Chile

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

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

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

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

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

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

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

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

Other Investment Policy Reviews

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

Business Facilitation

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

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

Outward Investment

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

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights and interests are recognized and generally enforced in Chile. Chile ranked 63 out of 190 economies in the “Registering Property” category of the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report. There is a recognized and generally reliable system for recording mortgages and other forms of liens.

There are no restrictions on foreign ownership of buildings and land, and no time limit on the property rights acquired by them. The only exception, based on national security grounds, is for land located in border territories, which may not be owned by nationals or firms from border countries, without prior authorization of the President of Chile. There are no restrictions to foreign and/or non-resident investors regarding land leases or acquisitions. In the Doing Business specific index for “quality of land administration” (which includes reliability of infrastructure, transparency of information, geographic coverage and land dispute resolution), Chile obtains a score of 14 out of 30.

Unoccupied properties can always be claimed by their legal owners and, as usurpation is a criminal offense, several kinds of eviction procedures are allowed by the law, though they can sometimes be onerous and lengthy.

Intellectual Property Rights

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s International IP Index, Chile’s legal framework provides for fair and transparent use of compulsory licensing; extends necessary exclusive rights to copyright holders and maintains a voluntary notification system; and provides for civil and procedural remedies. However, intellectual property (IP) protection challenges remain. Chile’s framework for trade secret protection has been deemed insufficient by private stakeholders. Pharmaceutical products suffer from relatively weak patenting procedures, the absence of an effective patent enforcement and resolution mechanism, and some gaps in regulation governing data protection.

Two important IP-related laws that made progress in 2019 in the Chilean Congress and are still pending passage. A draft bill submitted to Congress in October 2018 would reform Chile’s Industrial Property Law. The new IP bill aims to reduce timeframes, modernize procedures, and increase legal certainty for patents and trademarks registration. On April 9, 2019, the bill was passed by the Lower Chamber and sent to the Senate. Meanwhile, a reform bill on Chile’s pharmaceutical drugs law called “Ley de Fármacos II”, originated in the Senate but was extensively amended by the opposition-controlled Lower Chamber, and is under review by a mixed committee of both houses of the Chilean Congress. The pharmaceutical industry contends that the bill, in its current version, could put Chile in non-compliance with its international trade obligations. Industry’s main IP concerns about the bill are related to: a labeling requirement by which a medication must include its International Nonproprietary Name (INN) in a size that occupies at least one-third of one of the main faces of its package, while limiting the size of the trademark to one-fifth of the main faces; a requirement that physicians prescribe a pharmaceutical product exclusively by INN, unless it contains three or more “active ingredients,” regardless of interchangeability and/or bioequivalence; a requirement that drugs may only be distributed if they are double registered under both generic and brand names; a provision allowing the government to issue compulsory licenses permitting the sale of generics based on “economic inaccessibility or lack of supply”; and a pathway toward a system of “price regulation” that will “prevent economic or financial inaccessibility of pharmaceutical products.” A mixed committee of senators and deputies is seeking to reconcile changes to the draft legislation introduced by the Chamber of Deputies. While the pharmaceutical industry reports that the reconciliation process addressed many of their concerns regarding the new regulations, especially those related to compulsory licenses, it identified the lack of coverage being offered in price regulations as the most significant outstanding issue.

The Intellectual Property Brigade (BRIDEPI) of the Chilean Investigative Police (PDI) reported that it seized 39,021 counterfeit products in 2020, worth a total of US$ 850,000, and arrested seven individuals on charges related to intellectual property rights (IPR) infringement. Additionally, the National Customs Service reported that, between January and September 2020 (latest data available), it seized more than 5.2 million counterfeit products worth a total of US$ 49 million.

Chile’s IPR enforcement remains relatively lax, particularly in relation to piracy, copyright, and patent protection, while prosecution of IP infringement is hindered by gaps in the legal framework and a lack of expertise in IP law among judges. Rightsholders indicate a need for greater resources devoted to customs operations and a clearer procedure for dealing with small packages containing infringing goods. The legal basis for detaining and seizing suspected transshipments is also insufficiently clear.

Chile has been included on the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Priority Watch List since January 8, 2007, and remains on the 2021 Priority Watch List. In October 2018, Chile’s Congress successfully passed a law that criminalizes satellite piracy. However, other challenges remain, related to longstanding IPR issues under the U.S.-Chile FTA: the implementation of measures against circumvention of technological protection; pending implementation of UPOV 91; the implementation of an effective patent linkage in connection with applications to market pharmaceutical products; adequate protection for undisclosed data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical products; and amendments to Chile’s Internet Service Provider liability regime to permit effective action against Internet piracy.

Chile is not listed in the USTR’s Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy. 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

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

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

Money and Banking System

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

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

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

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

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

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

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

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

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

Remittance Policies

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

Sovereign Wealth Funds

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

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

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

10. Political and Security Environment

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

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

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

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

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

14. Contact for More Information

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

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