Colombia

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

The Colombian government actively encourages foreign direct investment (FDI). The economic liberalization reforms of the early 1990s provided for national treatment of foreign investors, lifted controls on remittance of profits and capital, and allowed foreign investment in most sectors. Colombia imposes the same investment restrictions on foreign investors that it does on national investors. Generally, foreign investors may participate in the privatization of state-owned enterprises without restrictions. All FDI involving the establishment of a commercial presence in Colombia requires registration with the Superintendence of Corporations and the local chamber of commerce. All conditions being equal during tender processes, national offers are preferred over foreign offers. Assuming equal conditions among foreign bidders, those with major Colombian national workforce resources, significant national capital, and/or better conditions to facilitate technology transfers are preferred.

ProColombia is the Colombian government entity that promotes international tourism, foreign investment, and non-traditional exports. ProColombia assists foreign companies that wish to enter the Colombian market by addressing specific needs, such as identifying contacts in the public and private sectors, organizing visit agendas, and accompanying companies during visits to Colombia. All services are free of charge and confidential. Priority sectors include business process outsourcing, software and IT services, cosmetics, health services, automotive manufacturing, textiles, graphic communications, agribusiness, and electric energy. ProColombia’s “Invest in Colombia” web portal offers detailed information about opportunities in agribusiness, manufacturing, and services in Colombia ( www.investincolombia.com.co/sectors ). The Duque administration – including senior leaders at the Presidency, ProColombia, and the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Trade – continue to stress Colombia’s openness to foreign investors and aggressively market Colombia as an investment destination. The government of Colombia does not have a national security-based investment screening mechanism in place.

Foreign investment in the financial, hydrocarbon, and mining sectors is subject to special regimes, such as investment registration and concession agreements with the Colombian government, but is not restricted in the amount of foreign capital. The following sectors require that foreign investors have a legal local representative and/or commercial presence in Colombia: travel and tourism agency services; money order operators; customs brokerage; postal and courier services; merchandise warehousing; merchandise transportation under customs control; international cargo agents; public service companies, including sewage and water works, waste disposal, electricity, gas and fuel distribution, and public telephone services; insurance firms; legal services; and special air services, including aerial fire-fighting, sightseeing, and surveying.

According to the Colombian constitution and foreign investment regulations, foreign investment in Colombia receives the same treatment as an investment made by Colombian nationals. Foreign investment is permitted in all sectors, except in activities related to defense, national security, and toxic waste handling and disposal. There are no performance requirements explicitly applicable to the entry and establishment of foreign investment in Colombia.

Foreign investors face specific exceptions and restrictions in the following sectors:

Media: Only Colombian nationals or legally constituted entities may provide radio or subscription-based television services. For National Open Television and Nationwide Private Television Operators, only Colombian nationals or legal entities may be granted concessions to provide television services. Foreign investment in national television is limited to a maximum of 40 percent ownership of an operator.

Accounting, Auditing, and Data Processing: To practice in Colombia, providers of accounting services must register with the Central Accountants Board and have uninterrupted domicile in Colombia for at least three years prior to registry. A legal commercial presence is required to provide data processing and information services in Colombia.

Banking: Foreign investors may own 100 percent of financial institutions in Colombia, but are required to obtain approval from the Financial Superintendent before making a direct investment of ten percent or more in any one entity. Foreign banks must establish a local commercial presence and comply with the same capital and other requirements as local financial institutions. Every investment of foreign capital in portfolios must be through a Colombian administrator company, including brokerage firms, trust companies, and investment management companies.

Fishing: A foreign vessel may engage in fishing activities in Colombian territorial waters only through association with a Colombian company holding a valid fishing permit. If a ship’s flag corresponds to a country with which Colombia has a complementary bilateral agreement, this agreement shall determine whether the association requirement applies for the process required to obtain a fishing license. The costs of fishing permits are greater for foreign flag vessels.

Private Security and Surveillance Companies: Companies constituted with foreign capital prior to February 11, 1994 cannot increase the share of foreign capital. Those constituted after that date can only have Colombian nationals as shareholders.

Transportation: Foreign companies can only provide multimodal freight services within or from Colombian territory if they have a domiciled agent or representative legally responsible for its activities in Colombia. International cabotage companies can provide cabotage services (i.e. between two points within Colombia) “only when there is no national capacity to provide the service.” Colombia prohibits foreign ownership of commercial ships licensed in Colombia. The owners of a concession providing port services must be legally constituted in Colombia, and only Colombian ships may provide port services within Colombian maritime jurisdiction, unless there are no capable Colombian-flag vessels.

The WTO most recently reviewed Colombia’s trade policy in June 2018. https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp472_e.htm 

New businesses must register with the chamber of commerce of the city in which the company will reside. Applicants also register using the Colombian tax authority’s portal at: www.dian.gov.co  to obtain a taxpayer ID (RUT). Business founders must visit DIAN ( Dirección de Impuestos y Aduanas Nacionales) offices to obtain an electronic signature for company legal representatives, and obtain – in-person or online – an authorization for company invoices from DIAN. In 2019, Colombia made starting a business a step easier by lifting a requirement of opening a local bank account to obtain invoice authorization. Companies must submit a unified electronic form to self-assess and pay social security and payroll contributions to the Governmental Learning Service (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje, or SENA), the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar, or ICBF), and the Family Compensation Fund (Caja de Compensación Familiar). After that, companies must register employees for public health coverage, affiliate the company to a public or private pension fund, affiliate the company and employees to an administrator of professional risks, and affiliate employees with a severance fund.

According to the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2020” report, recent reforms simplified starting a business, trading across borders, and resolving insolvency. According to the report, starting a company in Colombia requires seven procedures and takes an average of 10 days. Information on starting a company can be found at http://www.ccb.org.co/en/Creating-a-company/Company-start-up/Step-by-step-company-creation ; https://investincolombia.com.co/how-to-invest.html ; and http://www.dian.gov.co .

Colombia does not incentivize outward investment nor does it restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

4. Industrial Policies

The Colombian government offers investment incentives such as income tax exemptions and deductions in specific priority sectors, including the so-called “orange economy” (creative industries), agriculture, and entrepreneurship. In 2020, the government announced additional incentive schemes that aim to attract large investments exceeding USD 350 million and create at least 250 local jobs, facilitate COVID-19 recovery, and generate investments in former conflict municipalities. Investment incentives through free trade agreements between Colombia and other nations include national treatment and most-favored-nation treatment of investors; establishment of liability standards assumed by countries regarding the other nation’s investors, including the minimum standard of treatment and establishment of rules for investor compensation from expropriation; establishment of rules for transfer of capital relating to investment; and specific tax treatment.

The government offers tax incentives to all investors, such as preferential import tariffs, tax exemptions, and credit or risk capital. Some fiscal incentives are available for investments that generate new employment or production in areas impacted by natural disasters and former conflict-affected municipalities. Companies can apply for these directly with participating agencies. Tax and fiscal incentives are often based on regional, sector, or business size considerations. Border areas have special protections due to currency fluctuations in neighboring countries which can impact local economies. National and local governments also offer special incentives, such as tax holidays, to attract specific industries.

The Colombian government introduced a variety of incentives for specific sectors as part of the 2019 tax reform. Among the incentives are:

  • Income from hotels built, renovated, or extended through January 1, 2029 in municipalities of less than 200,000 inhabitants will be taxed at nine percent for 20 years. The same facilities in larger municipalities will be taxed at nine percent for 10 years.
  • Income normally taxed at 33 percent that is invested in agricultural projects or orange (creative) economy initiatives will be tax free.
  • Income from the sale of electric power generated by wind, biomass, solar, geothermal, or tidal movement will be tax free, provided carbon dioxide emission certificates are sold in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol and 50 percent of the income from the certificate sale is invested in social projects benefiting the region where the power was generated.

Foreign investors can participate without discrimination in government-subsidized research programs, and most Colombian government research has been conducted with foreign institutions. Investments or grants to technological research and development projects are fully tax deductible in the year the investment was made. R&D incentives include Value-Added Tax (VAT) exemptions for imported equipment or materials used in scientific, technology, or innovation projects, and qualified investments may receive tax credits.

In a tax reform passed in 2016, the Colombian government created two tax incentives to support investment in the 344 municipalities most affected by the armed conflict (ZOMAC). Small and microbusinesses that invest in ZOMACs and meet a series of other criteria will be exempt from paying any taxes through 2021, pay 25 percent of the general rate through 2024, and 50 percent through 2027. Medium and large-sized businesses will pay 50 percent of their normal taxes through 2021 and 75 percent through 2024. The second component is entitled “works for taxes” (“Obras por Impuestos”), a program through which the private sector can directly fund social investments and infrastructure projects in lieu of paying taxes.

To attract foreign investment and promote the importation of capital goods, the Colombian government uses a number of duty deferral programs. One example is free trade zones (FTZs). While DIAN oversees requests to establish FTZs, the Colombian government is not involved in their operations. Benefits under the FTZ regime include a single 20 percent tax rate (compared to 31 percent normally) and no customs value-added taxes or duties on raw material imports for use in the FTZ. Each FTZ must meet specific investment and direct job creation requirements, depending on their total assets, during the first three years. These incentives were maintained in the 2021 tax reform.

Colombia also has initiated Special Economic Zones for Exports in the municipalities of Buenaventura, Cucuta, Valledupar, and Ipiales to encourage investment. These zones receive the same import benefits of FTZs, and operators are exempt from some payroll taxes and surcharges. Infrastructure projects in the zones are also exempt from some income taxes.

Performance requirements are not imposed on foreigners as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding investments. The Colombian government does not have performance requirements, local employment requirements, or require excessively difficult visa, residency, permission, or work permit requirements for investors. Under the f, Colombia grants substantial market access across its entire services sector.

The SIC, under the Deputy Office for Personal Data Protection, is the Data Protection Authority (DPA) and has the legal mandate to ensure proper data protection. It has defined adequate data protection and responsibilities with respect to international data transfers. The SIC requires data storage facilities that hold personal data to comply with government security and privacy requirements, and data storage companies have one year to register. The SIC enforces the rules on local data storage within the country through audits/investigations and imposed sanctions.

Software and hardware are protected by IPR. There is no obligation to submit source code for registered software.

6. Financial Sector

The Colombian Securities Exchange (BVC after its acronym in Spanish) is the main forum for trading and securities transactions in Colombia. The BVC is a private company listed on the stock market. The BVC, as a multi-product and multi-market exchange, offers trading platforms for the stock market, along with fixed income and standard derivatives. The BVC also provides listing services for issuers.

Foreign investors can participate in capital markets by negotiating and acquiring shares, bonds, and other securities listed by the Foreign Investment Statute. These activities must be conducted by a local administrator, such as trust companies or Financial Superintendence-authorized stock brokerage firms. Direct and portfolio foreign investments must be registered with the Central Bank. Foreigners can establish a bank account in Colombia as long as they have a valid visa and Colombian government identification.

The market has sufficient liquidity for investors to enter and exit sizeable positions. The central bank respects IMF Article VIII and does not restrict payments and transfers for current international transactions. The financial sector in Colombia offers credit to nationals and foreigners that comply with the requisite legal requirements.

In 2005, Colombia consolidated supervision of all aspects of the banking, financial, securities, and insurance sectors under the Financial Superintendence. Colombia has an effective regulatory system that encourages portfolio investment, and the country’s financial system is strong by regional standards. Commercial banks are the principal source of long-term corporate and project finance in Colombia. Loans rarely have a maturity in excess of five years. Unofficial private lenders play a major role in meeting the working capital needs of small and medium-sized companies. Only the largest of Colombia’s companies participate in the local stock or bond markets, with the majority meeting their financing needs either through the banking system, by reinvesting their profits, or through credit from suppliers.

Colombia’s central bank is charged with managing inflation and unemployment through monetary policy. Foreign banks are allowed to establish operations in the country and must set up a Colombian subsidiary in order to do so. The Colombian central bank has a variety of correspondent banks abroad.

In 2012, Colombia began operating a sovereign wealth fund called the Savings and Stabilization Fund (FAE), which is administered by the central bank with the objective of promoting savings and economic stability in the country. Colombia is not a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds. The fund can administer up to 30 percent of annual royalties from the extractives industry. Its primary investments are in fixed securities, sovereign and quasi-sovereign debt (both domestic and international), and corporate securities, with just eight percent invested in stocks. The government transfers royalties not dedicated to the fund to other internal funds to boost national economic productivity through strategic projects, technological investments, and innovation. In 2020, the government authorized up to 80 percent of the FAE’s USD 3.9 billion in assets to be lent to the Fund for the Mitigation of Emergencies (FOME) created in response to the pandemic.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

In 2020, the Colombian government released its second National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights for the period 2020-2022, which responds to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Colombia also adheres to the corporate social responsibility (CSR) principles outlined in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. CSR cuts across many industries and Colombia encourages public and private enterprises to follow OECD CSR guidelines. Beneficiaries of CSR programs include students, children, populations vulnerable to Colombia’s armed conflict, victims of violence, and the environment. Larger companies structure their CSR programs in accordance with accepted international principles. Companies in Colombia have been recognized on an international level for their CSR initiatives, including by the State Department.

Department of State

Department of the Treasury

Department of Labor

Overall, Colombia has adequate environmental laws, is proactive at the federal level in enacting environmental protections, and does not waive labor or environmental regulations to attract investors. Colombian law also has provisions requiring consultations with indigenous communities before many large projects. However, the Colombian government struggles with enforcement, particularly in more remote areas. Geography, lack of infrastructure, and lack of state presence all play a role, as does a general shortage of resources in national and regional institutions. Environmental defenders face threats from narcotics traffickers, paramilitaries, and other illegal armed groups, particularly in areas with limited state presence. The Colombian government, activists, NGOs, and the international community all agree more can be done to protect environmental defenders. Threats against environmental defenders are often related to their advocacy against land grabbing, illegal mining, deforestation, extractive projects, and fracking, according to Colombian officials. Statistics regarding the assassinations of environmental defenders vary significantly depending on source, but contacts agree there is a need to improve protections.  Figures range from UN reports of six environmental defenders killed in 2020 to local NGOs reporting up to 340 killed the same year.

The Environmental Chapter of the CTPA requires Colombia to maintain and enforce environmental laws, protect biodiversity, and promote opportunities for public participation. Colombia participates in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). In parallel with its accession, the Colombian government worked with the OECD to develop and implement the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas, especially related to gold mining. The Colombian government faces challenges in formalizing illegal gold mining operations. A 2021 UNODC report highlighted illegal gold output grew from 66 percent of the total gold produced in Colombia to 69 percent of the total for 2020; the proceeds from illegal gold mining are estimated at approximately USD 2.4 billion. Buyers, sellers, traders, and refiners of gold may wish to conduct additional due diligence as part of their risk management regimes to account for the influx of illegally-mined Colombian gold into existing supply chains. Throughout the country, Colombian authorities have taken some steps to dismantle illegal gold mining operations that are responsible for negative environmental, criminal, and human health impacts, and often employ forced labor. The Colombian government has focused its efforts on transnational criminal elements involved in the production, laundering, and sale of illegally-mined gold, and the fraudulent documentation that is used to obscure the origin of illegally-mined gold. Colombia is actively pursuing new policies, proposing new legislation, and changing mechanisms to enforce laws against illegal gold mining.

Colombia ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury in 2018 and banned the use of mercury in mining. It has committed to phase out mercury use from all other industries by 2023. Colombia is still determining how to enforce laws to achieve this goal. Colombia has not signed the Montreux Document. In 2020, its National Organization for Accreditation (ONAC) and Institute for Technical Standards and Certification (ICONTEC) began ISO 18788 compliance certification processes for private security companies.

Colombia’s Road to Zero outlines how Colombia will reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. It is also the Colombian policy instrument that guides national, sectoral, and territorial actions to build a climate-resilient future in Colombia, while demonstrating the country’s international commitment to the achievement of the global objectives embodied in the Paris Agreement. In addition, Colombia has the Climate Change Management Plan for the Commerce, Industry and Tourism Sector (Pigccs) aiming for the reduction of 7.7 million tons of CO2 in the country. Pigccs seeks to contribute to Colombia’s national goal established on December 29, 2020, to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 51 percent by 2030, which represents a decrease of 7.7 million tons of CO2 in the same period and produce a maximum of 38.6 million tons yearly. Colombia accounts for 0.6 percent of global emissions. Colombia has put in place instruments that internalize the social and environmental costs of climate change and incentivize companies to incorporate into their production costs the negative impacts caused by the generation of GHGs or carbon. Among the most recognized instruments in this area are the carbon tax and the Emissions Trading System (carbon bonds market).

10. Political and Security Environment

Security in Colombia has improved significantly over recent years, most notably in large urban centers. Terrorist attacks and powerful narco-criminal group operations pose a threat to commercial activity and investment in some rural zones where government control is weak. In 2016, Colombia signed a peace agreement with the FARC to end half a century of confrontation. Congressional approval of that peace accord put in motion a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process, which granted the FARC status as a legal political organization and took over 13,000 combatants off the battlefield. Currently the peace negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN), which began in 2017, are suspended. This terrorist group continues a low-cost, high-impact asymmetric insurgency, including an attack on the Colombian police academy in 2019 that killed 22 cadets. The ELN often focuses attacks on oil pipelines, mines, roads, and electricity towers to disrupt economic activity and pressure the government. The ELN also extorts businesses in their areas of operation, kidnaps personnel, and destroys property of entities that refuse to pay for protection.

Mexico

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Mexico is open to foreign direct investment (FDI) in most economic sectors and has consistently been one of the largest emerging market recipients of FDI.  Mexico’s proximity to the United States and preferential access to the U.S. market, macroeconomic stability, large domestic market, growing consumer base, increasingly skilled workers, and lower labor costs combine to attract foreign investors.  The COVID-19 economic crisis showed how linked North American supply chains are and highlighted new opportunities for partnership and investment.  Still, recent policy and regulatory changes have created doubts about the investment climate, particularly in the energy, agriculture, and the formal employment pensions management sectors.

The United States has been the largest source of FDI in Mexico, with 34 percent of the stock as of 2020 (IMF).  According to Mexico’s Secretariat of Economy, total FDI flows for 2021 were USD 31.6 billion, a 13.2 percent increase compared to 2020 (USD 27.9 billion).  The automotive, aerospace, telecommunications, financial services, and electronics sectors typically receive large amounts of FDI.

Most foreign investment is concentrated in northern states near the U.S. border, where most maquiladoras (export-oriented manufacturing and assembly plants) are located, or to Mexico City and the nearby “El Bajio” (e.g. Guanajuato, Queretaro, etc.) region.  In the past, foreign investors have overlooked Mexico’s southern states, although the administration is focused on attracting investment to the region, including through large infrastructure projects such as the Maya Train, the Dos Bocas refinery, and the trans-isthmus logistics and industrial corridor.  In 2021, the GOM ramped up public spending and widely promoted private investment in these projects.  In December 2021, President Lopez Obrador issued a controversial decree naming these projects “national security” priorities, allowing them to proceed before the completion of environmental and other impact studies.  Though courts enjoined the executive decree, it still generated concerns about the Lopez Obrador administration’s commitment to transparency.

The 1993 Foreign Investment Law, last updated in March 2017, governs foreign investment in Mexico, including which business sectors are open to foreign investors and to what extent.  It provides national treatment, eliminates performance requirements for most foreign investment projects, and liberalizes criteria for automatic approval of foreign investment.  Mexico is also a party to several Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) agreements covering foreign investment, notably the Codes of Liberalization of Capital Movements and the National Treatment Instrument.

The GOM dissolved the former trade and investment promotion agency ProMexico in 2019, and Mexico’s Secretariat of Foreign Affairs (SRE) assumed most of its responsibilities with the establishment of the General Directorate for Global Investment (GDGI) in June 2021.  The GDGI launched three specific projects:  the California Economic Council; an interactive data base to attract FDI called the “Atlas Prospectivo;” and the U.S.-Mexico Task Force for Transport Electrification.  The GDGI works closely with Mexico’s state secretaries of economy to promote trade and attract FDI through partnerships with SRE’s diplomatic missions overseas.

Mexico reserves certain sectors, in whole or in part, for the State, including:  petroleum and other hydrocarbons; control of the national electric system, radioactive materials, telegraphic and postal services; nuclear energy generation; coinage and printing of money; and control, supervision, and surveillance of ports of entry.  Certain professional and technical services, development banks, and the land transportation of passengers, tourists, and cargo (not including courier and parcel services) are reserved entirely for Mexican nationals.  See section six for restrictions on foreign ownership of certain real estate.

Reforms over the past decade in the energy, power generation, telecommunications, and retail fuel sales sectors have liberalized access for foreign investors.  While reforms have not led to the privatization of state-owned enterprises such as Pemex or the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), they have allowed private firms to participate.  Still, the Lopez Obrador administration has made significant regulatory and policy changes that favor Pemex and CFE over private participants.  The changes have led private companies to file lawsuits in Mexican courts and seek compensation through international arbitration.

Hydrocarbons:  Private companies participate in hydrocarbon exploration and extraction activities through contracts with the government under four categories:  competitive contracts, joint ventures, profit sharing agreements, and license contracts.  All contracts must include a clause stating subsoil hydrocarbons are owned by the State.  The government held nine auctions allowing private companies to bid on exploration and development rights to oil and gas resources in blocks around the country.  Between 2015 and 2018, Mexico auctioned more than 100 land, shallow, and deep-water blocks with significant interest from international oil companies.  The administration has since postponed further auctions but committed to respecting the existing contracts awarded under the previous administration.  Still, foreign players were discouraged when the GOM awarded operatorship of a major shallow water oil discovery made by a U.S. company-led consortium to Pemex.  The private consortium had invested more than USD 200 million in making the discovery and is seeking compensation through international arbitration.

Telecommunications:  Mexican law states telecommunications and broadcasting activities are public services and the government will at all times maintain ownership of the radio spectrum.  In January 2021, President Lopez Obrador proposed incorporating the independent Federal Telecommunication Institute (IFT) into the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (SCT), to save government funds and avoid duplication.  Non-governmental organizations and private sector companies said such a move would potentially violate the USMCA, which mandates signatories to maintain independent telecommunications regulators.  As of March 2022, the proposal remains pending.  Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Tatiana Clouthier underscored in public statements that President López Obrador is committed to respecting Mexico’s obligations under the USMCA, including maintaining an autonomous telecommunications regulator.

Aviation:  The Foreign Investment Law limited foreign ownership of national air transportation to 25 percent until March 2017, when the limit was increased to 49 percent.

The USMCA, which entered into force July 1, 2020, maintained several NAFTA provisions, granting U.S. and Canadian investors national and most-favored-nation treatment in setting up operations or acquiring firms in Mexico.  Exceptions exist for investments restricted under the USMCA.  Currently, the United States, Canada, and Mexico have the right to settle any legacy disputes or claims under NAFTA through international arbitration for a sunset period of three years following the end of NAFTA.  Only the United States and Mexico are party to an international arbitration agreement under the USMCA, though access is restricted as the USMCA distinguishes between investors with covered government contracts and those without.  Most U.S. companies investing in Mexico will have access to fewer remedies under the USMCA than under NAFTA, as they will have to meet certain criteria to qualify for arbitration.  Sub-national Mexican governments must also accord national treatment to investors from USMCA countries.

Approximately 95 percent of all foreign investment transactions do not require government approval.  Foreign investments that require government authorization and do not exceed USD 165 million are automatically approved unless the proposed investment is in a legally reserved sector.

The National Foreign Investment Commission under the Secretariat of the Economy is the government authority that determines whether an investment in restricted sectors may move forward.  The Commission has 45 business days after submission of an investment request to decide.  Criteria for approval include employment and training considerations, and contributions to technology, productivity, and competitiveness.  The Commission may reject applications to acquire Mexican companies for national security reasons.  The Secretariat of Foreign Relations (SRE) must issue a permit for foreigners to establish or change the nature of Mexican companies.

There has not been an update to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) trade policy review of Mexico since June 2017 covering the period to year-end 2016.

The October 2021 “Human Rights for a Just Energy Transition” report analyzes some of the energy policy decisions taken by the Mexican government in the last two years and provides investment-related recommendations: https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latest-news/m%C3%A9xico-nuevo-informe-derechos-humanos-para-una-transici%C3%B3n-justa-destaca-regresi%C3%B3n-de-acci%C3%B3n-clim%C3%A1tica-y-derechos-humanos/

According to the World Bank, on average registering a foreign-owned company in Mexico requires 11 procedures and 31 days.  Mexico ranked 60 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s most recent 2020 Doing Business report.  In 2016, then-President Pena Nieto signed a law creating a new category of simplified businesses called Sociedad for Acciones Simplificadas (SAS).  Owners of SASs are supposed to be able to register a new company online in 24 hours.  Still, it can take between 66 and 90 days to start a new business in Mexico, according to the World Bank.  The GOM maintains a business registration website, www.tuempresa.gob.mx, and one for general information on opening a business, https://www.gob.mx/tuempresa?tab=Abre. The Secretariat of Economy offers a one-stop shop website “Invest in Mexico” aimed at facilitating the administrative procedures for foreign investors: www.economia.gob.mx/invest-in-mx/Companies operating in Mexico must register with the tax authority (Servicio de Administracion Tributaria or SAT), the Secretariat of the Economy, and the Public Registry.  Additionally, companies engaging in international trade must register with the Registry of Importers, while foreign-owned companies must register with the National Registry of Foreign Investments.

Since October 2019, SAT has launched dozens of tax audits against major international and domestic corporations, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax assessments, penalties, and late fees.  Multinational and Mexican firms have reported audits based on diverse aspects of the tax code, including adjustments on tax payments made, waivers received, and deductions reported during the Enrique Peña Nieto administration.  Private sector stakeholders reported a continuation of SAT’s aggressive tax auditing practices in 2021.

Various offices at the Secretariat of Economy and the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs handle promoting Mexican outward investment and assistance to Mexican firms acquiring or establishing joint ventures with foreign firms.  Mexico does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

4. Industrial Policies

Land grants or discounts, tax deductions, and technology, innovation, and workforce development funding are commonly used incentives.  Additional federal foreign trade incentives include: (1) IMMEX:  a promotion which allows manufacturing sector companies to temporarily import inputs without paying general import tax and value added tax (VAT); (2) Import tax rebates on goods incorporated into products destined for export; and (3) Sectoral promotion programs allowing for preferential ad-valorem tariffs on imports of selected inputs.  Industries typically receiving sectoral promotion benefits are footwear, mining, chemicals, steel, textiles, apparel, and electronics.  Manufacturing and other companies report it is becoming increasingly difficult to request and receive reimbursements from SAT of the VAT paid on inputs for the export sector, with significant reimbursement delays and arrears reaching tens of millions USD for some companies.

The administration renewed until December 31, 2024 a program launched in January 2019 that established a border economic zone (BEZ) in 43 municipalities in six northern border states within 15.5 miles from the U.S. border.  The BEZ program entails: 1) a fiscal stimulus decree reducing the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 16 percent to 8 percent and the Income Tax (ISR) from 30 percent to 20 percent; 2) a minimum wage increase to MXN 176.72 (USD 8.75) per day; and 3) the gradual harmonization of gasoline, diesel, natural gas, and electricity rates with neighboring U.S. states.  The purpose of the BEZ program was to boost investment, promote productivity, and create more jobs in the region.  Sectors excluded from the preferential ISR rate include financial institutions, the agricultural sector, and export manufacturing companies (maquilas).

On December 30, 2020, President Lopez Obrador launched a similar program for 22 municipalities in Mexico’s southern states of Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas, reducing VAT from 16 to 8 percent and ISR from 30 to 20 percent and harmonizing excise taxes on fuel with neighboring states in Central America.  Chetumal in Quintana Roo will also enjoy duty-free status.  The benefits extend from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2024.

Mexico does not follow a “forced localization” policy—foreign investors are not required by law to use domestic content in goods or technology.  However, investors intending to produce goods in Mexico for export to the United States should take note of the rules of origin prescriptions contained within USMCA if they wish to benefit from USMCA treatment.  Chapter four of the USMCA introduced new rules of origin and labor content rules, which entered into force on July 1, 2020.

In 2020, the Central Bank of Mexico (or Banxico) and the National Banking and Securities Commissions (CNBV – Mexico’s principal bank regulator) drafted regulations mandating the largest financial technology companies operating in Mexico to either host data on a back-up server outside of the United States—if their primary is in the United States—or on physical servers in Mexico.  As of March 2022, the draft regulations remain pending public comment.  The financial services industry is concerned they could violate provisions of the USMCA financial services chapter prohibiting data localization.

Mexico’s government is increasingly choosing its military for the construction and management of economic infrastructure.  In the past two years, the government entrusted the Army (SEDENA) with building the new airport in Mexico City, and sections 6, 7, and part of section 5 of the Maya Train railway project in Yucatan state.  SEDENA created a state-owned company to operate and manage the newly completed Mexico City airport.  SEDENA is also issuing contracts for the construction of over 300 social development bank branches throughout Mexico.  The government announced plans to give to the Navy (SEMAR) the rights for construction, management, and operations of the Trans-Isthmic Train project to connect the ports of Coatzacoalcos in Veracruz state with the Salina Cruz port in Oaxaca state.  The government is in the process of transferring administration of land and sea ports from the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (SCT) to SEDENA and SEMAR respectively and has appointed retired military personnel to port administrator positions at most ports.

6. Financial Sector

The Mexican government is generally open to foreign portfolio investments, and foreign investors trade actively in various public and private asset classes.  Foreign entities may freely invest in federal government securities.  The Foreign Investment Law establishes foreign investors may hold 100 percent of the capital stock of any Mexican corporation or partnership, except in those few areas expressly subject to limitations under that law.  Foreign investors may also purchase non-voting shares through mutual funds, trusts, offshore funds, and American Depositary Receipts.

They also have the right to buy directly limited or nonvoting shares as well as free subscription shares, or “B” shares, which carry voting rights.  Foreigners may purchase an interest in “A” shares, which are normally reserved for Mexican citizens, through a neutral fund operated by one of Mexico’s six development banks.  Finally, Mexico offers federal, state, and local governments bonds that are rated by international credit rating agencies.  The market for these securities has expanded rapidly in past years and foreign investors hold a significant stake of total federal issuances.  However, foreigners are limited in their ability to purchase sub-sovereign state and municipal debt.  Liquidity across asset classes is relatively deep.

Mexico established a fiscally transparent trust structure known as a FICAP in 2006 to allow venture and private equity funds to incorporate locally.  The Securities Market Law (Ley de Mercado de Valores) established the creation of three special investment vehicles which can provide more corporate and economic rights to shareholders than a normal corporation.  These categories are: (1) Investment Promotion Corporation (Sociedad Anonima de Promotora de Inversion or SAPI); (2) Stock Exchange Investment Promotion Corporation (Sociedad Anonima Promotora de Inversion Bursatil or SAPIB); and (3) Stock Exchange Corporation (Sociedad Anonima Bursatil or SAB).  Mexico also has a growing real estate investment trust market, locally referred to as Fideicomisos de Infraestructura y Bienes Raíces (FIBRAS) as well as FIBRAS-E, which allow for investment in non-real estate investment projects.  FIBRAS are regulated under Articles 187 and 188 of Mexican Federal Income Tax Law.

Financial sector reforms signed into law in 2014 have improved regulation and supervision of financial intermediaries and have fostered greater competition between financial services providers.  While access to financial services – particularly personal credit for formal sector workers – has expanded in the past four years, bank and credit penetration in Mexico remains low compared to OECD and emerging market peers.  Coupled with sound macroeconomic fundamentals, reforms have created a positive environment for the financial sector and capital markets.  According to the National Banking and Stock Commission (CNBV), the banking system remains healthy and well capitalized.

Mexico’s banking sector is heavily concentrated and majority foreign-owned:  the seven largest banks control 85 percent of system assets and foreign-owned institutions control 70 percent of total assets.  The USMCA maintains national treatment guarantees.  U.S. securities firms and investment funds, acting through local subsidiaries, have the right to engage in the full range of activities permitted in Mexico.

Banxico maintains independence in operations and management by constitutional mandate.  Its main function is to provide domestic currency to the Mexican economy and to safeguard the Mexican Peso’s purchasing power by gearing monetary policy toward meeting a 3 percent inflation target over the medium term.

Mexico’s Financial Technology (FinTech) law came into effect in March 2018 and administration released secondary regulations in 2019, creating a broad rubric for the development and regulation of innovative financial technologies.  The law covers both cryptocurrencies and a regulatory “sandbox” for start-ups to test the viability of products, placing Mexico among the FinTech policy vanguard.  The reforms have already attracted significant investment to lending fintech companies and mobile payment companies.  However, industry stakeholders suggest insufficient clarity in the authorities’ implementation of the secondary regulations may be eroding the legal certainty the FinTech Law brought to the sector.  The CNBV has authorized fourteen fintechs under the FinTech Law to operate in the Mexican market and it is reviewing other applications.

The Mexican Petroleum Fund for Stability and Development (FMP) was created as part of 2013 budgetary reforms.  Housed in Banxico, the fund distributes oil revenues to the national budget and a long-term savings account.  The FMP incorporates the Santiago Principles for transparency, placing it among the most transparent Sovereign Wealth Funds in the world.  Both Banxico and Mexico’s Supreme Federal Auditor regularly audit the fund.  Mexico is also a member of the International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds.  The Fund resources totaled MXN 23.4 billion (approximately USD 1.2 billion) in 2021.  The FMP is required to publish quarterly and annual reports, which can be found at www.fmped.org.mx.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Mexico’s private and public sectors have worked to promote and develop corporate social responsibility (CSR) during the past decade.  CSR in Mexico began as a philanthropic effort.  It has evolved gradually to a more holistic approach, trying to match international standards such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the United Nations Global Compact.

Responsible business conduct reporting has made progress in the last few years with more companies developing a corporate responsibility strategy.  The government has also made an effort to implement CSR in state-owned companies such as Pemex, which has published corporate responsibility reports since 1999.  Recognizing the importance of CSR issues, the Mexican Stock Exchange (Bolsa Mexicana de Valores) launched a sustainable companies index, which allows investors to specifically invest in those companies deemed to meet internationally accepted criteria for good corporate governance.

In October 2017, Mexico became the 53rd member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which represents an important milestone in its Pemex effort to establish transparency and public trust in its energy sector.

Department of State

Department of the Treasury

Department of Labor

Mexico published the National Strategy of Climate Change in 2013 with no further update since then and published the Special Program for Climate Change (PECC) in November 2021.  Mexico presented its sixth climate change communications report to the UNFCCC in 2018 and submitted its National Determination Contribution (NDC) to the UNFCCC in December 2020.

Mexico published its National Biodiversity Strategy in 2016.  Mexico published the second extensive country study of Natural Capital in 2006.  Mexico presented its Sixth National Report to the UN Convention on Biological Biodiversity in 2019.

Mexico has not released an official net-zero carbon emissions policy or strategy.

The PECC 2021 highlights include private sector climate change actions and fostering the inclusion of the private sector in the National Infrastructure Fund (Fonadin) to invest in sustainable infrastructure.

In October 2019, the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) released an agreement to set the bases for a pilot program for a cap-and-trade emissions system for the energy and industry sectors.  SEMARNAT hasn’t reported updates on this pilot program.

The 2022 GOM budget allocated USD 3.84 billion for the Adaptation and Mitigation of the Effects of Climate Change and for the Promotion of the Use of Clean Technologies and Fuels.

10. Political and Security Environment

Mass demonstrations are common in the larger metropolitan areas and in the southern Mexican states of Guerrero and Oaxaca. While political violence is rare, drug and organized crime-related violence has increased significantly in recent years. Political violence is also likely to accelerate in the run-up to the June 2022 elections as criminal actors seek to promote election of their preferred candidates. The national homicide rate dropped to 27 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2021 from 29 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2020, although aggregate homicides remain near all-time highs. For complete security information, please see the Safety and Security section in the Consular Country Information page at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Mexico.html. Conditions vary widely by state. For a state-by-state assessment please see the Consular Travel Advisory at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/mexico-travel-advisory.html.

Companies have reported general security concerns remain an issue for those looking to invest in the country. The American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico estimates in a biannual report that security expenses cost business as much as 5 percent of their operating budgets. Many companies choose to take extra precautions for the protection of their executives. They also report increasing security costs for shipments of goods. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) monitors and reports on regional security for U.S. businesses operating overseas. OSAC constituency is available to any U.S.-owned, not-for-profit organization, or any enterprise incorporated in the United States (parent company, not subsidiaries or divisions) doing business overseas ( https://www.osac.gov/Country/Mexico/Detail ).

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2021 MXN 26,213 billion* 2021 USD 1,293 billion *https://www.inegi.org.mx/

https://www.imf.org/en/
Publications/WEO

Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($billion USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2020 USD 184.9  billion IMF’s CDIS:
https://data.imf.org/?sk=40313609-
F037-48C1-84B1-E1F1CE54D6D5&sId=
1482331048410
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2020 USD 20.9 billion BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2021 2.45%* 2020 2.7% *https://www.inegi.org.mx/
UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html

 

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data* 2020
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 545,612 100 % Total Outward 189,536 100 %
United States 184,911 34 % United States 96,706 51 %
Netherlands 112,657 21 % Spain 21,543 11 %
Spain 88,430 16 % United Kingdom 17,163 9 %
Canada 35,664 7 % Brazil 10,203 5 %
United Kingdom 25,423 5 % Netherlands 8,908 5 %
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

* data from the IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CCIS)
( https://data.imf.org/?sk=40313609-F037-48C1-84B1-E1F1CE54D6D5&sId=1482331048410 )

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