensitive categories, such as financial services, strategic health products, and specific information technologies. Brazil’s submission is currently under review with GPA members.
By statute, a Brazilian state enterprise may subcontract services to a foreign firm only if domestic expertise is unavailable. Additionally, U.S. and other foreign firms may only bid to provide technical services when there are no qualified Brazilian firms. U.S. companies need to enter into partnerships with local firms or have operations in Brazil in order to be eligible for “margins of preference” offered to domestic firms participating in Brazil’s public sector procurement to help these firms win government tenders. Nevertheless, foreign companies are often successful in obtaining subcontracting opportunities with large Brazilian firms that win government contracts, and since October 2020 foreign companies are allowed to participate in bids without the need for an in-country corporate presence (although establishing such a presence is mandatory if the bid is successful). A revised Government Procurement Protocol of the trade bloc Mercosul (Mercosur in Spanish) signed in 2017 would entitle member nations Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay to non-discriminatory treatment of government-procured goods, services, and public works originating from each other’s suppliers and providers. However, none of the bloc’s members have ratified the protocol, so it has not entered into force. Despite the restrictions within Mercosul, in January 2022 Brazil and Chile entered into an agreement which includes government procurement.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) December 2021 Economic Forecast Summary of Brazil summarized that with the COVID-19 vaccination campaign accelerating throughout the year, economic activity underpinned by reduced private consumption and investment restarted as restrictions were lifted, and exports benefited from the global recovery, the robust demand for commodities, and a weak exchange rate. However, supply bottlenecks, lower purchasing power, higher interest rates, and policy uncertainty have slowed the pace of recovery. The labor market is experiencing a lag in recovering from the pandemic, and by the end of 2021 unemployment remained above pre-pandemic levels. The residual effect of the government’s significant fiscal stimulus spending in 2020 to reinvigorate the economy contributed to inflationary pressure, further compounded by constrained global supply chains pushing prices up. In response, the COPOM chose to incrementally increase its benchmark SELIC rate from 2 percent in March 2021 to 11.75 percent in March 2022. The COPOM announced that it would continue tightening its monetary policy in an effort to curb inflation and anchor expectations. Prospects for economic growth are weak for 2022 and 2023. The OECD recommended that Brazil strengthen and adhere to its fiscal rules to increase market confidence in establishing sustainable finances and exercising more efficient public spending to create fiscal space for growth-enhancing policies, along with developing a more inclusive social protection program.
The IMF’s 2021 Country Report No. 2021/217 (published in September 2021) for Brazil highlighted that its economic performance for the year had been better than expected, partly due to the government’s fiscal response to the pandemic which propelled the economy back to pre-pandemic levels for most sectors. In addition, the IMF noted a favorable economic momentum supported by booming trade and robust private sector credit growth. The IMF assessed that currency depreciation and a surge in commodity prices had led to headline inflation, and that expectations remained negative. The report noted Brazil’s lagging labor market, especially among youths, women, and Afro-Brazilians. The IMF also expressed concerns that emergency cash transfers (which expired in December 2021) were only a short-term solution, and recommended addressing poverty and inequality by strengthening a more permanent social safety net. The IMF concluded that near-term fiscal risks were low, but the high level of public debt continued to pose a medium-term risk. Restoring high and sustained growth, increasing employment, raising productivity, improving living standards, and reducing vulnerabilities would require longer-term policy efforts to eliminate bottlenecks and foster private sector-led investment.
The WTO’s 2017 Trade Policy Review of Brazil noted the country’s open stance towards foreign investment, but also pointed to the many sector-specific limitations (see above). The three reports listed below, with links to the reports, highlight the uncertainty regarding reform plans as the most significant political risk to the economy.
A company must register with the National Revenue Service (Receita Federal) to obtain a business license and be placed on the National Registry of Legal Entities (CNPJ). Brazil’s Export Promotion and Investment Agency (APEX) has a mandate to facilitate foreign investment in Brazil. The agency’s services are available to all investors, foreign and domestic. Foreign companies interested in investing in Brazil have access to many benefits and tax incentives granted by the Brazilian government at the municipal, state, and federal levels. Most incentives target specific sectors, amounts invested, and job generation. Brazil’s business registration website can be found at: https://www.gov.br/pt-br/servicos/inscrever-ou-atualizar-cadastro-nacional-de-pessoas-juridicas .
Brazil enacted its “Doing Business” law, which entered into force on August 26, 2021. The law simplified the process to open a business, sought to facilitate foreign trade by eliminating redundancy as well as further automating its trade processes, and expand the powers of minority shareholders in private companies.
Adopted in September 2019, the Economic Freedom Law 13.874 established the Economic Freedom Declaration of Rights and provides for free market guarantees. The law includes several provisions to simplify regulations and establish norms for the protection of free enterprise and free exercise of economic activity.
On August 20, 2021, the Brazilian government included the Foreign Trade Secretariat (SECEX) in the Brazilian Authorized Economic Operator Program (Programa OEA), run by Receita Federal (Internal Federal Revenue service), allowing Government of Brazil-designated OEA certified operators to maintain a low-level risk to achieve benefits in their foreign trade operations related to drawback suspension and exemption regimes.
Through the digital transformation initiative in Brazil, foreign companies can open branches via the internet. Since 2019, it has been easier for foreign businesspeople to request authorization from the Brazilian federal government. After filling out the registration, creating an account, and sending the necessary documentation, business entities can make the authorization request on the Brazilian government’s online portal through a legal representative. The electronic documents will then be analyzed by the Brazilian National Department of Business Registration and Integration (DREI) team. DREI will inform the applicant of any missing documentation via the portal and e-mail and give a 60-day period for the applicant to submit any additional information. The legal representative of the foreign company, or another third party who holds a power of attorney, may request registration through this link: https://acesso.gov.br/acesso/#/primeiro-acesso?clientDetails=eyJjbGllbnRVcmkiOiJodHRwczpcL1wvYWNlc3NvLmdvdi5iciIsImNsaWVudE5hbWUiOiJQb3J0YWwgZ292LmJyIiwiY2xpZW50VmVyaWZpZWRVc2VyIjp0cnVlfQ%3D%3D
The regulation of foreign companies opening businesses in Brazil is governed by article 1,134 of the Brazilian Civil Code and article 1 of DREI Normative Instruction 77/2020. English-language general guidelines to open a foreign company in Brazil are not yet available, but the Portuguese version is available at the following link:https://www.gov.br/economia/pt-br/assuntos/drei/empresas-estrangeiras .
provides investment measures, laws and treaties enacted by selected countries.
provides links to business registration sites worldwide.
Brazil does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. APEX-Brasil supports Brazilian companies’ efforts to invest abroad under its “internationalization program”: http://www.apexbrasil.com.br/como-a-apex-brasil-pode-ajudar-na-internacionalizacao-de-sua-empresa . APEX-Brasil frequently highlights the United States as a worthwhile destination for outbound investment. APEX-Brasil and SelectUSA (U.S. Department of Commerce) signed a memorandum of cooperation in February 2014 to promote bilateral investment.
Brazil incentivizes outward investment. APEX-Brasil organizes several initiatives aimed at promoting Brazilian investments abroad. The agency´s efforts include trade missions, business round tables, promoting the participation of Brazilian companies in major international trade fairs, and arranging technical visits for foreign buyers to Brazil as well as facilitating travel for decision-makers seeking to learn about the Brazilian market and performing other commercial activities designed to strengthen the country’s branding abroad.
The main sectors of Brazilian investments abroad are financial services and assets (totaling 62.9 percent of total investments abroad); oil and gas extraction (12 percent); and mineral metal extraction (6.5 percent). Including all sectors, Brazilian investments abroad totaled $448 billion in 2020. The regions that received the largest share of Brazilian outward investments are the Caribbean (43.3 percent), concentrated in the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands and Bahamas, and Europe (37.9 percent), primarily the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
Sales of cross-border mutual funds are only allowed to certain categories of investors, not to the general public. In 2020, international financial services companies active in Brazil submitted a proposal to Brazilian regulators to allow opening these mutual funds to the general public, and the Brazilian Securities and Exchange Commission is expected to approve their recommendation by June 2022. Discussions with regulators about increasing the share percentages that pension funds and insurers can invest abroad (currently 10 percent for pension funds, 20 percent for insurers, and 40 percent for qualified investors) are ongoing, along with discussions about tax deferral mechanisms to incentivize Brazilian investment abroad.
3. Legal Regime
According to the World Bank, it takes approximately 17 days to start a business in Brazil. Brazil is seeking to streamline the process and decrease the amount of time it takes to open a small- or medium-sized enterprise (SME) to only five days through its RedeSimples Program. Similarly, the government has reduced regulatory compliance burdens for SMEs through the continued use of the SIMPLES program, which simplifies the collection of up to eight federal, state, and municipal-level taxes into one single payment. The Doing Business law (14.195/2021) included provisions to streamline the process, such as unifying federal, state and municipal registrations and eliminating requirements such as address analysis and pre-checking business names.
In 2020, the World Bank noted that Brazil’s lowest-ranked component in its Ease of Doing Business score was the annual administrative burden for a medium-sized business to comply with Brazilian tax codes with an average of 1,501 hours per year, a significant improvement from 2019’s 1,958 hour average but still much higher than the 160.7 hour average of OECD high-income countries. The total tax rate for a medium-sized business in Brazil is 65.1 percent of profits, compared to the average of 40.1 percent in OECD high-income countries. Business managers often complain of not being able to understand complex and sometimes contradictory tax regulations, despite having large local tax and accounting departments in their companies.
Tax regulations, while burdensome and numerous, do not generally differentiate between foreign and domestic firms. However, some investors complain that in certain instances the processing of rebates for exported goods of the value-added tax collected by individual states (ICMS) favors local companies. Exporters in many states report difficulty receiving their ICMS rebates when their goods are exported. Taxes on commercial and financial transactions are particularly burdensome, and businesses complain that these taxes hinder the international competitiveness of Brazilian-made products.
Of Brazil’s ten federal regulatory agencies, the most prominent include:
ANVISA, the Brazilian counterpart to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has regulatory authority over the production and marketing of food, drugs, and medical devices
ANATEL, the country’s telecommunications regulatory agency, which handles telecommunications as well as the licensing and assigning of radio spectrum bandwidth (the Brazilian FCC counterpart)
ANP, the National Petroleum Agency, which regulates oil and gas contracts and oversees auctions for oil and natural gas exploration and production
ANAC, Brazil’s civil aviation agency
IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental licensing and enforcement agency
ANEEL, Brazil’s electricity regulator that regulates Brazil’s power sector and oversees auctions for electricity transmission, generation, and distribution contracts
In addition to these federal regulatory agencies, Brazil has dozens of state- and municipal-level regulatory agencies.
The United States and Brazil conduct regular discussions on customs and trade facilitation, good regulatory practices, standards and conformity assessment, digital issues, and intellectual property protection. Discussions in all these areas occurred during the 19th plenary of the Commercial Dialogue which took place virtually in October 2021, and continue through ongoing regular exchanges at the working level between the U.S. Department of Commerce, Brazil’s Ministry of Economy, and other agencies and regulators throughout the year.
Regulatory agencies complete Regulatory Impact Analyses (RIAs) on a voluntary basis. The Brazilian congress passed Law 13.848 in June 2019 on Governance and Accountability (PLS 52/2013 in the Senate, and PL 6621/2016 in the Chamber). Among other provisions, the law makes RIAs mandatory for regulations that affect “the general interest.”
The Chamber of Deputies, the Federal Senate, and the Office of the Presidency maintain websites providing public access to both approved and proposed federal legislation. Brazil is seeking to improve its public comment and stakeholder input process. In 2004, the GoB opened an online “Transparency Portal” with data on funds transferred to and from federal, state, and city governments, as well as to and from foreign countries. It also includes information on civil servant salaries.
In December 2021, Brazil’s Securities and Exchange Commision (CMV) issued Resolution 59/2021, establishing the first transparency mechanism for environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) practices in the country. The goal of the change was to provide more comprehensive information to potential investors, therefore allowing the market environment to drive changes in business behavior. According to the resolution, starting in January 2023, listed companies will be required to inform the CVM whether they disclose information on ESG indicators and provide details on their reports, such as existence of independent audits, which indicators were used, and if UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been considered. The new requirement will also include questions regarding the companies’ consideration of the Task Force on Climate Change-Related Financial Disclosures or other recognized entities’ recommendations, the existence of a gas emission inventory, and the role of management bodies in assessing climate-related risks. Regarding diversity issues, companies will be required to disclose information showing the diversity of the body of administrators and employees as well as salary disparities between executives and staff.
In 2022, the Department of State concluded in its annual 2021 Fiscal Transparency Report that Brazil had met minimum fiscal transparency requirements. The International Budget Partnership’s Open Budget Index ranked Brazil slightly ahead of the United States in terms of budget transparency in its most recent (2019) index. The Brazilian government demonstrates adequate fiscal transparency in managing its federal accounts, although there is room for improvement in terms of completeness of federal budget documentation. Brazil’s budget documents are publicly available, widely accessible, and sufficiently detailed. They provide a relatively full picture of the GoB’s planned expenditures and revenue streams. The information in publicly available budget documents is considered credible and reasonably accurate.
Brazil is a member of Mercosul – a South American trade bloc whose full members include Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Brazil routinely implements Mercosul common regulations.
Brazil is a member of the WTO and the government regularly notifies draft technical regulations, such as potential agricultural trade barriers, to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).
Brazil has a civil legal system with state and federal courts. Investors can seek to enforce contracts through the court system or via mediation, although both processes can be lengthy. The Brazilian Superior Court of Justice (STJ) must accept foreign contract enforcement rulings for the rulings to be considered valid in Brazil. Among other considerations, the foreign judgment must not contradict any prior decisions by a Brazilian court in the same dispute. The Brazilian Civil Code regulates commercial disputes, although commercial cases involving maritime law follow an older Commercial Code which has been otherwise largely superseded. Federal judges hear most disputes in which one of the parties is the Brazilian State, and also, rule on lawsuits between a foreign state or international organization and a municipality or a person residing in Brazil.
The judicial system is generally independent. The Supreme Federal Court (STF), charged with constitutional cases, frequently rules on politically sensitive issues. State court judges and federal level judges below the STF are career officials selected through a meritocratic examination process. The judicial system is backlogged, and disputes or trials frequently take several years to arrive at a final resolution, including all available appeals. Regulations and enforcement actions can be litigated in the court system, which contains mechanisms for appeal depending upon the level at which the case is filed. The STF is the ultimate court of appeal on constitutional grounds; the STJ is the ultimate court of appeal for cases not involving constitutional issues.
In 2019, Brazil established a “one-stop shop” for international investors. The one-stop shop, the Direct Investments Ombudsman (DIO), is a ‘single window’ for investors provided by the Executive Secretariat of CAMEX. It is responsible for receiving requests and inquiries about investments, to be answered jointly with the public agency responsible for the matter (at the federal, state and municipal levels) involved in each case (the Network of Focal Points). This new structure allows for supporting the investor via a single governmental body in charge of responding to investor requests within a short time. Private investors have noted the single window is better than the previous system, but does not yet provide all the services of a true “one-stop shop” to facilitate international investment. The DIO’s website in English is: http://oid.economia.gov.br/en/menus/8
The Administrative Council for Economic Defense (CADE), which falls under the purview of the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for enforcing competition laws, consumer protection, and carrying out regulatory reviews of proposed mergers and acquisitions. CADE was reorganized in 2011 through Law 12529, combining the antitrust functions of the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Finance. The law brought Brazil in line with U.S. and European merger review practices and allows CADE to perform pre-merger reviews, in contrast to the prior legal framework that directed the government to review mergers after they had already been completed. In October 2012, CADE performed Brazil’s first pre-merger review.
In 2021, CADE conducted 611 total formal investigations. It approved 165 merger and/or acquisition requests and did not reject any requests.
Article 5 of the Brazilian Constitution assures property rights of both Brazilians and foreigners that own property in Brazil. The Constitution does not address nationalization or expropriation. Decree-Law 3365 allows the government to exercise eminent domain under certain criteria that include, but are not limited to, national security, public transportation, safety, health, and urbanization projects. In cases of eminent domain, the government compensates owners at fair market value.
There are no signs that the current federal government is contemplating expropriation actions in Brazil against foreign interests. Brazilian courts have previously ruled in U.S. citizens’ favor for some claims regarding state-level land expropriations. However, as states have filed appeals of these decisions, the compensation process for foreign entities can be lengthy and have uncertain final outcomes.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
In 2002, Brazil ratified the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards. Brazil is not a member of the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Brazil joined the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) in 2010, and its membership will expire in 2022.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Article 34 of the 1996 Brazilian Arbitration Act (Law 9307) defines a foreign arbitration judgment as any judgment rendered outside of the national territory. The law established that the Superior Court of Justice (STJ) must ratify foreign arbitration awards. Law 9307, updated by Law 13129/2015, also stipulates that a foreign arbitration award will be recognized or executed in Brazil in conformity with the international agreements ratified by the country and, in their absence, with domestic law. A 2001 Brazilian Supreme Federal Court (STF) ruling established that the 1996 Brazilian Arbitration Act, permitting international arbitration subject to STJ ratification of arbitration decisions, does not violate the federal constitution’s provision that “the law shall not exclude any injury or threat to a right from the consideration of the Judicial Power.”
Contract disputes in Brazil can be lengthy and complex. Brazil has both a federal and a state court system, and jurisprudence is based on civil code and contract law. Federal judges hear most disputes in which one of the parties is the State and rule on lawsuits between a foreign State or international organization and a municipality or a person residing in Brazil. Five regional federal courts hear appeals of federal judges’ decisions.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Brazil ratified the 1975 Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (Panama Convention) and the 1979 Inter-American Convention on Extraterritorial Validity of Foreign Judgments and Arbitration Awards (Montevideo Convention). Law 9307/1996 amplifies Brazilian law on arbitration and provides guidance on governing principles and rights of participating parties. Brazil developed a new Cooperation and Facilitation Investment Agreement (CFIA) model in 2015 (https://concordia.itamaraty.gov.br/ ), but it does not include ISDS mechanisms. (See sections on bilateral investment agreements and responsible business conduct.)
Brazil’s commercial code governs most aspects of commercial association, while the civil code governs professional services corporations. In December 2020, Brazil approved a new bankruptcy law (Law 14.112) which largely models the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration and addresses criticisms that its previous bankruptcy legislation favored holders of equity over holders of debt. The new law facilitates the judicial and extrajudicial resolution process between debtors and creditors and accelerates reorganization and liquidation processes. Both debtors and creditors are allowed to provide reorganization plans that would eliminate non-performing activities and sell-off assets, thus avoiding bankruptcy. The new law also establishes a framework for cross-border insolvencies that recognizes legal proceedings outside of Brazil.
6. Financial Sector
The Brazil Central Bank (BCB) in October 2016 implemented a sustained monetary easing cycle, lowering the Special Settlement and Custody System (Selic) baseline reference rate from a high of 14 percent in October 2016 to a record-low 2 percent by the end of 2020. The downward trend was reversed by an increase to 2.75 percent in March 2021 and reached 10.75 percent in February 2022. Brazil’s banking sector projects that the Selic will reach 12.25 percent by the end of 2022. Inflation for 2021 ended at an annualized 10.06 percent, above the target of 4 percent plus/minus 1.5 percent. The BCB’s Monetary Policy Committee (COPOM) set the BCB’s inflation target at 3.5 percent for 2022 and .25 percent in 2023 (plus/minus 1.5 percent), but as of February 2022 the BCB estimates that inflation will reach 5.4 percent in 2022, above the target again. As of mid-March 2022, Brazil’s annual inflation rate is at 10.75 percent. Brazil’s muddled fiscal policy and heavy public debt burden factor into most analysts’ forecasts that the “neutral” policy rate will remain higher than target rates among Brazil’s emerging-market peers (around five percent) over the reporting period.
According to the BCB, in 2021 the ratio of public debt to GDP reached 81.1 percent, compared to a record 89.4 percent in 2020. Analysts project that the debt/GDP ratio may rise to around 85 percent by the end of 2023.
The role of the state in credit markets grew steadily beginning in 2008, but showed a reduction in 2020 due to the pandemic. As of January 2022, public banks accounted for about 50 percent of total loans to the private sector (compared to 48.9 percent in 2018). Directed lending (that is, to meet mandated sectoral targets) also rose, and accounts for almost half of total lending. Brazil is paring back public bank lending and trying to expand a market for long-term private capital.
While local private sector banks are beginning to offer longer credit terms, state-owned development bank BNDES is a traditional source of long-term credit in Brazil. BNDES also offers export financing. Approvals of new financing by BNDES decreased 4 percent in 2021 from 2020, with the infrastructure sector receiving the majority of new capital.
The sole stock market in Brazil is B3 (Brasil, Bolsa, Balcão), created through the 2008 merger of the São Paulo Stock Exchange (Bovespa) with the Brazilian Mercantile & Futures Exchange (BM&F), forming the fourth-largest exchange in the Western hemisphere, after the NYSE, NASDAQ, and Canadian TSX Group exchanges. In 2020, there were 463 companies traded on the B3 exchange. The B3’s broadest index, the Ibovespa, decreased 11.93 percent in valuation during 2021, due to economic uncertainties related to rising and persistent inflation, particularly in the second half of the year. Foreign investors, both institutional and individuals, can directly invest in equities, securities, and derivatives; however, they are limited to trading those investments only on established markets.
Wholly-owned subsidiaries of multinational accounting firms, including the major U.S. firms, are present in Brazil. Auditors are personally liable for the accuracy of accounting statements prepared for banks.
The Brazilian financial sector is large and sophisticated. Banks lend at market rates that remain relatively high compared to other emerging economies. Reasons cited by industry observers include high taxation, repayment risk, concern over inconsistent judicial enforcement of contracts, high mandatory reserve requirements, and administrative overhead, as well as persistently high real (net of inflation) interest rates. According to BCB data collected for 2020, the average rate offered by Brazilian banks to non-financial corporations was 11.7 percent.
The banking sector in Brazil is highly concentrated, with BCB data indicating that the five largest commercial banks (excluding brokerages) account for approximately 82 percent of the commercial banking credit market totaling $800 billion by the end of 2020. Three of the five largest banks by assets in the country, Banco do Brasil, Caixa Econômica Federal, and BNDES, are partially or completely federally-owned. Large private banking institutions focus their lending on Brazil’s largest firms, while small- and medium-sized banks primarily serve small- and medium-sized companies. Citibank sold its consumer business to Itaú Bank in 2016, but maintains its commercial banking interests in Brazil. It is currently the only U.S. bank operating in the country. Increasing competitiveness in the financial sector, including in the emerging fintech space, is a vital part of the Brazilian government’s strategy to improve access to and the affordability of financial services in Brazil.
On November 16, 2020, the BCB launched its instant payment system called “PIX”. PIX is a 24/7 system that offers transfers of any value for people-people (P2P), people-business (P2B), business-people (B2P), business-business (B2B), and government-government (G2G). Brazilian customers in 2021 overwhelmingly embraced PIX, particularly for P2P transfers (which are free), replacing both cash payments and legacy bank electronic transfers which charged relatively high fees and could only take place during business hours.
In February 2021, the BCB implemented the first two of four phases of its Open Banking Initiative in an effort to open Brazil’s insulated banking system dominated by relatively few players. The first phase required Brazilian financial institutions to facilitate digitized access to their customer service channels, products, and services related to demand deposit or savings accounts, payment accounts, and credit operations. The second phase of the initiative expanded sharing customer data across a widening scope of bank products including loans. The other two phases, which are scheduled to go into effect in 2022, seek to include sharing customer data on foreign exchange, investments, and pension funds. The BCB expects that increased access to customer information will allow other financial institutions, including competitor banks and fintechs, to offer better and cheaper banking services to incumbent banks’ clients, thereby breaking up the dominance of the six large, incumbent banking institutions.
In recent years, the BCB has strengthened bank audits, implemented more stringent internal control requirements, and tightened capital adequacy rules to reflect risk more accurately. It also established loan classification and provisioning requirements. These measures apply to private and publicly owned banks alike. In December 2020, Moody’s upgraded a collection of 28 Brazilian banks and their affiliates to stable from negative after the agency had lowered the outlook on the Brazilian system in April 2020 due to economic difficulties. As of March 2021, the rating remained as stable. The Brazilian Securities Commission (CVM) independently regulates the stock exchanges, brokers, distributors, pension funds, mutual funds, and leasing companies, assessing penalties in instances of insider trading.
To open an account with a Brazilian bank, foreign account holders must present a permanent or temporary resident visa, a national tax identification number (CPF) issued by the Brazilian government, either a valid passport or identity card for foreigners (CIE), proof of domicile, and proof of income. On average, this process from application to account opening can take more than three months.
Brazil’s foreign exchange market remains small. The latest Triennial Survey by the Bank for International Settlements conducted in December 2019 showed that the net daily turnover on Brazil’s market for OTC foreign exchange transactions (spot transactions, outright forwards, foreign-exchange swaps, currency swaps, and currency options) was $18.8 billion, down from $19.7 billion in 2016. This was equivalent to around 0.22 percent of the global market in 2019, down from 0.3 percent in 2016.
On December 29, 2021, Brazil approved a new Foreign Exchange Regulatory framework, to go into effect in December 2022, which replaces more than 40 separate regulations with a single law and eases foreign investments in the Brazilian market incentivizing increased foreign investment and assisting Brazilian businesses in integrating into global value chains. The new law aims to streamline currency exchange operations and authorizes more enterprises, including fintechs and small businesses, to conduct operations in foreign currencies bypassing retail banks and increasing their competitiveness. In addition, the law expands the list of qualifying activities transacted in foreign-currency denominated accounts (previously restricted only to import/export firms and for loans in which the debtor or creditor was based outside Brazil).
Brazil’s banking system has adequate capitalization and has traditionally been highly profitable, reflecting high interest rate spreads and fees. According to an October 2021 Central Bank Financial Stability Report, the banking system remains solid, with growing capitalization indices, and continues to rebuild its capital base. All institutions are able to meet the minimum prudential requirements, and solvency does not pose a risk to financial stability. Stress testing demonstrated that the banking system has adequate loss-absorption capacity in all simulated scenarios.
There are few restrictions on converting or transferring funds associated with a foreign investment in Brazil. Foreign investors may freely convert Brazilian currency in the unified foreign exchange market, where buy-sell rates are determined by market forces. All foreign exchange transactions, including identifying data, must be reported to the BCB. Foreign exchange transactions on the current account are fully liberalized.
The BCB must approve all incoming foreign loans. In most cases, loans are automatically approved unless loan costs are determined to be “incompatible with normal market conditions and practices.” In such cases, the BCB may request additional information regarding the transaction. Loans obtained abroad do not require advance approval by the BCB, provided the Brazilian recipient is not a government entity. Loans to government entities require prior approval from the Brazilian senate as well as from the Economic Ministry’s Treasury Secretariat, and must be registered with the BCB.
Interest and amortization payments specified in a loan contract can be made without additional approval from the BCB. Early payments can also be made without additional approvals if the contract includes a provision for them. Otherwise, early payment requires notification to the BCB to ensure accurate records of Brazil’s stock of debt.
Brazilian Federal Revenue Service regulates withholding taxes (IRRF) applicable to earnings and capital gains realized by individuals and legal entities residing or domiciled outside Brazil. Upon registering investments with the BCB, foreign investors are able to remit dividends, capital (including capital gains), and, if applicable, royalties. Investors must register remittances with the BCB. Dividends cannot exceed corporate profits. Investors may carry out remittance transactions at any bank by documenting the source of the transaction (evidence of profit or sale of assets) and showing payment of applicable taxes.
Under Law 13.259/2016 passed in March 2016, capital gain remittances are subject to a 15 to 22.5 percent income withholding tax, with the exception of capital gains and interest payments on tax-exempt domestically issued Brazilian bonds. The capital gains marginal tax rates are 15 percent for up to $1,000,000 in gains; 17.5 percent for $1,000,000 to $10,000,000 in gains; 20 percent for $10,000,000 to $60,000,000 in gains; and 22.5 percent for more than $60,000,000 in gains.
Repatriation of a foreign investor’s initial investment is also exempt from income tax under Law 4131/1962. Lease payments are assessed a 15 percent withholding tax. Remittances related to technology transfers are not subject to the tax on credit, foreign exchange, and insurance, although they are subject to a 15 percent withholding tax and an extra 10 percent Contribution for Intervening in Economic Domain (CIDE) tax.
Brazil had a sovereign fund from 2008 – 2018, when it was abolished, and the money was used to repay foreign debt.
10. Political and Security Environment
Strikes and demonstrations occasionally occur in urban areas and may cause temporary disruption to public transportation. Brazil has over 41,000 murders annually, with low rates of murder investigation case completions and convictions.
Non-violent pro- and anti-government demonstrations have occurred periodically in recent years.
Although U.S. citizens usually are not targeted during such events, U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Brazil are advised to take common-sense precautions and avoid any large gatherings or any other event where crowds have congregated to demonstrate or protest. For the latest U.S. State Department guidance on travel in Brazil, please consult www.travel.state.gov.