Argentina

Executive Summary

Argentina presents significant investment and trade opportunities, particularly in infrastructure, health, agriculture, information technology, energy, and mining. In 2018, President Mauricio Macri continued to reform the market-distorting economic policies of his immediate predecessors. Since entering office in December 2015, the Macri administration has taken steps to reduce bureaucratic hurdles in business creation, enacted some tax reforms, courted foreign direct investment, and attempted to implement labor reforms through sector-specific agreements with unions. However, Argentina’s economic recession coupled with the political stagnation of an election year have reduced the Macri administration’s ability to enact pro-business reforms and have choked international investment to Argentina.

In 2018, Argentina´s economy suffered from stagnant economic growth, high unemployment, and soaring inflation: economic activity fell 2.6 percent and annual inflation rate reached 47.6 percent by the end of year. This deteriorating macroeconomic situation prevented the Macri administration from implementing structural reforms that could address some of the drivers of the stagflation: high tax rates, high labor costs, access to financing, cumbersome bureaucracy, and outdated infrastructure. In September 2018, Argentina established a new export tax on most goods through December 31, 2020, and in January 2019, began applying a similar tax of 12 percent on most exports of services. To account for fluctuations in the exchange rate, the export tax on these goods and services may not exceed four pesos per dollar exported. Except for the case of the energy sector, the government has been unsuccessful in its attempts to curb the power of labor unions and enact the reforms required to attract international investors.

The Macri administration has been successful in re-establishing the country as a world player. Argentina assumed the G-20 Presidency on December 1, 2017, and hosted over 45 G-20 meetings in 2018, culminating with the Leaders’ Summit in Buenos Aires. The country also held the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) presidency for 2017-2018 and served as host of the WTO Ministerial in 2017.

In 2018, Argentina moved up eight places in the Competitiveness Ranking of the World Economic Forum (WEF), which measures how productively a country uses its available resources, to 81 out of 140 countries, and 10 out of the 21 countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region. Argentina is courting an EU-MERCOSUR trade agreement and is increasing engagement with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) with the goal of an invitation for accession this year. Argentina ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement on January 22, 2018. Argentina and the United States continue to expand bilateral commercial and economic cooperation, specifically through the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), the Commercial Dialogue, the Framework to Strengthen Infrastructure Investment and Energy Cooperation, and the Digital Economy Working Group, in order to improve and facilitate public-private ties and communication on trade and investment issues, including market access and intellectual property rights. More than 300 U.S. companies operate in Argentina, and the United States continues to be the top investor in Argentina with more than USD $14.9 billion (stock) of foreign direct investment as of 2017.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 85 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 119 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 80 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $14,907 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $13,030 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Macri government actively seeks foreign direct investment. To improve the investment climate, the Macri administration has enacted reforms to simplify bureaucratic procedures in an effort to provide more transparency, reduce costs, diminish economic distortions by adopting good regulatory practices, and increase capital market efficiencies. Since 2016, Argentina has expanded economic and commercial cooperation with key partners including Chile, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Canada, and the United States, and deepened its engagement in international fora such as the G-20, WTO, and OECD.

Over the past year, Argentina issued new regulations in the gas and energy, communications, technology, and aviation industries to improve competition and provide incentives aimed to attract investment in those sectors. Argentina seeks tenders for investment in wireless infrastructure, oil and gas, lithium mines, renewable energy, and other areas. However, many of the public-private partnership projects for public infrastructure planned for 2018 had to be delayed or canceled due to Argentina’s broader macroeconomic difficulties and ongoing corruption investigations into public works projects.

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

Argentina has a national Investment and Trade Promotion Agency that provides information and consultation services to investors and traders on economic and financial conditions, investment opportunities, Argentine laws and regulations, and services to help Argentine companies establish a presence abroad. The agency also provides matchmaking services and organizes roadshows and trade delegations. The agency’s web portal provides detailed information on available services (http://www.produccion.gob.ar/agencia). Many of the 24 provinces also have their own provincial investment and trade promotion offices.

The Macri administration welcomes dialogue with investors. Argentine officials regularly host roundtable discussions with visiting business delegations and meet with local and foreign business chambers. During official visits over the past year to the United States, China, India, Vietnam, and Europe, among others, Argentine delegations often met with host country business leaders.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

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

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

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

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

Other Investment Policy Reviews

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

Business Facilitation

Since entering into office in December 2015, the Macri administration has enacted reforms to normalize financial and commercial transactions and facilitate business creation and cross-border trade. These reforms include eliminating capital controls, reducing some export taxes and import restrictions, reducing business administrative processes, decreasing tax burdens, increasing businesses’ access to financing, and streamlining customs controls.

In October 2016, the Ministry of Production issued Decree 1079/2016, easing bureaucratic hurdles for foreign trade and creating a Single Window for Foreign Trade (“VUCE” for its Spanish acronym). The VUCE centralizes the administration of all required paperwork for the import, export, and transit of goods (e.g., certificates, permits, licenses, and other authorizations and documents). Argentina subjects imports to automatic or non-automatic licenses that are managed through the Comprehensive Import Monitoring System (SIMI, or Sistema Integral de Monitoreo de Importaciones), established in December 2015 by the National Tax Agency (AFIP by its Spanish acronym) through Resolutions 5/2015 and 3823/2015. The SIMI system requires importers to submit detailed information electronically about goods to be imported into Argentina. Once the information is submitted, the relevant Argentine government agencies can review the application through the VUCE and make any observations or request additional information. The number of products subjected to non-automatic licenses has been modified several times, resulting in a net decrease since the beginning of the SIMI system.

The Argentine Congress approved an Entrepreneurs’ Law in March 2017, which allows for the creation of a simplified joint-stock company (SAS, or Sociedad por Acciones Simplifacada) online within 24 hours of registration. Detailed information on how to register a SAS is available at: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/crear-una-sociedad-por-acciones-simplificada-sas . As of April 2019, the online business registration process is only available for companies located in Buenos Aires. The government is working on expanding the SAS to other provinces. Further information can be found at http://www.produccion.gob.ar/todo-sobre-la-ley-de-emprendedores/.

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

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

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

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

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

The Ministry of Production and Labor offers a wide range of attendance-based courses and online training for businesses. The full training menu can be viewed at: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion/capacitacion 

Outward Investment

Argentina does not have a governmental agency to promote Argentine investors to invest abroad nor does it have any restrictions for a domestic investor investing overseas.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Argentina has a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States, which entered into force on October 20, 1994. The text of the Argentina-United States BIT is available at: http://2001-2009.state.gov/documents/organization/43475.pdf .

As of April 2019, Argentina has 50 BITs in force. Argentina has signed treaties that are not yet in force with six other countries: Greece (October 1999), New Zealand (August 1999), the Dominican Republic (March 2001), Qatar (November 2016), United Arab Emirates (April 2018), and Japan (December 2018).

During 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, Argentina continued discussions to strengthen bilateral commercial, economic, and investment cooperation with a number of countries, including China, Denmark, India, Mexico, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, South Korea, Russia, Vietnam, and the United States. Argentina and the United States established a bilateral Commercial Dialogue and a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in 2016. Bilateral talks are ongoing through both mechanisms. Argentina does not have a Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

Argentina is a founding member of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), which includes Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela (currently suspended). Through MERCOSUR, Argentina has Free Trade Agreements with Egypt, Israel, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. MERCOSUR has Trade Framework Agreements with Morocco and Mexico, and Preferential Trade Agreements (PTA) with the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), India, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Ecuador. MERCOSUR is currently pursuing a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and has initiated free trade discussions with Canada, South Korea, and Japan. The bloc is also in talks to expand on its agreements with SACU and India.

Argentina has Economic Complementarity Agreements with Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Chile that were established before MERCOSUR and thus, grandfathered into Mercosur. Argentina is engaged in ongoing negotiations to expand the PTA agreement with Mexico. Argentina also has an economic association agreement with Colombia signed in June 2017. In January 2019, the expanded Economic Complementation Agreement (ECA) between Chile and Argentina entered into effect. The new ECA was signed in November 2017, approved by the Argentine Congress in December 2018, and ratified by the Chilean Congress in January 2019. The new deal includes trade facilitation regulation and development programs directed to supporting SMEs, and adds chapters on e-commerce, trade in services, and government procurement.

Argentina does not have a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States. In December 2016, Argentina signed a Tax Information Exchange Agreement with the United States, which increases the transparency of commercial transactions between the two countries to aid with combating tax and customs fraud. The Agreement entered into force on November 13, 2017. The United States and Argentina have initiated discussions to sign a Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) inter-governmental agreement.

In 2014, Argentina committed to implementing the OECD single global standard on automatic exchange of financial information. According to media sources, Argentina had been set to make its first financial information exchange in September 2018, but it was postponed to 2019.

In June 2018, AFIP and the OECD signed an MOU to establish the first Latin American Financial and Fiscal Crime Investigation Academy.

Argentina has signed 18 double taxation treaties, including with Germany, Canada, Russia, and the United Kingdom. In November 2016, Argentina and Switzerland signed a bilateral double taxation treaty. In November 2016, Argentina signed an agreement with the United Arab Emirates, which has not yet entered into force. In July 2017, Argentina updated a prior agreement with Brazil, which also has not yet been implemented. Argentina also has customs agreements with numerous countries. A full listing is available at: http://www.afip.gov.ar/institucional/acuerdos.asp .

In general, national taxation rules do not discriminate against foreigners or foreign firms (e.g., asset taxes are applied to equity possessed by both domestic and foreign entities).

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

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

The Argentine government offers a number of investment promotion programs at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels to attract investment to specific economic sectors such as capital assets and infrastructure, innovation and technological development, and energy, with no discrimination between national or foreign-owned enterprises. They also offer incentives to encourage the productive development of specific geographical areas. The Investment and International Trade Promotion Agency provides cost-free assessment and information to investors to facilitate operations in the country. Argentina’s investment promotion programs and regimes can be found at: http://www.investandtrade.org.ar/?lang=en  http://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/en/where_tax_benefits.php?wia=1&lang=en<http://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/docs/pdf/Doing_Business_in_Argentina-2018.pdf, and http://www.produccion.gob.ar.

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

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

Some of the investment promotion programs require investments within a specific region or locality, industry, or economic activity. Some programs offer refunds on Value-Added Tax (VAT) or other tax incentives for local production of capital goods.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

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

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

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

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

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Employment and Investor Requirements

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

Goods, Technology, and Data Treatment

Argentina has local content requirements for specific sectors. Requirements are applicable to domestic and foreign investors equally. Argentine law establishes a national preference for local industry for most government procurement if the domestic supplier’s tender is no more than five to seven percent higher than the foreign tender. The amount by which the domestic bid may exceed a foreign bid depends on the size of the domestic company making the bid. On May 10, 2018, Argentina issued Law 27,437, giving additional priority to Argentine small and medium-sized enterprises and, separately, requiring that foreign companies that win a tender must subcontract domestic companies to cover 20 percent of the value of the work. The preference applies to procurement by all government agencies, public utilities, and concessionaires.  There is similar legislation at the sub-national (provincial) level.

On September 5, 2018, the government issued Decree 800/2018, which provides the regulatory framework for Law 27,437. On November 16, 2016, the government passed a public-private partnership (PPP) law (27,328) that regulates public-private contracts. The law lowered regulatory barriers to foreign investment in public infrastructure projects with the aim of attracting more foreign direct investment. Several projects under the PPP initiative have been canceled or put on hold due to an ongoing investigation on corruption in public works projects during the last administration. The PPP law contains a “Buy Argentina” clause that mandates at least 33 percent local content for every public project.

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

On July 5, 2016, the Ministry of Production and Labor and the Ministry of Energy and Mining issued Joint Resolutions 123 and 313, which allow companies to obtain tax benefits on purchases of solar or wind energy equipment for use in investment projects that incorporate at least 60 percent local content in their electromechanical installations.  In cases where local supply is insufficient to reach the 60 percent threshold, the threshold can be reduced to 30 percent. The resolutions also provide tax exemptions for imports of capital and intermediate goods that are not locally produced for use in the investment projects.

On August 1, 2016, Argentina passed law 27,263, implemented by Resolution 599-E/2016, which provides tax credits to automotive manufacturers for the purchase of locally-produced automotive parts and accessories incorporated into specific types of vehicles. The tax credits range from 4 percent to 15 percent of the value of the purchased parts.  The list of vehicle types included in the regime can be found here: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/260000-264999/263955/norma.htm . On April 20, 2018, Argentina issued Resolution 28/2018, simplifying the procedure for obtaining the tax credits. The resolution also establishes that if the national content drops below the minimum required by the resolution because of relative price changes due to exchange rate fluctuations, automotive manufacturers will not be considered non-compliant with the regime. However, the resolution sets forth that tax benefits will be suspended for the quarter when the drop was registered.

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

Argentina establishes percentages of local content in the production process for manufacturers of mobile and cellular radio communication equipment operating in Tierra del Fuego province.  Resolution 66, issued July 12, 2018, replaces Resolution 1219/2015 and maintains the local content requirement for products such as technical manuals, packaging, and labeling. Resolution 66 eliminated the local content requirement imposed by Resolution 1219 for batteries, screws, and chargers. The percentage of local content required ranges from 10 percent to 100 percent depending on the process or item. In cases where local supply is insufficient to meet local content requirements, companies may apply for an exemption that is subject to review every six months. A detailed description of local content percentage requirements can be found here .

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

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

Investment Performance Requirements

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

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Secured interests in property, including mortgages, are recognized in Argentina. Such interests can be easily and effectively registered. They also can be readily bought and sold. Argentina manages a national registry of real estate ownership (Registro de la Propiedad Inmueble) at http://www.dnrpi.jus.gov.ar/ . No data is available on the percent of all land that does not have clear title. There are no specific regulations regarding land lease and acquisition of residential and commercial real estate by foreign investors. Law 26,737 (Regime for Protection of National Domain over Ownership, Possession or Tenure of Rural Land) establishes the restrictions of foreign ownership on rural and productive lands, including water bodies. Foreign ownership is also restricted on land located near borders.

Legal claims may be brought to evict persons unlawfully occupying real property, even if the property is unoccupied by the lawful owner. However, these legal proceedings can be quite lengthy, and until the legal proceedings are complete, evicting squatters is problematic. The title and actual conditions of real property interests under consideration should be carefully reviewed before acquisition.

Argentine Law 26.160 prevents the eviction and confiscation of land traditionally occupied by indigenous communities in Argentina, or encumbered with an indigenous land claim. Indigenous land claims can be found in the land registry. Enforcement is carried out by the National Institute of Indigenous Affairs, under the Ministry of Social Development.

Intellectual Property Rights

The government of Argentina adheres to some treaties and international agreements on intellectual property (IP) and belongs to the World Intellectual Property Organization and the World Trade Organization. The Argentine Congress ratified the Uruguay Round agreements, including the provisions on intellectual property, in Law 24425 on January 5, 1995.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s 2019 Special 301 Report identified Argentina on the Priority Watch List. Trading partners on the Priority Watch List present the most significant concerns regarding inadequate or ineffective IP protection or enforcement or actions that otherwise limit market access for persons relying on IP protection. For a complete version of the 2019 Report, see: https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2018/april/ustr-releases-2018-special-301-report .

Argentina continues to present longstanding and well-known challenges to IP-intensive industries, including from the United States. A key deficiency in Argentina’s legal framework for patents is the unduly broad limitations on patent eligible subject matter. Pursuant to a highly problematic 2012 Joint Resolution establishing guidelines for the examination of patents, Argentina rejects patent applications for categories of pharmaceutical inventions that are eligible for patentability in other jurisdictions, including in the United States. Additionally, to be patentable, Argentina requires that processes for the manufacture of active compounds disclosed in a specification be reproducible and applicable on an industrial scale. Stakeholders assert that Resolution 283/2015, introduced in September 2015, also limits the ability to patent biotechnological innovations based on living matter and natural substances. Such measures have interfered with the ability of companies investing in Argentina to protect their IP and may be inconsistent with international norms. Another ongoing challenge to the innovative agricultural, chemical, and pharmaceutical sectors is inadequate protection against the unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorized disclosure, of undisclosed test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for products in those sectors. Argentina struggles with a substantial backlog of patent applications resulting in long delays for innovators seeking patent protection in the market, a problem compounded by a reduction in the number of patent examiners in 2018 primarily due to a government-wide hiring freeze.

Enforcement of IP rights in Argentina continues to be a challenge and stakeholders report widespread unfair competition from sellers of counterfeit and pirated goods and services. La Salada in Buenos Aires remains the largest counterfeit market in Latin America. Argentine police generally do not take ex officio actions, prosecutions can stall and languish in excessive formalities, and, when a criminal case does reach final judgment, infringers rarely receive deterrent sentences. Hard goods counterfeiting and optical disc piracy is widespread, and online piracy continues to grow as criminal enforcement against online piracy is nearly nonexistent. As a result, IP enforcement online in Argentina consists mainly of right holders trying to convince cooperative Argentine ISPs to agree to take down specific infringing works, as well as attempting to seek injunctions in civil cases. Right holders also cite widespread use of unlicensed software by Argentine private enterprises and the government.

Over the last year, Argentina made limited progress in IP protection and enforcement. Beset with economic challenges, Argentina’s government agencies were strapped by a reduction of funding and a government-wide hiring freeze, and many of Argentina’s IP-related initiatives that had gained momentum last year did not gain further traction due to a lack of resources. Despite these circumstances, the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) revamped its procedures and began accepting electronic filing of patent, trademark, and industrial designs applications as of October 1, 2018. Argentina also improved registration procedures for trademarks and industrial designs.  On trademarks, the law now provides for a fast track option that reduces the time to register a trademark to four months. The United States continues to monitor this change as INPI works on the implementing regulation. For industrial designs, INPI now accepts multiple applications in a single filing and applicants may substitute digital photographs for formal drawings. To further improve patent protection in Argentina, including for small and medium-sized enterprises, the United States urges Argentina to ratify the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).

Argentina’s efforts to combat counterfeiting continue, but without systemic measures, illegal activity persists.  Argentine authorities arrested the alleged operators of the market La Salada as well as numerous associates in 2017, but vendors continue to sell counterfeit and pirated goods at the market and throughout Buenos Aires. The United States has encouraged Argentina to create a national IP enforcement strategy to build on these successes and move to a sustainable, long-lasting initiative. The United States also has encouraged legislative proposals to this effect, along the lines of prior bills introduced in Congress to provide for landlord liability and stronger enforcement on the sale of infringing goods at outdoor marketplaces such as La Salada, and to amend the trademark law to increase criminal penalties for counterfeiting carried out by criminal networks. In November 2017, Argentina entered into an agreement with the Chamber of Medium-Sized Enterprises and the Argentine Anti-Piracy Association to create a National Anti-Piracy Initiative focusing initially on trademark counterfeiting. The United States encourages Argentina to expand this initiative to online piracy. In March, revisions to the criminal code, including certain criminal sanctions for circumventing technological protection measures (TPMs), were submitted to Congress. While Argentina has moved forward with the creation of a federal specialized IP prosecutor’s office, the office is not yet in operation. In November 2018, following a constructive bilateral meeting earlier in the year, Argentina and the United States held a DVC under the bilateral Innovation and Creativity Forum for Economic Development, part of the U.S.-Argentina Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), to continue discussions and collaboration on IP topics of mutual interest. The United States intends to monitor all the outstanding issues for progress, and urges Argentina to continue its efforts to create a more attractive environment for investment and innovation.

For statistics on illegal sales in Argentina, go to the following link: http://redcame.org.ar/seccion/relevamiento-venta-ilegal 

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Macri administration has enacted a series of macroeconomic reforms (unifying the exchange rate, settling with holdout creditors, annulling most of the trade restrictions, lifting capital controls, to mention a few) to improve the investment climate. In May 2018, the Congress approved a new capital markets law aimed at boosting economic growth through the development and deepening of the local capital market. The law removed over-reaching regulatory intervention provisions introduced by the previous government and eased restrictions on mutual funds and foreign portfolio investment in domestic markets. Argentina also signed several bilateral agreements and MOUs with other countries aimed to increase foreign direct investment. There are no restrictions on payments and transfers abroad (in accordance with IMF Article VIII).

The Argentine Securities and Exchange Commission (CNV or Comision Nacional de Valores) is the federal agency that regulates securities markets offerings. Securities and accounting standards are transparent and consistent with international norms. Foreign investors have access to a variety of options on the local market to obtain credit. Nevertheless, the domestic credit market is small – credit is 16 percent of GDP, according to the World Bank. The Buenos Aires Stock Exchange is the organization responsible for the operation of Argentina’s primary stock exchange, located in Buenos Aires city. The most important index of the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange is the MERVAL (Mercado de Valores).

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

Money and Banking System

Argentina has a relatively sound banking sector based on diversified revenues, well-contained operating costs, and a high liquidity level. The main challenge for banks is to rebuild long-term assets and liabilities. Due to adverse international and domestic conditions with the economy entering into a recession with high inflation and interest rates, credit to the private sector in local currency (for both corporations and individuals) decreased 18 percent in real terms in 2018. In spite of falling credit, banks remain well equipped to weather weak economic conditions. The largest bank is the Banco de la Nacion Argentina. Non-performing private sector loans constitute less than four percent of banks’ portfolios. The ten largest private banks have total assets of approximately ARS 2,643 billion (USD 64 billion). Total financial system assets are approximately ARS 5,506 billion (USD 134 billion). The Central Bank of Argentina acts as the country’s financial agent and is the main regulatory body for the banking system.

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

The Central Bank has enacted a resolution recognizing cryptocurrencies and requiring that they comply with local banking and tax laws. No implementing regulations have been adopted. Blockchain developers report that several companies in the financial services sector are exploring or considering using blockchain-based programs externally and are using some such programs internally. One Argentine NGO, through funding from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), is developing blockchain-based banking applications to assist low income populations.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

President Macri has issued a number of regulations that lifted all capital controls and reduced trade restrictions. In November 2017, the government repealed the obligation to convert hard currency earnings on exports of both goods and services to pesos in the local foreign exchange market.

Per Resolution 36,162 of October 2011, locally registered insurance companies are mandated to maintain all investments and cash equivalents in the country. The BCRA limits banks’ dollar-denominated asset holdings to 10 percent of their net worth.

In June 2018, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Argentina announced a Standby Arrangement agreement (SBA). Three months after agreeing to a USD 50 billion SBA, Argentina and the IMF announced in September 2018 a set of revisions, including an increase of the line of credit by USD 7.1 billion and front loading the disbursement of funds. The revised program sought to erase any doubts about the government’s ability to cover its financing needs for 2018 and 2019 and in turn, Argentina committed to meeting strict new budget and monetary policy targets. On the monetary side, the BCRA replaced inflation targeting with a policy to ensure zero growth of the monetary base through December 2019. The BCRA also allows the exchange rate to float freely between a floor and ceiling of 34 and 44 pesos per dollar (at the time of introducing the framework).

Originally, the BCRA hoped that the floor and ceiling bounds would avoid a real appreciation of the peso; the adjustment started with a 3 percent monthly increase for the last quarter of 2018, and would drop to a monthly 1.75 percent increase for the second quarter of 2019. However, in mid-April 2019, the BCRA announced that the floor and ceiling will remain constant until the end of 2019, at 39.8 and 51.5 pesos per dollar, respectively. Under this framework, the BCRA may only sell up to USD 150 million reserves per day when trading above the ceiling.

Remittance Policies

According to Resolutions 3,819/2015 and 1/2017, companies and investors have no official restrictions on money conversion, remittances, or repatriation of their earnings.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Argentine Government does not maintain a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

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

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

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

State-owned enterprises purchase and supply goods and services from the private sector and foreign firms. Private enterprises may compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to market share, products/services, and incentives. Private enterprises also have access to financing terms and conditions similar to SOEs. SOEs are subject to the same tax burden and tax rebate policies as their private sector competitors. SOEs are not currently subject to firm budget constraints under the law, and have been subsidized by the central government in the past; however, the Macri administration is reducing subsidies in the energy, water, and transportation sectors. Argentina does not have regulations that differentiate treatment of SOEs and private enterprises. Argentina has observer status under the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement and, as such, SOEs are subject to the conditions of Argentina’s observance.

Argentina does not have a specified ownership policy, guideline or governance code for how the government exercises ownership of SOEs. The country generally adheres to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs. The practices for SOEs are mainly in compliance with the policies and practices for transparency and accountability in the OECD Guidelines.

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

In 2018, the OECD released a report evaluating the corporate governance framework for the Argentine SOE sector relative to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs, which can be viewed here: http://www.oecd.org/countries/argentina/oecd-review-corporate-governance-soe-argentina.htm .

Privatization Program

The current administration has not developed a privatization program.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is an increasing awareness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and responsible business conduct (RBC) among both producers and consumers in Argentina. RBC and CSR practices are welcomed by beneficiary communities throughout Argentina. There are many institutes that promote RBC and CSR in Argentina, the most prominent being the Argentine Institute for Business Social Responsibility (http://www.iarse.org /), which has been working in the country for more than 17 years and includes among its members many of the most important companies in Argentina.

Argentina is a member of the United Nation’s Global Compact. Established in April 2004, the Global Compact Network Argentina is a business-led network with a multi-stakeholder governing body elected for two-year terms by active participants. The network is supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Argentina in close collaboration with other UN Agencies. The Global Compact Network Argentina is the most important RBC/CSR initiative in the country with a presence in more than 20 provinces. More information on the initiative can be found at: http://pactoglobal.org.ar .

Foreign and local enterprises tend to follow generally accepted CSR/RBC principles. Argentina subscribed to the Declaration on the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises in April 1997.

Many provinces, such as Mendoza and Neuquen, have or are in the process of enacting a provincial CSR/RBC law. There have been many previously unsuccessful attempts to pass a CSR/RBC law. Distrust over the State’s role in private companies had been the main concern for legislators opposed to these bills.

In February 2019, the Argentine government joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

9. Corruption

Argentina’s legal system incorporates several measures to address public sector corruption. The government institutions tasked with combatting corruption include the Anti-Corruption Office (ACO), the National Auditor General, and the General Comptroller’s Office. Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, and the Ministry of Justice’s ACO is responsible for analyzing and investigating federal executive branch officials based on their financial disclosure forms. The ACO is also responsible for investigating corruption within the federal executive branch or in matters involving federal funds, except for funds transferred to the provinces. While the ACO does not have authority to independently prosecute cases, it can refer cases to other agencies or serve as the plaintiff and request a judge to initiate a case.

Argentina enacted a new Corporate Criminal Liability Law in November 2017 following the advice of the OECD to comply with its Anti-Bribery Convention. The full text of Law 27,401 can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/295000-299999/296846/norma.htm . The new law entered into force in early 2018. It extends anti-bribery criminal sanctions to corporations, whereas previously they only applied to individuals; expands the definition of prohibited conduct, including illegal enrichment of public officials; and allows Argentina to hold Argentines responsible for foreign bribery. Sanctions include fines and blacklisting from public contracts. Argentina also enacted an express prohibition on the tax deductibility of bribes.

Corruption has been an issue in Argentina. In its March 2017 report, the OECD expressed concern about Argentina’s enforcement of foreign bribery laws, inefficiencies in the judicial system, politicization and perceived lack of independence at the Attorney General’s Office, and lack of training and awareness for judges and prosecutors. According to the World Bank’s worldwide governance indicators, corruption remains an area of concern in Argentina. In the latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) that ranks countries and territories by their perceived levels of corruption, Argentina ranked 85 out of 180 countries in 2018, an improvement of 10 places versus 2016. Allegations of corruption in provincial as well as federal courts remained frequent. Few Argentine companies have implemented anti-foreign bribery measures beyond limited codes of ethics.

Since assuming office, President Macri made combating corruption and improving government transparency a priority objective for his administration. In September 2016, Congress passed a law on public access to information. The law explicitly applies to all three branches of the federal government, the public justice offices, and entities such as businesses, political parties, universities, and trade associations that receive public funding. It requires these institutions to respond to citizen requests for public information within 15 days, with an additional 15-day extension available for “exceptional” circumstances. Sanctions apply for noncompliance. The law also mandates the creation of the Agency for Access to Public Information, an autonomous office within the executive branch. President Macri also proposed a series of criminal justice and administrative reforms. Chief among these are measures to speed the recovery of assets acquired through corruption, plea-bargaining-type incentives to encourage judicial cooperation, and greater financial disclosure for public servants. In early 2016, the Argentine government reaffirmed its commitment to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), became a founding member of the Global Anti-Corruption Coalition, and reengaged the OECD Working Group on Bribery.

Argentina is a party to the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Convention against Corruption. It ratified in 2001 the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (Anti-Bribery Convention). Argentina also signed and ratified the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and participates in UNCAC’s Conference of State Parties. Argentina also participates in the Mechanism for Follow-up on the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (MESICIC).

Since Argentina became a party to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, allegations of Argentine individuals or companies bribing foreign officials have surfaced. A March 2017 report by the OECD Working Group on Bribery indicated there were 13 known foreign bribery allegations involving Argentine companies and individuals as of that date.  According to the report, Argentine authorities investigated and closed some of the allegations and declined to investigate others.  The authorities determined some allegations did not involve foreign bribery but rather other offenses.  Several such allegations remained under investigation. 

Resources to Report Corruption

Laura Alonso
Director
Government of Argentina Anti-Corruption Office
Oficina Anticorrupción, Tucumán 394, C1049AAH, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires.
Phone: +54 11 5167 6400
Email: anticorrupcion@jus.gov.ar and http://denuncias.anticorrupcion.gob.ar/ 

Poder Ciudadano (Local Transparency International Affiliate)
Phone: +54 11 4331 4925 ext 225
Fax: +54 11 4331 4925
Email: comunicaciones@poderciudadano.org
Website: http://www.poderciudadano.org 

10. Political and Security Environment

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

Protesters regularly block streets, highways, and major intersections, causing traffic jams and delaying travel. Public demonstrations, strikes, and street blocking barricades increased in 2018 in response to economic and political issues. While demonstrations are usually non-violent, individuals sometimes seek confrontation with the police and vandalize private property. Groups occasionally protest in front of the U.S. Embassy or U.S.-affiliated businesses. In February 2016, the Ministry of Security approved a National Anti-Street Pickets Protocol that provides guidelines to prevent the blockage of major streets and public facilities during demonstrations. However, this protocol did not often apply to venues within the City of Buenos Aires (CABA), which fall under the city’s jurisdiction.  The CABA government often did not enforce security protocols against illegal demonstrations.

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

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Argentine workers are among the most highly-educated and skilled in Latin America. Foreign investors often cite Argentina’s skilled workforce as a key factor in their decision to invest in Argentina. Argentina has relatively high social security, health, and other labor taxes, however, and high labor costs are among foreign investors’ most often cited operational challenges. The unemployment rate was 9.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to official statistics. The government estimated unemployment for workers below 29 years old as roughly double the national rate. Analysts estimate one-third of Argentina’s salaried workforce was employed informally. Though difficult to measure, analysts believe including self-employed informal workers in the estimate would drive the overall rate of informality to 40 percent of the labor force.

Labor laws are comparatively protective of workers in Argentina, and investors cite labor-related litigation as an important factor increasing labor costs in Argentina. There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in the Foreign Trade Zones. Organized labor plays an important role in labor-management relations and in Argentine politics. Under Argentine law, the Secretariat of Labor recognizes one union per sector per geographic unit (e.g., nationwide, a single province, or a major city) with the right to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement for that sector and geographic area. Roughly 40 percent of Argentina’s formal workforce is unionized. The Secretariat of Labor ratifies collective bargaining agreements. Collective bargaining agreements cover workers in a given sector and geographic area whether they are union members or not, so roughly 70 percent of the workforce was covered by an agreement. While negotiations between unions and industry are generally independent, the Secretariat of Labor often serves as a mediator. Argentine law also offers recourse to mediation and arbitration of labor disputes.

Tensions between management and unions occur. Many managers of foreign companies say they have good relations with their unions. Others say the challenges posed by strong unions can hinder further investment by their international headquarters. Depending on how sectors are defined, some activities such as oil and gas production or aviation involve multiple unions, which can lead to inter-union power disputes that can impede the companies’ operations.

During 2017, the government helped employers and workers agree on adjustments to collective bargaining agreements covering private sector oil and gas sector workers in Neuquen Province for unconventional hydrocarbon exploration and production. The changes were aimed at reducing certain labor costs and incentivizing greater productivity. Employers and unions reached similar agreements in the construction and automotive sectors. The government intends to adapt such agreements to other sectors, while it seeks to advance broader labor reforms through new legislation.

The government presented to the Congress in November 2017 a labor reform bill, including four broad thrusts: (1) a labor amnesty that would aim to reduce informality by encouraging employers to declare their off-the-books workers to the authorities without penalties or fines; (2) a National Institute of Worker Education to develop policies and programs aimed at workers’ skills development, as well as a system of workplace-based educational programs specifically for secondary, technical, and university students; (3) a technical commission to limit costs for union healthcare programs by evaluating drugs and medical treatments to determine which ones the union plans must cover; and (4) modifications to the labor contract law to reduce employers’ costs, incentivize hiring, and improve competitiveness. Union resistance to the fourth area led the government to divide the bill into three separate proposals covering the first three reform areas, respectively, and to resubmit the new bills to the congress in May 2018. The three labor reform bills remained pending before congress as of March 2019.

Labor-related demonstrations in Argentina occurred periodically in 2018. Reasons for strikes include job losses, high taxes, loss of purchasing power, and wage negotiations. Labor demonstrations may involve tens of thousands of protestors. Recent demonstrations have essentially closed sections of the city for a few hours or days at a time. Demonstrations by airline employees caused significant flight delays or cancellations in recent months as well.

The Secretariat of Labor has hotlines and an online website to report labor abuses, including child labor, forced labor, and labor trafficking. The Superintendent of Labor Risk (Superintendencia de Riesgos del Trabajo) has oversight of health and safety standards. Unions also play a key role in monitoring labor conditions, reporting abuses and filing complaints with the authorities. Argentina has a Service of Mandatory Labor Conciliation (SECLO), which falls within the Secretariat of Labor, Employment and Social Security. Provincial governments and the city government of Buenos Aires are also responsible for labor law enforcement.

The minimum age for employment is 16. Children between the ages of 16 and 18 may work in a limited number of job categories and for limited hours if they have completed compulsory schooling, which normally ends at age 18. The law requires employers to provide adequate care for workers’ children during work hours to discourage child labor. The Department of Labor’s 2016 Worst Form of Child Labor for Argentina can be accessed here: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/argentina 

The Department of State’s 2018 Human Rights Report for Argentina can be accessed here

Argentine Law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, nationality, religion, political opinion, union affiliation, or age. The law also prohibits employers, either during recruitment or time of employment, from asking about a worker’s political, religious, labor, and cultural views or sexual orientation. These national anti-discrimination laws also apply to labor relations and other social relations.

Argentina has been a member of the International Labor Organization since 1919.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The Argentine government signed a comprehensive agreement with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) in 1989. The agreement allows OPIC to insure U.S. investments against risks resulting from expropriation, inconvertibility, war or other conflicts affecting public order. In November 2018, OPIC and the Government of Argentina signed six letters of interest to advance several projects in support of Argentina’s economic growth. The agreements will support sectors ranging from infrastructure to energy to logistics and total USD 813 million dollars in U.S. support that will catalyze additional private investment.

OPIC is open for business in all Latin American and Caribbean countries except Venezuela and Cuba. Argentina is also a member of the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

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) 2018 $451,443 2017 $637,430 www.worldbank.org/en/country  
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 N/A 2017 $14,907 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  

www.bcra.gov.ar

Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 N/A 2017 $1,020 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 N/A 2017 12.2% UNCTAD data available at

https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx  

* https://www.indec.gob.ar/uploads/informesdeprensa/pib_03_19.pdf ;  www.bcra.gov.ar 


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $80,373 100% Total Outward N/A 100%
United States $17,713 22% N/A N/A
Spain $13,874 17% N/A N/A
Netherlands $9,300 12% N/A N/A
Brazil $4,983 6% N/A N/A
Chile $4,650 6% N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

No information from the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS) for Outward Direct Investment is available for Argentina.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section
U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires
Avenida Colombia 4300
(C1425GMN)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
+54-11-5777-4747
ECONBA@state.gov

Brazil

Executive Summary

Brazil is the second largest economy in the Western Hemisphere behind the United States, and the eighth largest economy in the world, according to the World Bank.  The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) named Brazil the fourth largest destination for global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows in 2017.  In recent years, Brazil received more than half of South America’s total incoming FDI, and the United States is a major foreign investor in Brazil. The Brazilian Central Bank (BCB) reported the United States had the largest single-country stock of FDI by final ownership, representing 22 percent of all FDI in Brazil (USD 118.7 billion) in 2017, the latest year with available data.  The Government of Brazil (GoB) prioritized attracting private investment in infrastructure during 2017 and 2018.

The current economic recovery, which started in the first quarter of 2017, ended the deepest and longest recession in Brazil’s modern history.  The country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) expanded by 1.1 percent in 2018, below most initial market analysts’ projections of 3 percent growth in 2018.  Analysts forecast a 2 percent growth rate for 2019. The unemployment rate reached 11.6 percent at the end of 2018. Brazil was the world’s fourth largest destination for FDI in 2017, with inflows of USD 62.7 billion, according to UNCTAD.  The nominal budget deficit stood at 7.1 percent of GDP (USD132.5 billion) in 2018 and is projected to end 2019 at around 6.5 percent of GDP (USD 148.5 billion). Brazil’s debt-to-GDP ratio reached 76.7 percent in 2018 with projections to reach 83 percent by the end of 2019.  The BCB has maintained its target for the benchmark Selic interest rate at 6.5 percent since March 2018 (from a high of 13.75 percent at the end of 2016).

President Bolsonaro took office on January 1, 2019, following the interim presidency by President Michel Temer, who had assumed office after the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff in August 2016.  Temer’s administration pursued corrective macroeconomic policies to stabilize the economy, such as a landmark federal spending cap in December 2016 and a package of labor market reforms in 2017. President Bolsonaro’s economic team pledged to continue pushing reforms needed to help control costs of Brazil’s pension system, and has made that issue its top economic priority.  Further reforms are also planned to simplify Brazil’s complex tax system. In addition to current economic difficulties, since 2014, Brazil’s anti-corruption oversight bodies have been investigating allegations of widespread corruption that have moved beyond state-owned energy firm Petrobras and a number of private construction companies to include companies in other economic sectors.  

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 restrictions in the health, mass media, telecommunications, aerospace, rural property, maritime, and air transport sectors.  The Brazilian Congress is considering legislation to liberalize restrictions on foreign ownership of rural property and air carriers.

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, still relatively rigid labor laws, and complex tax, local content, and regulatory requirements; all part of the extra costs of doing business in Brazil.  

 

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 105 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 109 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 64 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical-cost basis) 2017 $68,272 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $8,600 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Brazil was the world’s fourth largest destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in 2017, with inflows of USD 62.7 billion, according to UNCTAD.  The GoB actively encourages FDI – particularly in the automobile, renewable energy, life sciences, oil and gas, 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. Foreign investment is restricted in the health, mass media, telecommunications, aerospace, rural property, maritime, insurance, and air transport sectors.  

The Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (APEX) 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 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 is: http://www.apexbrasil.com.br/en  .

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

A 1995 constitutional amendment (EC 6/1995) eliminated distinctions between foreign and local capital, ending favorable treatment (e.g. tax incentives, preference for winning bids) for companies using only local capital.  However, constitutional law restricts foreign investment in the healthcare (Law 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), insurance (Law 11371/2006), and air transport sectors (Law 13319/2016).  

Screening of FDI

Foreigners investing in Brazil must electronically register their investment with the 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).  Investors must also have a local representative in Brazil. Portfolio investors must have a Brazilian financial administrator and register with the Brazilian Securities Exchange Commission (CVM).  

To enter Brazil’s insurance and reinsurance market, U.S. companies must establish a subsidiary, enter into a joint venture, acquire a local firm, or enter into 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. Santander is the only major wholly foreign-owned retail bank remaining in Brazil.  Brazil’s anti-trust authorities (CADE) approved Itau bank’s purchase of Citibank’s Brazilian retail banking operation in August 2017. In June 2016, CADE approved Bradesco bank’s purchase of HSBC’s Brazilian retail banking operation.  

Currently, foreign ownership of airlines is limited to 20 percent.  Congressman Carlos Cadoca (PCdoB-PE) presented a bill to Brazilian Congress in August of 2015 to allow for 100 percent foreign ownership of Brazilian airlines (PL 2724/2015).  The bill was approved by the lower house, and since March 2019, it is pending a Senate vote. In 2011, the United States and Brazil signed an Air Transport Agreement as a step towards an Open Skies relationship that would eliminate numerical limits on passenger and cargo flights between the two countries.  Brazil’s lower house approved the agreement in December 2017, and the Senate ratified it in March 2018. The Open Skies agreement has now entered into force.

In July 2015, under National Council on Private Insurance (CNSP) Resolution 325, the Brazilian government announced a significant relaxation of some restrictions on foreign insurers’ participation in the Brazilian market, and in December 2017, the government eliminated restrictions on risk transfer operations involving companies under the same financial group.  The new rules revoked the requirement to purchase a minimum percentage of reinsurance and eliminated a limitation or threshold for intra-group cession of reinsurance to companies headquartered abroad that are part of the same economic group. Rules on preferential offers to local reinsurers, which are set to decrease in increments from 40 percent in 2016 to 15 percent in 2020, remain unchanged.  Foreign reinsurance firms must have a representation 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 maintaining a minimum solvency classification issued by a risk classification agency equal to Standard & Poor’s or Fitch ratings of at least BBB-.

In September 2011, Law 12485/2011 removed a 49 percent limit on foreign ownership of cable TV companies, and allowed telecom companies to 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 have to 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. Draft Law 4059/2012, which would lift the limits on foreign ownership of agricultural land,

has been awaiting a vote in the Brazilian Congress since 2015.

Brazil is not a signatory to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA), but became an observer in October 2017.  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 to participate in Brazil’s public sector procurement to help these firms win government tenders.  Foreign companies are often successful in obtaining subcontracting opportunities with large Brazilian firms that win government contracts. Under trade bloc Mercosul’s Government Procurement Protocol, member nations Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay are entitled to non-discriminatory treatment of government-procured goods, services, and public works originating from each other’s suppliers and providers.  However, only Argentina has ratified the protocol, and per the Brazilian Ministry of Economy website, this protocol has been in revision since 2010, so it has not yet entered into force.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) 2018 Brazil Economic Survey of Brazil highlights Brazil as a leading global economy.  However, it notes that high commodity prices and labor force growth will no longer be able to sustain Brazil’s economic growth without deep structural reforms.  While praising the Temer government for its reform plans, the OECD urged Brazil to pass all needed reforms to realize their full benefit. The OECD cautions about low investment rates in Brazil, and cites a World Economic Forum survey that ranks Brazil 116 out of 138 countries on infrastructure as an area in which Brazil must improve to maintain competitiveness.  

The OECD’s March 15, 2019 Enlarged Investment Committee Report BRAZIL: Position Under the OECD Codes of Liberalisation of Capital Movements and of Current Invisible Operations noted several areas in which Brazil needs to improve.  These observations include, but are not limited to: restrictions to FDI requiring investors to incorporate or acquire residency in order to invest; lack of generalized screening or approval mechanisms for new investments in Brazil; sectoral restrictions on foreign ownership in media, private security and surveillance, air transport, mining, telecommunication services; and, restrictions for non-residents to own Brazilian flag vessels.  The report did highlight several areas of improvement and the GoB’s pledge to ameliorate several ongoing irritants as well.

The IMF’s 2018 Country Report No. 18/253 on Brazil highlights that a mild recovery supported by accommodative monetary and fiscal policies is currently underway.  But the economy is underperforming relative to its potential, public debt is high and increasing, and, more importantly, medium-term growth prospects remain uninspiring, absent further reforms.  The IMF advises that against the backdrop of tightening global financial conditions, placing Brazil on a path of strong, balanced, and durable growth requires a committed pursuit of fiscal consolidation, ambitious structural reforms, and a strengthening of the financial sector architecture.  The WTO’s 2017 Trade Policy Review of Brazil notes the country’s open stance towards foreign investment, but also points to the many sector-specific limitations (see above). All three reports highlight the uncertainty regarding reform plans as the most significant political risk to the economy.  These reports are located at the following links:

http://www.oecd.org/brazil/economic-survey-brazil.htm  ,

https://www.oecd.org/daf/inv/investment-policy/Code-capital-movements-EN.pdf ,

https://www.imf.org/~/media/Files/Publications/CR/2017/cr17216.ashx  , and https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp458_e.htm  .

Business Facilitation

A company must register with the National Revenue Service (Receita) 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. 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 http://receita.economia.gov.br/orientacao/tributaria/cadastros/cadastro-nacional-de-pessoas-juridicas-cnpj  .  

Outward Investment

Brazil does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad, and 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 an excellent destination for outbound investment.  Apex-Brasil and SelectUSA (the U.S. government’s investment promotion office at the U.S. Department of Commerce) signed a memorandum of cooperation to promote bilateral investment in February 2014.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Brazil does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States.  In the 1990s, Brazil signed BITs with Belgium, Luxembourg, Chile, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela.  The Brazilian Congress has not ratified any of these agreements. In 2002, the Executive branch withdrew the agreements from Congress after determining that treaty provisions on international Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) were unconstitutional.  

In 2015, Brazil developed a state-to-state Cooperation and Facilitation Investment Agreement (CFIA) which, unlike traditional BITs, does not provide for an ISDS mechanism.  CFIAs instead outline progressive steps for the settlement of “issue[s] of interest to an investor,” including: 1) an ombudsmen and a Joint Committee appointed by the two governments will act as mediators to amicably settle any dispute; 2) if amicable settlement fails, either of the two governments may bring the dispute to the attention of the Joint Committee; 3) if the dispute is not settled within the Joint Committee, the two governments may resort to interstate arbitration mechanisms.”  The GOB has signed several CFIAs since 2015 with: Mozambique (April 2015), Angola (May 2015), Mexico (May 2015), Malawi (October 2015), Colombia (October 2015), Peru (October 2015), Chile (November 2015), Iran (November 2016), Azerbaijan (December 2016), Armenia (November 2017), Ethiopia (April 2018), Suriname (May 2018), Guyana (December 2018), and the United Arab Emirates (March 2019). The following CFIAs are in force: Mexico, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Peru. A few CFIAs have received Congressional ratification in Brazil and are pending ratification by the other country: Mozambique, Malawi, and Colombia (https://concordia.itamaraty.gov.br/ ).  Brazil also negotiated an intra-Mercosul protocol similar to the CFIA in April 2017, which was ratified on December 21, 2018.  (See sections on responsible business conduct and dispute settlement.)

Brazil does not have a double taxation treaty with the United States, but it does have such treaties with 34 other countries, including: Japan, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Spain, Portugal, and Argentina.  Brazil signed a Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) with the United States in March 2007, which entered into force on May 15, 2013. In September 2014, Brazil and the United States signed an intergovernmental agreement to improve international tax compliance and to implement the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).  This agreement went into effect in August 2015.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The GoB extends tax benefits for investments in less developed parts of the country, including the Northeast and the Amazon regions, with equal application to foreign and domestic investors.  These incentives were successful in attracting major foreign plants to areas like the Manaus Free Trade Zone in Amazonas State, but most foreign investment remains concentrated in the more industrialized southern states in Brazil.  

Individual states seek to attract private investment by offering tax benefits and infrastructure support to companies, negotiated on a case-by-case basis.  Competition among states to attract employment-generating investment leads some states to challenge such tax benefits as beggar-thy-neighbor fiscal competition.  

While local private sector banks are beginning to offer longer credit terms, the state-owned Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) is the traditional Brazilian source of long-term credit as well as export credits.  BNDES provides foreign- and domestically-owned companies operating in Brazil financing for the manufacturing and marketing of capital goods and primary infrastructure projects. BNDES provides much of its financing at subsidized interest rates.  As part of its package of fiscal tightening, in December 2014, the GoB announced its intention to scale back the expansionary activities of BNDES and ended direct Treasury support to the bank. Law 13483, from September 2017, created a new Long-Term Lending Rate (TLP) for BNDES, which will be phased-in to replace the prior subsidized loans starting on January 1, 2018.  After a five-year phase in period, the TLP will float with the market and reflect a premium over Brazil’s five-year bond yield (a rate that incorporates inflation). The GoB plans to reduce BNDES’s role further as it continues to promote the development of long-term private capital markets.

In January 2015, the GoB eliminated the industrial products tax (IPI) exemptions on vehicles, while keeping all other tax incentives provided by the October 2012 Inovar-Auto program.  Through Inovar-Auto, auto manufacturers were able to apply for tax credits based on their ability to meet certain criteria promoting research and development and local content. Following successful WTO challenges against the trade-restrictive impacts of some of its tax benefits, the government allowed Inovar-Auto program to expire on December 31, 2017.  Although the government has announced a new package of investment incentives for the auto sector, Rota 2030, it remains at the proposal stage, with no scheduled date for a vote or implementation.

On February 27, 2015, Decree 8415 reduced tax incentives for exports, known as the Special Regime for the Reinstatement of Taxes for Exporters, or Reintegra Program.  Decree 8415 reduced the previous three percent subsidy on the value of the exports to one percent for 2015, to 0.1 percent for 2016, and two percent for 2017 and 2018.

Brazil provides tax reductions and exemptions on many domestically-produced information and communication technology (ICT) and digital goods that qualify for status under the Basic Production Process (PPB).  The PPB is product-specific and stipulates which stages of the manufacturing process must be carried out in Brazil in order for an ICT product to be considered produced in Brazil. The major fiscal benefits of the National Broadband Plan (PNBL) and supporting implementation plan (REPNBL-Redes) have either expired or been revoked.  In 2017, Brazil held a public consultation on a National Connectivity Plan to replace the PNBL, but has not yet published a final version.

Under Law 12598/2013, Brazil offers tax incentives ranging from 13 percent to 18 percent to officially classified “Strategic Defense Firms” (must have Brazilian control of voting shares) as well as to “Defense Firms” (can be foreign-owned) that produce identified strategic defense goods.  The tax incentives for strategic firms can apply to their entire supply chain, including foreign suppliers. The law is currently undergoing a revision, expected to be complete in 2018.

Industrial Promotion

The InovAtiva Brasil and Startup Brasil programs support start-ups in the country.  The GoB also uses free trade zones to incentivize industrial production. A complete description of the scope and scale of Brazil’s investment promotion programs and regimes can be found at: http://www.apexbrasil.com.br/en/home  .  

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The federal government grants tax benefits to certain free trade zones.  Most of these free trade zones aim to attract investment to the country’s relatively underdeveloped North and Northeast regions.  The most prominent of these is the Manaus Free Trade Zone, in Amazonas State, which has attracted significant foreign investment, including from U.S. companies.  Constitutional amendment 83/2014 came into force in August 2014 and extended the status of Manaus Free Trade Zone until the year 2073.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Government Procurement Preferences:  The GoB maintains a variety of localization barriers to trade in response to the weak competitiveness of its domestic tech industry.

  1. Tax incentives for locally sourced information and communication technology (ICT) goods and equipment (Basic Production Process (PPB), Law 8248/91, and Portaria 87/2013);
  2. Government procurement preferences for local ICT hardware and software (2014 Decrees 8184, 8185, 8186, 8194, and 2013 Decree 7903); and the CERTICS Decree (8186), which aims to certify that software programs are the result of development and technological innovation in Brazil.

Presidential Decree 8135/2013 (Decree 8135) regulated the use of IT services provided to the Federal government by privately and state-owned companies, including the provision that Federal IT communications be hosted by Federal IT agencies. In 2015, the Ministry of Planning developed regulations to implement Decree 8135, which included the requirement to disclose source code if requested.  On December 26, 2018, President Michel Temer approved and signed the Decree 9.637/2018, which revoked Decree 8.135/2013 and eliminated the source code disclosure requirements.

The Institutional Security Cabinet (GSI) mandated the localization of all government data stored on the cloud during a review of cloud computing services contracted by the Brazilian government in Ordinance No. 9 (previously NC 14), this was made official in March 2018.  While it does provide for the use of cloud computing for non-classified information, it imposes a data localization requirement on all use of cloud computing by the Brazil government.

Investors in certain sectors in Brazil must adhere to the country’s regulated prices, which fall into one of two groups: those regulated at the federal level by a federal company or agency, and those set by sub-national governments (states or municipalities).  Regulated prices managed at the federal level include telephone services, certain refined oil and gas products (such as bottled cooking gas), electricity, and healthcare plans. Regulated prices controlled by sub-national governments include water and sewage fees, vehicle registration fees, and most fees for public transportation, such as local bus and rail services.  As part of its fiscal adjustment strategy, Brazil sharply increased regulated prices in January 2015.

For firms employing three or more persons, Brazilian nationals must constitute at least two-thirds of all employees and receive at least two-thirds of total payroll, according to Brazilian Labor Law Articles 352 to 354.  This calculation excludes foreign specialists in fields where Brazilians are unavailable.

Decree 7174 from 2010, which regulates the procurement of information technology goods and services, requires federal agencies and parastatal entities to give preferential treatment to domestically produced computer products and goods or services with technology developed in Brazil based on a complicated price/technology matrix.  

Brazil’s Marco Civil, an Internet law that determines user rights and company responsibilities, states that data collected or processed in Brazil must respect Brazilian law, even if the data is subsequently stored outside the country.  Penalties for non-compliance could include fines of up to 10 percent of gross Brazilian revenues and/or suspension or prohibition of related operations. Under the law, Internet connection and application providers must retain access logs for specified periods or face sanctions.  While the Marco Civil does not require data to be stored in Brazil, any company investing in Brazil should closely track its provisions – as well provisions of other legislation and regulations, including a data privacy bill passed in August 2018 and cloud computing regulations.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Brazil has a system in place for mortgage registration, but implementation is uneven and there is no standardized contract.  Foreign individuals or foreign-owned companies can purchase real property in Brazil. Foreign buyers frequently arrange alternative financing in their own countries, where rates may be more attractive.  Law 9514 from 1997 helped spur the mortgage industry by establishing a legal framework for a secondary market in mortgages and streamlining the foreclosure process, but the mortgage market in Brazil is still underdeveloped, and foreigners may have difficulty obtaining mortgage financing.  Large U.S. real estate firms, nonetheless, are expanding their portfolios in Brazil.

Intellectual Property Rights

The last year brought increased attention to IP in Brazil, but rights holders still face significant challenges.  Brazil’s National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) streamlined procedures for review processes to increase examiner productivity for patent and trademark decisions.  Nevertheless, the wait period for a patent remains nine years and the market is flooded with counterfeits. Brazil’s IP enforcement regime is constrained by limited resources.  Brazil has remained on the “Watch List” of the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 report since 2007. For more information, please see: https://ustr.gov/issue-areas/intellectual-property/Special-301 .

Brazil has no physical markets listed on USTR’s 2017 Review of Notorious Markets, though the report does acknowledge a file sharing site popular among Brazilians that is known for pirated digital media.  For more information, please see: https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/Press/Reports/2017 percent20Notorious percent20Markets percent20List percent201.11.18.pdf .

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)’s country profiles: http://www.wipo.int/directory/en 

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Central Bank of Brazil (BCB) embarked in October 2016 on 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 6.5 percent in December 2018.  Inflation for 2018 was 3.67 percent, within the 1.5 percent plus/minus of the 4 percent target. In June 2018, the National Monetary Council (CMN) set the BCB’s inflation target to 4.25 percent in 2019, 4.5 percent in 2020, and 3.75 percent for 2021. Because of a heavy public debt burden and other structural factors, most analysts expect the “neutral policy rate will remain higher than target rates in Brazil’s emerging-market peers (around five percent) over the forecast period.  

After a boom in 2004-2012 that more than doubled the lending/GDP ratio (to 55 percent of GDP), the recession and higher interest rates significantly decreased lending.  In fact, the lending/GDP ratio remained below 55 percent at year-end 2017. Financial analysts contend that credit will pick up again in the medium term, owing to interest rate easing and economic recovery.  

The role of the state in credit markets grew steadily beginning in 2008, with public banks now accounting for over 55 percent of total loans to the private sector (up from 35 percent).  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 Brazilian source of long-term credit.  BNDES also offers export financing. Approvals of new financing by BNDES increased 27 percent year-over-year, with the infrastructure sector receiving the majority of new capital.

The Sao Paulo Stock Exchange (BOVESPA) is the sole stock market in Brazil, while trading of public securities takes place at the Rio de Janeiro market.  In 2008, the Brazilian Mercantile & Futures Exchange (BM&F) merged with the BOVESPA to form what is now the fourth largest exchange in the Western Hemisphere, after the NYSE, NASDAQ, and Canadian TSX Group exchanges.  As of April 2019, there were 430 companies traded on the BM&F/BOVESPA. The BOVESPA index increased 15.03 percent in valuation during 2018. Foreign investors, both institutions and individuals, can directly invest in equities, securities, and derivatives.  Foreign investors are limited to trading derivatives and stocks of publicly held companies 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.

Money and Banking System

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, and 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 from 2011 through the first quarter of 2019, the average rate offered by Brazilian banks was 9.22 percent, with an average monthly high of 11.34 percent in July 2016, and an average monthly rate of 7.7 percent for March 2019.

The financial sector is concentrated, with BCB data indicating that the four largest commercial banks (excluding brokerages) account for approximately 70 percent of the commercial banking sector assets, totaling USD 1.59 trillion as of Q1, 2019.  Three of the five largest banks (by assets) in the country – Banco do Brasil, Caixa Economica 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 Itau Bank in 2016, but maintains its commercial banking interests in Brazil. It is currently the sole U.S. bank operating in the country.

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 April 2018, Moody’s upgraded a collection of 20 Brazilian banks and their affiliates to stable from negative.  The Brazilian Securities and Exchange Commission (CVM) independently regulates the stock exchanges, brokers, distributors, pension funds, mutual funds, and leasing companies with penalties against insider trading.

Foreigners may find it difficult to open an account with a Brazilian bank.  The individual must present a permanent or temporary resident visa, a national tax identification number issued by the Brazilian government (CPF), 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 lasts more than three months

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Brazil’s foreign exchange market remains small, despite recent growth.  The latest Triennial Survey by the Bank for International Settlements, conducted in December 2016, 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 USD 19.7 billion, up from USD 17.2 billion in 2013.  This was equivalent to around 0.3 percent of the global market in both years.

Brazil’s banking system has adequate capitalization and has traditionally been highly profitable, reflecting high interest rates and fees.  Per an April 2018 Central Bank Financial Stability Report, all banks exceeded required solvency ratios, and stress testing demonstrated the banking system has adequate loss absorption capacity in all simulated scenarios.  Furthermore, the report noted 99.9 percent of banks already met Basel III requirements, and possess a projected Common Equity Tier 1 (CET1) capital ratio above the minimum 7 percent required at the beginning of 2019.

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.

In March 2014, Brazil’s Federal Revenue Service consolidated the regulations on withholding taxes (IRRF) applicable to earnings and capital gains realized by individuals and legal entities resident or domiciled outside Brazil.  The regulation states that the cost of acquisition must be calculated in Brazilian currency (reais). Also, the definition of “technical services” was broadened to include administrative support and consulting services rendered by individuals (employees or not) or resulting from automated structures having clear technological content.

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.

Remittance Policies

Under Law 13259/2016 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 up to USD 1.5 million in gains; 17.5 percent for USD 1.5 million to USD 2.9 million in gains; 20 percent for USD 2.9 million to USD 8.9 million in gains; and 22.5 percent for more than USD 8.9 million 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.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Law 11887 established the Sovereign Fund of Brazil (FSB) in 2008.  It was a non-commodity fund with a mandate to support national companies in their export activities and to offset counter-cyclical development, promoting investment in projects of strategic interest to Brazil both domestically and abroad.  The GoB also had the authority to use money from this fund to help meet its fiscal targets when annual revenues were lower than expected, and to invest in state-owned companies. In May 2018, then-President Temer signed an executive order abolishing the fund.  The money in the fund was earmarked for repayment of foreign debt.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The GoB maintains ownership interests in a variety of enterprises at both the federal and state levels.  Typically, boards responsible for state-owned enterprise (SOE) corporate governance are comprised of directors elected by the state or federal government with additional directors elected by any non-government shareholders.  Although Brazil, a non-OECD member, has participated in many OECD working groups, it does not follow the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs. Brazilian SOEs are concentrated in the oil and gas, electricity generation and distribution, transportation, and banking sectors.  A number of these firms also see a portion of their shares publically traded on the Brazilian and other stock exchanges.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the GoB privatized many state-owned enterprises across a broad spectrum of industries, including mining, steel, aeronautics, banking, and electricity generation and distribution.  While the GoB divested itself from many of its SOEs, it maintained partial control (at both the federal and state level) of some previously wholly state-owned enterprises. This control can include a “golden share” whereby the government can exercise veto power over proposed mergers or acquisitions.  

Notable examples of majority government owned and controlled firms include national oil and gas giant Petrobras and power conglomerate Eletrobras.  Both Petrobras and Eletrobras include non-government shareholders, are listed on both the Brazilian and NYSE stock exchanges, and are subject to the same accounting and audit regulations as all publicly-traded Brazilian companies.  Brazil previously restricted foreign investment in offshore oil and gas development through 2010 legislation that obligated Petrobras to serve as the sole operator and minimum 30 percent investor in any oil and gas exploration and production in Brazil’s prolific offshore pre-salt fields.  As a result of the GoB’s desire to increase foreign investment in Brazil’s hydrocarbon sector, in October 2016 the Brazilian Congress granted foreign companies the right to serve as sole operators in pre-salt exploration and production activities and eliminated Petrobras’ obligation to serve as a minority equity holder in pre-salt oil and gas operations.  Nevertheless, the 2016 law still gives Petrobras right-of-first refusal in developing pre-salt offshore fields before those areas are available for public auction.  Industry estimates project bonuses of USD 26.3 billion by opening the Brazilian oil and gas market to foreign investment.

Privatization Program

Given limited public investment funding, the GoB has focused on privatizing state–owned energy, airport, road, railway, and port assets through long-term (up to 30 year) infrastructure concession agreements.  Eletrobras successfully sold its six principal, highly-indebted power distributors. The SOE is currently working to begin a capitalization process to reduce the GoB’s share holdings in the company to less than 50 percent.  The process cannot move forward, however, until Congress passes a bill authorizing the reduction. In 2018, Petrobras faced criticism over its daily fuel adjustment policy and a major 12-day truckers strike hit Brazil and forced the resignation of Petrobras’ CEO Pedro Parente.  To end the strike, the GoB eliminated the collection of the CIDE tax over diesel and gave a USD 3 billion subsidy to diesel producers (mainly Petrobras) to reduce the prices to consumers (primarily truckers).

In 2016, Brazil launched its newest version of these efforts to promote privatization of primary infrastructure.  The Temer administration created the Investment Partnership Program (PPI) to expand and accelerate the concession of public works projects to private enterprise and the privatization of some state entities.  PPI covers federal concessions in road, rail, ports, airports, municipal water treatment, electricity transmission and distribution, and oil and gas exploration and production contracts. Between 2016 and 2018, PPI auctioned off 124 projects and collected USD 62.5 billion in investments.  The full list of PPI projects is located at: https://www.ppi.gov.br/schedule-of-projects 

While some subsidized financing through BNDES will be available, PPI emphasizes the use of private financing and debentures for projects.  All federal and state-level infrastructure concessions are open to foreign companies with no requirement to work with Brazilian partners. In 2017, Brazil launched the Agora é Avançar initiative for promoting investments in primary infrastructure, and this has supported several projects.  Details can be found at: www.avancar.gov.br .The latest information available about Avançar Parcerias is from September 30, 2018.  From over 7,000 projects, the program has completed 36.5 percent and 92.2 percent are in progress.

In 2008, the Ministry of Health initiated the use of Production Development Partnerships (PDPs) to reduce the increasing dependence of Brazil’s healthcare sector on international drug production and the need to control costs in the public healthcare system, services that are an entitlement enumerated in the constitution.  The healthcare sector accounts for 9 percent of GDP, 10 percent of skilled jobs, and more than 25 percent of research and development nationally. These agreements provide a framework for technology transfer and development of local production by leveraging the volume purchasing power of the Ministry of Health. In the current administration, there is increasing interest in PDPs as a cost saving measure.  U.S. companies have both competed for these procurements and at times raised concerns about the potential for PDPs to be used to subvert intellectual property protections under the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Most state-owned and private sector corporations of any significant size in Brazil pursue corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.  Brazil’s new CFIAs (see sections on bilateral investment agreements and dispute settlement) contain CSR provisions. Some corporations use CSR programs to meet local content requirements, particularly in information technology manufacturing.  Many corporations support local education, health and other programs in the communities where they have a presence. Brazilian consumers, especially the local residents where a corporation has or is planning a local presence, expect CSR activity.  Corporate officials frequently meet with community members prior to building a new facility to review the types of local services the corporation will commit to providing. Foreign and local enterprises in Brazil often advance United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as part of their CSR activity, and will cite their local contributions to MDGs, such as universal primary education and environmental sustainability.  Brazilian prosecutors and civil society can be very proactive in bringing cases against companies for failure to implement the requirements of the environmental licenses for their investments and operations. National and international nongovernmental organizations monitor corporate activities for perceived threats to Brazil’s biodiversity and tropical forests and can mount strong campaigns against alleged misdeeds.

The U.S. diplomatic mission in Brazil supports U.S. business CSR activities through the +Unidos Group (Mais Unidos), a group of more than 100 U.S. companies established in Brazil.  Additional information on how the partnership supports public and private alliances in Brazil can be found at: www.maisunidos.org 

9. Corruption

Brazil has laws, regulations, and penalties to combat corruption, but their effectiveness is inconsistent.  Several bills to revise the country’s regulation of the lobbying/government relations industry have been pending before Congress for years.  Bribery is illegal, and a bribe by a local company to a foreign official can result in criminal penalties for individuals and administrative penalties for companies, including fines and potential disqualification from government contracts.  A company cannot deduct a bribe to a foreign official from its taxes. While federal government authorities generally investigate allegations of corruption, there are inconsistencies in the level of enforcement among individual states. Corruption is problematic in business dealings with some authorities, particularly at the municipal level.  U.S. companies operating in Brazil are subject to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Brazil signed the UN Convention against Corruption in 2003, and ratified it in 2005.  Brazil is a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and a participating member of the OECD Working Group on bribery.  It was one of the founders, along with the United States, of the intergovernmental Open Government Partnership, which seeks to help governments increase transparency.  

In 2018, Brazil ranked 105th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.  The full report can be found at: https://www.transparency.org/cpi2018 

Since 2014, the federal criminal investigation known as Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash) has uncovered a complex web of public sector corruption, contract fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion stemming from systematic overcharging for government contracts, particularly at parastatal oil company Petrobras.  The ongoing investigation led to the arrests of Petrobras executives, oil industry suppliers including executives from Brazil’s largest construction companies, money launderers, former politicians, and political party operatives. Many sitting Brazilian politicians are currently under investigation.  In July 2017, former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula) was convicted of corruption and money laundering charges stemming from the Lava Jato investigation.  The Brazilian authorities jailed Lula in April 2018, and the courts sentenced him in February 2019 to begin serving an almost 13-year prison sentence.  In March 2019, authorities arrested former President Michel Temer on charges of corruption.

In December 2016, Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht and its chemical manufacturing arm Braskem agreed to pay the largest FCPA penalty in U.S. history and plead guilty to charges filed in the United States, Brazil, and Switzerland that alleged the companies paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to government officials around the world.  The U.S. Department of Justice case stemmed directly from theLava Jatoinvestigation and focused on violations of the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA.  Details on the case can be found at: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/odebrecht-and-braskem-plead-guilty-and-agree-pay-least-35-billion-global-penalties-resolve 

In January 2018, Petrobras settled a class-action lawsuit with investors in U.S. federal court for USD 3 billion, which was one of the largest securities class action settlements in U.S. history.  The investors alleged that Petrobras officials accepted bribes and made decisions that had a negative impact on Petrobras’ share value. In September 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Petrobras would pay a fine of USD 853.2 million to settle charges that former executives and directors violated the FCPA through fraudulent accounting used to conceal bribe payments from investors and regulators.

In 2015, GoB prosecutors announced Operacão Zelotes (Operation Zealots), in which both domestic and foreign firms were alleged to have bribed tax officials to reduce their assessments.  The operation resulted in a complete closure and overhaul of Brazilian tax courts, including a reduction in the number of courts and judges as well as more subsequent rulings in favor of tax authorities.  

Resources to Report Corruption

Petalla Brandao Timo Rodrigues
International Relations Chief Advisor
Brazilian Federal Public Ministry
contatolavajato@mpf.mp.br

Transparencia Brasil
Bela Cintra, 409; Sao Paulo, Brasil
+55 (11) 3259-6986
http://www.transparencia.org.br/contato 

10. Political and Security Environment

Strikes and demonstrations occasionally occur in urban areas and may cause temporary disruption to public transportation.  Occasional port strikes continue to have an impact on commerce. Brazil has over 60,000 murders annually, with low rates of success in murder investigations and even lower conviction rates.  Brazil announced emergency measures in 2017 to counter a rise in violence in Rio de Janeiro state, and approximately 8,500 military personnel deployed to the state to assist state law enforcement.  In February, 2018, then-President Temer signed a federal intervention decree giving the federal government control of the state’s entire public security apparatus under the command of an Army general.  The federal intervention ended on December 31, 2018, with the withdrawal of the military. Shorter-term and less expansive deployments of the military in support of police forces also occurred in other states in 2017, including Rio Grande do Norte and Roraima.  The military also supported police forces in 11 states and nearly 500 cities for the 2018 general elections.

In 2016, millions peacefully demonstrated to call for and against then-President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and protest against corruption, which was one of the largest public protests in Brazil’s history.  Non-violent pro- and anti-government demonstrations have occurred regularly in recent years.

Although U.S. citizens are usually 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

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The Brazilian labor market is composed of approximately 124 million workers of whom 32.9 million (26.5 percent) work in the informal sector.  Brazil had an unemployment rate of 12 percent as of March 2019, although that percentage was nearly double (22.6 percent) for young workers ages 18-29.  Foreign workers made up less than one percent of the overall labor force, but the arrival of 160,000 economic migrants and refugees from Venezuela since 2016 has led to large local concentrations of foreign workers in the border state of Roraima and the city of Manaus.  Migrant workers from within Brazil play a significant role in the agricultural sector. There are no government policies requiring the hiring of Brazilian nationals.

Low-skilled employment dominates Brazil’s labor market.  During the country’s economic recession (2014-2016), eight low-skilled occupations – such as market attendants and janitors – accounted for half of the roughly 900,000 job openings added to the market.  The number of professionals working as biomedical and information analysts – however small – also increased, while that of bill collectors, cashier supervisors, and welders saw declines. Sectors such as information technology services stood out among those that generated job vacancies between 2011 and 2016.

Workers in the formal sector contribute to the Time of Service Guarantee Fund (FGTS) that equates to one month’s salary over the course of a year.  If a company terminates an employee, the employee can access the full amount of their FGTS contributions or 20 percent in the event they leave voluntarily.  Brazil’s labor code guarantees formal sector workers 30 days of annual leave and severance pay in the case of dismissal without cause. Unemployment insurance also exists for laid off workers equal to the country’s minimum salary (or more depending on previous income levels) for six months.  A labor law that went into effect in November 2017 modified 121 sections of the national labor code (CLT). The law introduced flexible working hours, eased restrictions on part-time work, relaxed how workers can divide their holidays and cut the statutory lunch hour to 30 minutes. The government does not waive labor laws to attract investment; they apply uniformly across the country.  

Collective bargaining is common, and there were 11,587 labor unions operating in Brazil in 2018.  Labor unions, especially in sectors such as metalworking and banking, are well organized in advocating for wages and working conditions, and account for approximately 19 percent of the official workforce according to the Brazilian Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA).  Unions in various sectors engage in collective bargaining negotiations, often across an entire industry when mandated by federal regulation. The November 2017 labor law ended mandatory union contributions, which has reduced union finances by as much as 90 percent according to the Inter-Union Department of Statistics and Socio-economic Studies (DIESSE).  DIESSE reported a significant decline in the number of collective bargaining agreements reached in 2018 (3,269) compared to 2017 (4,378).

Employer federations also play a significant role in both public policy and labor relations.  Each state has its own federation, which reports to the National Confederation of Industry (CNI), headquartered in Brasilia, and the National Confederation of Commerce (CNC), headquartered in Rio de Janeiro.  

Brazil has a dedicated system of labor courts that are charged with resolving routine cases involving unfair dismissal, working conditions, salary disputes, and other grievances.  Labor courts have the power to impose an agreement on employers and unions if negotiations break down and either side appeals to the court system. As a result, labor courts routinely are called upon to determine wages and working conditions in industries across the country.  The labor courts system has millions of pending legal cases on its docket, although the number of new filings has decreased since the November 2017 labor law went into effect. Nevertheless, pending legal challenges to the 2017 labor law have resulted in considerable legal uncertainty for both employers and employees.

Strikes occur periodically, particularly among public sector unions.  A strike organized by truckers unions protesting increased fuel prices paralyzed the Brazilian economy in May 2018, and led to billions of dollars in losses to the economy.

Brazil has ratified 97 International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions.  Furthermore, Brazil is party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and major ILO conventions concerning the prohibition of child labor, forced labor, and discrimination.  For the past eight years (2010-2018), the Department of Labor, in its annual publication Findings on the Worst forms of Child Labor, has recognized Brazil for its significant advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.  The Ministry of Labor (MTE), in 2018, inspected 231 properties, resulting in the rescue of 1,133 victims of forced labor. Additionally, MTE rescued 1,409 children working in violation of child labor laws.

On January 1, 2019, newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro extinguished MTE and divided its responsibilities between the Ministries of Economy, Justice and Social Development.  

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

Programs of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) are fully available.  Brazil has been a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) since 1992.

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) ($ USD) 2017 $2,053 trillion 2017 $2.056 trillion www.worldbank.org/en/country  
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)

BCB data, year-end.

2017 $95,100 2017 $68,300 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  

*U.S. is historical-cost basis

Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $16,070 2017 ($2,030) BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  

*U.S. is historical-cost basis

Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 26.29% 2017 36.4% UNCTAD data available at

https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx    

* IBGE and BCB data, year-end.


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, billions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 635.12 100% Total Outward 254.23 100%
Netherlands 158.42 24.9% Cayman Islands 72.58 28.5%
United States 109.61 17.3% British Virgin Islands 46.73 18.4%
Luxembourg 60.12 6.5% Bahamas 37.21 14.6%
Spain 57.98 9.1% Austria 32.14 12.6%
France 33.30 5.2% United States 14.92 5.9%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (billions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 40.13 100% All Countries 31.11 100% All Countries 9.02 100%
United States 13.84 34.5% United States 10.37 33.3% United States 3.47 38.5%
Bahamas 6.80 16.9% Bahamas 6.76 21.7% Spain 2.64 29.3%
Cayman Islands 4.25 10.6% Cayman Islands 3.93 12.6% Korea, South 0.50 5.5%
Spain 3.72 9.3% Switzerland 2.01 6.5% Switzerland 0.41 4.5%
Switzerland 2.42 6.0% Luxembourg 1.69 5.4% Denmark 0.38 4.2%

 

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section
U.S.  Embassy Brasilia
BrasiliaECON2@State.gov
+55-61-3312-7000

Mexico

Executive Summary

Mexico is one of the United States’ top trade and investment partners.  Bilateral trade grew 650 percent 1993-2018 and Mexico is the United States’ second largest export market and third largest trading partner.  The United States is Mexico’s top source of foreign direct investment (FDI) with USD 12.3 billion (2018 flows) or 39 percent of all inflows to Mexico.

The Mexican economy has averaged 2.6 percent economic growth (GDP) 1994-2017.  Mexico has benefited since the 1994 Tequila Crisis from credible economic management that has allowed the country to weather a period of low oil prices and significant global volatility.  The fiscally prudent 2019 budget targets a one percent primary surplus, and the new government has upheld the Central Bank’s (Bank of Mexico) independence. Inflation at end-2018 was 4.8 percent, an improvement from 6.6 percent at the end of 2017, but still above the Bank of Mexico’s target of 3 percent due to peso depreciation against the U.S. Dollar and higher retail fuel prices caused by government efforts to stimulate competition in that sector.

The United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement ratification prospects for 2019 and a historic change in the Mexican government December 1, 2018 remain key sources of investment uncertainty.  The new administration has signaled its commitment to prudent fiscal and monetary policies since taking office. Still, conflicting policies, programs, and communication from the new administration have contributed to ongoing uncertainties, especially related to energy sector reforms and the financial health of state-owned oil company Pemex.  Most financial institutions, including the Bank of Mexico, have revised downward Mexico’s GDP growth expectations for 2019 to 1.6 percent (Banxico consensus). Major credit rating agencies have downgraded or put on a negative outlook Mexico’s sovereign and some institutional ratings.

The administration followed through on its campaign promises to cancel the new airport project, cut government employees’ salaries, suspend all energy auctions, and weaken autonomous institutions.  Uncertainty about contract enforcement, insecurity, and corruption also continue to hinder Mexican economic growth. These factors raise the cost of doing business in Mexico significantly.

Table 1:  Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 138 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 54 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 56 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $109,700 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $8,610 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Mexico is open to foreign direct investment (FDI) in the vast majority of economic sectors and has consistently been one of the largest emerging market recipients of FDI.  Mexico’s macroeconomic stability, large domestic market, growing consumer base, rising skilled labor pool, welcoming business climate, and proximity to the United States all help attract foreign investors.

Historically, the United States has been one of the largest sources of FDI in Mexico.  According to Mexico’s Secretariat of Economy, FDI flows to Mexico from the United States totaled USD 12.3 billion in 2018, nearly 39 percent of all inflows to Mexico (USD 31.6 billion).  The automotive, aerospace, telecommunications, financial services, and electronics sectors typically receive large amounts of FDI. Most foreign investment flows to 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 that may change if the new administration’s focus on attracting investment to the region gain traction.

The 1993 Foreign Investment Law, last updated in March 2017, governs foreign investment in Mexico.  The law is consistent with the foreign investment chapter of NAFTA. It provides national treatment, eliminates performance requirements for most foreign investment projects, and liberalizes criteria for automatic approval of foreign investment.  The Foreign Investment Law provides details on which business sectors are open to foreign investors and to what extent. 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 new administration stopped funding ProMexico, the government’s investment promotion agency, and is integrating its components into other ministries and offices.  PROMTEL, the government agency charged with encouraging investment in the telecom sector, is expected to continue operations with a more limited mandate. Its first director and four other senior staff recently left the agency.  In April 2019, the government sent robust participation to the 11th CEO Dialogue and Business Summit for Investment in Mexico sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its Mexican equivalent, CCE. Cabinet-level officials conveyed the Mexican government’s economic development and investment priorities to dozens of CEOs and business leaders.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

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 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.

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 has held four separate bid sessions allowing private companies to bid on exploration and development of oil and gas resources in blocks around the country. In 2017, Mexico successfully auctioned 70 land, shallow, and deep water blocks with significant interest from international oil companies.  The Lopez Obrador administration decided to suspend all future auctions until 2022.

Telecommunications:  Mexican law states telecommunications and broadcasting activities are public services and the government will at all times maintain ownership of the radio spectrum.

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.

Under existing NAFTA provisions, U.S. and Canadian investors receive national and most-favored-nation treatment in setting up operations or acquiring firms in Mexico.  Exceptions exist for investments restricted under NAFTA. Currently, the United States, Canada, and Mexico have the right to settle any dispute or claim under NAFTA through international arbitration.  Local Mexican governments must also accord national treatment to investors from NAFTA 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 make a decision. 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.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) completed a trade policy review of Mexico in February 2017 covering the period to year-end 2016.  The review noted the positive contributions of reforms implemented 2013-2016 and cited Mexico’s development of “Digital Windows” for clearing customs procedures as a significant new development since the last review.

The full review can be accessed via:  https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp452_e.htm  .

Business Facilitation

According to the World Bank, on average registering a foreign-owned company in Mexico requires 11 procedures and 31 days.  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 will be able to register a new company online in 24 hours.  The Government of Mexico maintains a business registration website:  www.tuempresa.gob.mx  .  Companies operating in Mexico must register with the tax authority (Servicio de Administration y 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.

Outward Investment

In the past, ProMexico was responsible for promoting Mexican outward investment and provided assistance to Mexican firms acquiring or establishing joint ventures with foreign firms, participating in international tenders, and establishing franchise operations, among other services.  Various offices at the Secretariat of Economy and the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs now handle these issues. Mexico does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Bilateral Investment Treaties

On November 30, 2018, leaders of the United States, Mexico, and Canada signed a trade agreement to replace and modernize NAFTA – the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.  The agreement is now pending ratification by all three countries’ legislatures. The agreement contains an investment chapter.

Mexico has signed 13 FTAs covering 50 countries and 32 Reciprocal Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements covering 33 countries.  Mexico is a member of Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which entered into force December 30, 2018.  Mexico currently has 29 Bilateral Investment Treaties in force. Mexico and the European Union signed an agreement in principle to revise its FTA.

Bilateral Taxation Treaties

The United States-Mexico Income Tax Convention, which came into effect January 1, 1994, governs bilateral taxation between the two nations.  Mexico has negotiated double taxation agreements with 55 countries. Recent reductions in U.S. corporate tax rates may drive a future change to the Mexican fiscal code, but there is no formal legislation under consideration.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

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; (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.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The new administration launched a two-year program 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 is to boost investment, promote productivity, and create more jobs in the region.  Interested businesses or individuals must apply to the government’s “Beneficiary Registry” by March 31 demonstrating income from border business activities comprise at least 90 percent of total income.  The company headquarters or branch must be located in the border region for at least 18 months prior to the application.  Sectors excluded from the preferential ISR rate include financial institutions, the agricultural sector, and export manufacturing companies (maquilas).

Separately, the administration announced plans to review and possibly end the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) program throughout the country.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Mexican labor law requires at least 90 percent of a company’s employees be Mexican nationals.  Employers can hire foreign workers in specialized positions as long as foreigners do not exceed 10 percent of all workers in that specialized category.  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 NAFTA if they wish to benefit from NAFTA treatment.

Mexico does not have any policy of forced localization for data storage, nor must foreign information technology (IT) providers turn over source code or provide backdoors into hardware or software.  Within the constraints of the Federal Law on the Protection of Personal Data, Mexico does not impede companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the country.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Mexico ranked 103 out of 190 countries for ease of registering property in the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business report, falling four places from its 2018 report.  Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution guarantees the inviolable right to private property. Expropriation can only occur for public use and with due compensation.  Mexico has four categories of land tenure: private ownership, communal tenure (ejido), publicly owned, and ineligible for sale or transfer.

Mexico prohibits foreigners from acquiring title to residential real estate in so-called “restricted zones” within 50 kilometers (approximately 30 miles) of the nation’s coast and 100 kilometers (approximately 60 miles) of the borders.  “Restricted zones” cover roughly 40 percent of Mexico’s territory. Foreigners may acquire the effective use of residential property in “restricted zones” through the establishment of an extendable trust (fideicomiso) arranged through a Mexican financial institution.  Under this trust, the foreign investor obtains all property use rights, including the right to develop, sell, and transfer the property.  Real estate investors should be careful in performing due diligence to ensure that there are no other claimants to the property being purchased.  In some cases, fideicomiso arrangements have led to legal challenges.  U.S.-issued title insurance is available in Mexico and U.S. title insurers operate here.

Additionally, U.S. lending institutions have begun issuing mortgages to U.S. citizens purchasing real estate in Mexico.  The Public Register for Business and Property (Registro Publico de la Propiedad y de Comercio) maintains publicly available information online regarding land ownership, liens, mortgages, restrictions, etc.

Tenants and squatters are protected under Mexican law.  Property owners who encounter problems with tenants or squatters are advised to seek professional legal advice, as the legal process of eviction is complex.

Mexico has a nascent but growing financial securitization market for real estate and infrastructure investments, which investors can access via the purchase/sale of Fideocomisos de Infraestructura y Bienes Raíces (FIBRAs) and Certificates of Capital Development (CKDs) listed on Mexico’s BMV stock exchange.

Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual Property Rights in Mexico are covered by the Industrial Property Law (Ley de la Propiedad Industrial) and the Federal Copyright Law (Ley Federal del Derecho de Autor).  Responsibility for the protection of IPR is spread across several government authorities.  The Office of the Attorney General (PGR) oversees a specialized unit that prosecutes IPR crimes.  The Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI), the equivalent to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, administers patent and trademark registrations, and handles administrative enforcement cases of IPR infringement.  The National Institute of Copyright (INDAUTOR) handles copyright registrations and mediates certain types of copyright disputes, while the Federal Commission for the Prevention from Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS) regulates pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and processed foods.  The Mexican Customs Service’s mandate includes ensuring illegal goods do not cross Mexico’s borders.

The process for trademark registration in Mexico normally takes six to eight months.  The registration process begins by filing an application with IMPI, which is published in the Official Gazette.  IMPI first undertakes a formalities examination, followed by a substantive examination to determine if the application and supporting documentation fulfills the requirements established by law and regulation to grant the trademark registration.  Once the determination is made, IMPI then publishes the registration in the Official Gazette. A trademark registration in Mexico is valid for 10 years from the filing date, and is renewable for 10-year periods. Any party can challenge a trademark registration through the new opposition system, or post-grant through a cancellation proceeding.  IMPI employs the following administrative procedures: nullity, expiration, opposition, cancellation, trademark, patent and copyright (trade-based) infringement. Once IMPI issues a decision, the affected party may challenge it through an internal reconsideration process or go directly to the Specialized IP Court for a nullity trial. An aggrieved party can then file an appeal with a Federal Appeal Court based on the Specialized IP Court’s decision.  In cases with an identifiable constitutional challenge, the plaintiff may file an appeal before the Supreme Court of Justice.

The USPTO has a Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) agreement with IMPI.  Under the PPH, an applicant receiving a ruling from either IMPI or the USPTO that at least one claim in an application is patentable may request that the other office expedite examination of the corresponding application.  The PPH leverages fast-track patent examination procedures already available in both offices to allow applicants in both countries to obtain corresponding patents faster and more efficiently. The PPH permits USPTO and IMPI to benefit from work previously done by the other office, which reduces the examination workload and improves patent quality.

Mexico is plagued by widespread commercial-scale infringement that results in significant losses to Mexican, U.S., and other IPR owners.  There are many issues that have made it difficult to improve IPR enforcement in Mexico, including legislative loopholes; lack of coordination between federal, state, and municipal authorities; a cumbersome and lengthy judicial process; and widespread cultural acceptance of piracy and counterfeiting.  In addition, the involvement of transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), which control the piracy and counterfeiting markets in parts of Mexico, continue to impede federal government efforts to improve IPR enforcement. TCO involvement has further illustrated the link between IPR crimes and illicit trafficking of other contraband, including arms and drugs.

Mexico remained on the Watch List in the 2019 Special 301 report.  Obstacles to U.S. trade include the wide availability of pirated and counterfeit goods in both physical and virtual notorious markets.  The 2018 USTR Out-Of-Cycle Review of Notorious Markets listed two Mexican markets: Tepito in Mexico City and San Juan de Dios in Guadalajara.

Mexico is a signatory to numerous international IP treaties, including the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Bern Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, and the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

Resources for Rights Holders

  • Intellectual Property Rights Attaché for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean

U.S. Trade Center
Liverpool No. 31 Col. Juárez
C.P. 06600 Mexico City
Tel: (52) 55 5080 2189

  • National Institute of Copyright (INDAUTOR)

Puebla No. 143
Col. Roma, Del. Cuauhtémoc
06700 México, D.F.
Tel: (52) 55 3601 8270
Fax: (52) 55 3601 8214
Web: http://www.indautor.gob.mx/  

  • Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI)

Periférico Sur No. 3106
Piso 9, Col. Jardines del Pedregal
Mexico, D.F., C.P. 01900
Tel: (52 55) 56 24 04 01 / 04
(52 55) 53 34 07 00
Fax: (52 55) 56 24 04 06
Web: http://www.impi.gob.mx/  

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/  .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

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.

Money and Banking System

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 Commission (CNBV), the banking system remains healthy and well capitalized.  Non-performing loans have fallen sixty percent since 2001 and now account for 2.1 percent of all loans.

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.  Under NAFTA’s national treatment guarantee, 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.

Banco de Mexico (Banxico), Mexico’s central bank, 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, creating a broad rubric for the development and regulation of innovative financial technologies.  Although investors await important secondary regulations that will fully define the rules of the game for FinTech firms, 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.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Government of Mexico maintains a free-floating exchange rate.

Mexico maintains open conversion and transfer policies.  In general, capital and investment transactions, remittance of profits, dividends, royalties, technical service fees, and travel expenses are handled at market-determined exchange rates.  Mexican Peso (MXN)/USD exchange is available on same day, 24- and 48-hour settlement bases. In order to prevent money-laundering transactions, Mexico imposes limits on USD cash deposits. Border- and tourist-area businesses may deposit more than USD 14,000 per month subject to reporting rules and providing justification for their need to conduct USD cash transactions.  Individuals are subject to a USD 4,000 per month USD cash deposit limit. In 2016, Banxico launched a central clearing house to allow for USD clearing services wholly within Mexico, which should improve clearing services significantly for domestic companies with USD income.

Remittance Policies

There have been no recent changes in Mexico’s remittance policies.  Mexico continues to maintain open conversion and transfer policies.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

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 is expected to receive MXN 520.6 billion (approximately USD 26 billion) in income in 2019.  The FMP is required to publish quarterly and annual reports, which can be found at www.fmped.org.mx  .

7. State-Owned Enterprises

There are two main SOEs in Mexico, both of them in the energy sector.  Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) is in charge of running the hydrocarbons (oil and gas) sector, which includes upstream, mid-stream, and downstream operations.  Pemex historically contributed one-third of the Mexican government’s budget, but falling output and global oil prices alongside improved revenue collection from other sources have diminished this amount over the past decade to about eight percent.  The Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) is the other main state-owned company and is in charge of the electricity sector. While the Mexican government maintains state ownership, the latest constitutional reforms granted Pemex and CFE management and budget autonomy and greater flexibility to engage in private contracting.

Pemex

As a result of Mexico’s historic energy reform, the private sector is now able to compete with Pemex or enter into competitive contracts, joint ventures, profit sharing agreements, and license contracts with Pemex for hydrocarbon exploration and extraction.  Liberalization of the retail fuel sales market, which Mexico completed in 2017, created significant opportunities for foreign businesses. Given Pemex frequently raises debt in international markets, its financial statements are regularly audited. The Natural Resource Governance Institute considers Pemex to be the second most transparent state-owned oil company after Norway’s Statoil.  Pemex’s nine-person Board of Directors contains five government ministers and four independent councilors. The administration has identified increasing Pemex’s oil, natural gas, and refined fuels production as its chief priority for Mexico’s hydrocarbon sector.

CFE

Changes to the Mexican constitution in 2013 and 2014 opened power generation and commercial supply to the private sector, allowing companies to compete with CFE.  Mexico has held three long-term power auctions since the reforms, in which over 40 contracts were awarded for 7,451 megawatts of energy supply and clean energy certificates.  CFE will remain the sole provider of distribution services and will own all distribution assets. The 2014 energy reform separated CFE from the National Energy Control Center (CENACE), which now controls the national wholesale electricity market and ensures non-discriminatory access to the grid for competitors.  Independent power generators were authorized to operate in 1992, but were required to sell their output to CFE or use it to self-supply. Under the reform, private power generators may now install and manage interconnections with CFE’s existing state-owned distribution infrastructure. The reform also requires the government to implement a National Program for the Sustainable Use of Energy as a transition strategy to encourage clean technology and fuel development and reduce pollutant emissions.  The administration has identified increasing CFE-owned power generation as its top priority for the utility, breaking from the firm’s recent practice of contracting private firms to build, own, and operate generation facilities. It has publicly called for private investors to “voluntarily renegotiate” gas supply contracts with CFE, which has raised significant concerns among investors about contract sanctity.

The main non-market-based advantage CFE and Pemex receive vis-a-vis private businesses in Mexico is related to access to capital.  In addition to receiving direct budget support from the Secretariat of Finance, both entities also receive implicit credit guarantees from the federal government.  As such, both are able to borrow funds on public markets at below the market rate their corporate risk profiles would normally suggest.

Privatization Program

Mexico’s 2014 energy reforms liberalized access to these sectors but did not privatize state owned enterprises.

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 effort to establish transparency and public trust in its energy sector.

9. Corruption

Corruption exists in many forms in Mexican government and society, including corruption in the public sector (e.g., demand for bribes or kickbacks by government officials) and private sector (e.g., fraud, falsifying claims, etc.), as well as conflict of interest issues, which are not well defined in the Mexican legal framework.  A key pillar of President Lopez Obrador’s presidential campaign was combatting corruption at all levels of government.

Still, a significant concern is the complicity of government and law enforcement officials with criminal elements.  While public and private sector corruption is found in many countries, the collaboration of government actors (often due to intimidation and threats) with criminal organizations poses serious challenges for the rule of law in Mexico.  Some of the most common reports of official corruption involve government officials stealing from public coffers or demanding bribes in exchange for awarding public contracts. The current administration supported anti-corruption reforms (detailed below) and judicial proceedings in several high-profile corruption cases, including former governors.  However, Mexican civil society assert that the government must take more effective and frequent action to address corruption.

As described in Section 4, Mexico adopted a constitutional reform in 2014 to transform the current Office of the Attorney General into an Independent Prosecutor General’s office in order to shore up its independence.  President Lopez Obrador’s choice for Prosecutor General was confirmed by the Mexican Senate January 18, 2019. In 2015, Mexico passed a constitutional reform creating the National Anti-Corruption System (SNA) with an anti-corruption prosecutor and a citizens’ participation committee to oversee efforts.  The system is designed to provide a comprehensive framework for the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of corruption cases, including delineating acts of corruption considered criminal acts under the law. The legal framework establishes a basis for holding private actors and private firms legally liable for acts of corruption involving public officials and encourages private firms to develop internal codes of conduct.  Implementation of the mandatory state-level anti-corruption legislation varies. .

The new laws mandate a redesign of the Secretariat of Public Administration to give it additional auditing and investigative functions and capacities in combatting public sector corruption.  The Mexican Congress approved legislation to change economic institutions, assigning new responsibilities and in some instances creating new entities.  Reforms to the federal government’s structure included the creation of a General Coordination of Development Programs to manage the newly created federal state coordinators (“superdelegates”) in charge of federal programs in each state.  The law also created the Secretariat of Public Security and Citizen Protection, and significantly expanded the power of the president’s Legal Advisory Office (Consejería Jurídica) to name and remove each federal agency’s legal advisor and clear all executive branch legal reforms before their submission to Congress.  The law eliminated financial units from ministries, with the exception of the Secretariat of Finance (SHCP), the army (SEDENA), and the navy (SEMAR), and transferred control of contracting offices in other ministries to the SHCP.  Separately, the law replaced the previous Secretariat of Social Development (SEDESOL) with a Welfare Secretariat in charge of coordinating social policies, including those developed by other agencies such as health, education, and culture.  The Labor Secretariat gained additional tools to foster collective bargaining, union democracy, and to meet International Labor Organization (ILO) obligations.

Four opposition parties filed a legal challenge with the Supreme Court, which agreed January 18 to hear constitutional challenges to the law.  The legal challenge contends the reforms infringe on state powers and violate the balance of powers stipulated in the constitution.

Mexico ratified the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery and passed its implementing legislation in May 1999.  The legislation includes provisions making it a criminal offense to bribe foreign officials. Mexico is also a party to the Organization of American States (OAS) Convention against Corruption and has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption.  The government has enacted or proposed strict laws attacking corruption and bribery, with average penalties of five to 10 years in prison.

Mexico is a member of the Open Government Partnership and enacted a Transparency and Access to Public Information Act in 2015, which revised the existing legal framework to expand national access to information.  Transparency in public administration at the federal level has noticeably improved, but access to information at the state and local level has been slow. According to Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perception Index, Mexico ranked 138 of 180 nations, and has fallen every year since 2012.  Civil society organizations focused on fighting corruption are increasingly influential at the federal level, but are few in number and less powerful at the state and local levels.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report for 2016-2017 found corruption is “the most problematic factor for doing business” in Mexico.  For example, the WEF notes bribes to facilitate procurement of necessary permits or government contracts can increase business costs by 10 percent. Business representatives, including from U.S. firms believe public funds are often diverted to private companies and individuals due to corruption and perceive favoritism to be widespread among government procurement officials.  The GAN Business Anti-Corruption Portal states compliance with procurement regulations by state bodies in Mexico is unreliable and that corruption is extensive, despite laws covering conflicts of interest, competitive bidding, and company blacklisting procedures.

The U.S. Embassy has engaged in a broad-based effort to work with Mexican agencies and civil society organizations in developing mechanisms to fight corruption and increase transparency and fair play in government procurement.  Efforts with specific business impact include government procurement best practices training and technical assistance under the U.S. Trade and Development Agency’s Global Procurement Initiative. In addition, USAID is working with SFP and Transparency International to drive adoption of the internationally accepted Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS), as well as technical assistance to upgrade the Mexican government procurement system, CompraNet, to be based on OCDS and international best practices.  (CompraNet is also described in the regulatory transparency portion of Section 3, above.)

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Mexico ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption in 2004.  It ratified the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 1999.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency:

Secretariat of Public Administration
Miguel Laurent 235, Mexico City
52-55-2000-1060

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Transparencia Mexicana
Dulce Olivia 73, Mexico City
52-55-5659-4714
Email: info@tm.org.mx

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.

The USD 2.7 billion Merida Initiative, launched by Presidents Calderon and Bush in 2008 and supported by bipartisan leaders in Congress, remains our primary mechanism to support Mexico in addressing significant security challenges at an institutional level.  Merida Initiative programs aim to strengthen Mexico’s security and judicial institutions by applying international standards of certification and accreditation to personnel and institutions across the criminal justice system, from the accreditation of police academies and corrections facilities to advanced training for judges, prosecutors, criminal analysts, and forensic lab technicians.  In addition, Merida Initiative programs have expanded over the past year in the areas of border security and counternarcotics, in line with new priorities set out by the Trump administration.

Companies have reported general security concerns remain an issue for companies looking to invest in the country.  The American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico estimates in a biannual report that security costs business as much as 5 percent of 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/  ).

The Department of State maintains a Travel Advisory for U.S. citizens traveling and living in Mexico, available at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/mexico-travel-advisory.html

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Mexico’s 57.4 percent rate of informality remains higher than countries with similar GDP per capita levels.  High informality, defined as those working in unregistered firms or without social security protection, distorts labor market dynamics, contributes to persistent wage depression, drags overall productivity, and slows economic growth.  Mexico’s efforts to increase formality over the past four years reduced the rate by 2.4 percentage points, a modest decrease given the scope of the problem. In the formal economy, there is a general surplus of labor but a shortage of technically skilled workers and engineers.  Manufacturing companies, particularly along the U.S.-Mexico border and in the states of Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Querétaro, report labor shortages and an inability to retain staff.

Mexico’s labor relations system has been widely criticized as skewed to represent the interests of employers and the government at the expense of workers.  Mexico’s legal framework governing collective bargaining created the possibility of negotiation and registration of initial collective bargaining agreements without the support or knowledge of the covered workers.  These agreements are commonly known as protection contracts and constitute a gap in practice with international labor standards regarding freedom of association. The percentage of the economy covered by collective bargaining agreements is between five and 10 percent.

The first element of a labor justice reform package was passed into law February 24, 2017, replacing biased tripartite dispute resolution entities (Conciliation and Arbitration Boards) with independent judicial bodies.  In terms of labor dispute resolution mechanisms, the Conciliation and Arbitration Boards (CABs) previously adjudicated all individual and collective labor conflicts. The constitutional labor reform requires complementary revisions to the existing labor law.  The lower house of the Mexican Congress approved a bill with the requisite revisions in April 2019. Full congressional approval is expected once the Senate has also considered the bill.

Labor experts predict approval and implementation of the labor reform legislation, as required under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), will likely result in a greater level of labor actionas well as inter-union and intra-union competition.  Employer association and organized labor representatives agree, but differ on how much and how quickly labor actions will spread. The increasingly friendly political and legal environment for independent unions is already changing the way established unions manage disputes with employers, prompting more authentic collective bargaining.  As independent unions compete with corporatist unions to represent worker interests, workers are likely to be further emboldened in demanding higher wages.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), government enforcement was reasonably effective in enforcing labor laws in large and medium-sized companies, especially in factories run by U.S. companies and in other industries under federal jurisdiction.  Enforcement was inadequate in many small companies and in the agriculture and construction sectors, and it was nearly absent in the informal sector. Workers organizations have made numerous complaints of poor working conditions in maquiladoras and in the agricultural production industry.  Low wages, poor labor conditions, long work hours, unjustified dismissals, lack of social security benefits and safety in the workplace, and lack of freedom of association were among the most common complaints.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

Mexico and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) finalized in 2004 the agreement enabling OPIC programs and services within the country.  Since then, OPIC has provided over USD 1 billion in financing and political risk insurance to support to more than 22 projects in Mexico. OPIC has announced a drive to catalyze an additional USD 1 billion in investments in Mexico and Central America by 2021.  In December 2018 OPIC announced the possibility of expanding its funding opportunities in Mexico to upwards of USD 5 billion. For more information on OPIC’s projects in Mexico, please consult OPIC’s website at https://www.opic.gov .

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) 2018 $1,220,000 2017 $1,150,000 www.worldbank.org/en/country  

https://inegi.org.mx/  

Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 N/A* 2017 $109,600 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 N/A* 2017 $18,000 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 N/A* 2017 49.5% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx  

*Mexico does not report total FDI stock, only flows of FDI.  https://datos.gob.mx/busca/organization/se  


Table 3:  Sources and Destination of FDI

The data included in the IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey is consistent with Mexican government data.

Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data, 2017
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $490,574 100% Total Outward $172,919 100%
United States $215,899 44% United States $73,199 42%
Netherlands $83,214 17% Netherlands $36,498 21%
Spain $53,483 11% United Kingdom $10,362 6%
United Kingdom $23,845 4.9% Brazil $9,532 5.5%
Canada $18,034 3.7% Spain $9,475 5.47%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.


Table 4:  Sources of Portfolio Investment

The data included in the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS) is consistent with Mexican government data.

Portfolio Investment Assets, June 2018
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $62,148 100% All Countries $39,738 100% All Countries $22,410 100%
United States $28,487 45.8% Not specified $21,340 54% United States $17,441 78%
Not specified $24,204 39% United States $11,046 28% Not specified $2,864 13%
Ireland $2,631 4.2% Ireland $2,631 6.7% Brazil $1,617 7%
Luxembourg $2,376 3.8% Luxembourg $2,376 6% Colombia $70 .3%
Brazil $1,655 2.7% United Kingdom $601 1.5% Netherlands $52 .2%

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section
Paseo de la Reforma 305, Colonia Cuauhtémoc, Mexico, D.F.  06500
Mexico City
Email: EconDL@state.gov
+52 55 5080 2000

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