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Belize

Executive Summary

Belize has the smallest economy in Central America, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of US $1.3 billion in 2021, a 12.5 percent expansion over the previous year. Due to mounting fiscal pressures and a need to diversify and expand its economy, the Government of Belize (GoB) is open to, and actively seeks, foreign direct investment (FDI).  However, the small population of the country (2021 estimate – 432,516 persons), high cost of doing business, high public debt, bureaucratic delays, often insufficient infrastructure, and corruption constitute investment challenges. The Central Bank of Belize projects the country’s GDP will likely expand 6.0 percent in 2022 while the IMF’s projects 6.5 percent growth, led by a rebound of activity in the construction, retail and wholesale trade, transport and communication, and tourism sectors.

Public debt declined from 133 percent of GDP in 2020 to 108 percent in 2021. This was in large part due to the Blue Bond Agreement, a successful marine protection and conservation-driven financial transaction. International reserves increased from US $348 million (3.8 months of imports) in 2020 to US $420 million (3.9 months of imports) in 2021, partly due to the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR) 25.6 million allocation, which the authorities are keeping as reserve. Belize’s government encourages FDI to relieve fiscal pressure and transform the economy. The Central Bank of Belize recorded increased inflows of FDI at US $152.25 million in 2021 and outflows at US $24.4 million in the same period.  FDI inflows were concentrated primarily in real estate, construction, financial intermediation, and the hotel and restaurant industries.

Generally, Belize has no restrictions on foreign ownership and control of companies; however, foreign investments must be registered with the Central Bank of Belize and adhere to the Exchange Control Act and related regulations. The Government of Belize (GoB) made progress on the ease of doing business through trade license, stamp duty, exchange control, and land reforms to streamline business applications and related processes.

The banking system remains stable but fragile. Since January 2020, a domestic bank and an international bank each lost a correspondent banking relationship, a significant portion of the sector. In March 2022, the GoB lowered the business tax on the net interest income charged to banks and financial institutions to encourage lending in strategic foreign exchange earning sectors such as tourism, agriculture, and the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sectors.

There were incidents of property destruction at two American companies involved in sugar cane industry in the last year. In response, a prominent agro-productive organization wrote to the Government in January 2022 expressing concerns that the Belizean government’s failure to protect and support private sector investors in these instances led to damaging the investment climate and the Belizean economy.

Belize is categorized as a small island developing state (SIDS) that is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and is a relatively minor contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. Belize’s updated National Determined Contributions (NDC) is nonetheless committed to developing a long-term strategy aligned with achieving net zero global emissions by 2050.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 N/A http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 USD 64 million https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 4,110 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) exist largely in the utilities sectors, generally as a result of nationalization.  The government is the majority shareholder in the Belize Water Services Limited, the country’s sole provider of water services, the Belize Electricity Limited, the sole distributor of electricity, and the Belize Telemedia Limited, the largest telecommunications provider in the country. The Public Utilities Commission regulates all utilities.

SOEs usually select senior government officials, members of local business bureaus and chambers of commerce, labor organizations, and quasi-governmental agencies to staff these companies’ boards of directors.  The board serves to direct policy and shape business decisions of the ostensibly independent SOE.  Current and previous administrations have been accused of nepotism and cronyism and criticized for having conflicts of interest when board members or directors are also represented in organizations that do business with the SOEs.

There is no published list of SOEs.  The following are the major SOEs operating in the country.  Information relating to their operations is available on their websites:  Belize Electricity Limited http://www.bel.com.bz ; Belize Telemedia Limited at https://www.livedigi.com ;  Belize Water Services Limited http://www.bws.bz 

There is no public third-party market analysis that evaluate whether SOEs receive non-market advantages by the government.  The Belize Electricity Limited and the Belize Water Services Limited are the only service providers in their respective sectors.  The Belize Telemedia Limited, on the other hand, competes with one other provider for mobile connectivity and there are multiple players that provide internet and data services.  U.S. firms have identified challenges in participating and competing in areas related to the bidding, procurement and dispute settlement processes, particular to SOEs.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Belize generally lacks broad awareness of the expectations and standards for responsible business conduct (RBC).  However, many foreign and local companies engage in responsible corporate behaviors and partner with NGOs or international organizations to reinvest in community development and charitable work.  Companies sponsor educational scholarships, sports-related activities, community enhancement projects, and entrepreneurship activities, among other programs.  There is a strong thread of environmental awareness that also impacts business decision-making.  BELTRAIDE, in its official public outreach, promotes civic responsibility, especially in its outreach to entrepreneurs and aspiring businesspeople.

The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for investigating complaints of official corruption and abuse of power.  As required by law, the Ombudsman is active in filing annual reports to the National Assembly and investigating incidents of alleged misconduct, particularly of police abuses.   This office continues to be constrained by the lack of enforcement powers, political pressure, and limited resources.

Belize has no recent cases of private-sector impact on human rights and no NGOs, investment funds, worker organizations/unions, or business associations specifically promote or monitor RBC.

Certain projects require the Department of the Environment’s approval for Environmental Impact Assessments or Environmental Compliance Plans. The Department of Environment website, http://www.doe.gov.bz , has more information on the Environmental Protection Act, various regulations, applications, and guidelines.

Belize has not adopted a particular accounting framework as its national standard. The International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) are required for domestic banks under the Domestic Bank and Financial Institutions Act (DBFIA) of Belize. Also, under the DBFIA, the Central Bank of Belize issues practice direction, directives, guidance, and advisories on corporate governance applicable to all banks and financial institutions operating and supervised by the Central Bank.

For other companies, Belize permits the use of IFRS Standards and the IFRS for SMEs as the standard financial reporting framework for preparing financial statements. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Belize regards IFRS Standards as an allowed accounting framework under its professional standards. Alternatively, non-bank companies are permitted to use other internationally recognized standards. The U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and Canadian GAAP are often used. There are no government measures relating executive compensation standards and RBC policies are not factored into procurement decisions.  Opposition party political pronouncements often target official malfeasance in procurement and cronyism in government contracts, but these concerns are historically muted once the opposition takes power.

There are similarly no alleged or reported human or labor rights concerns relating to RBC. In recent years, labor unions and business associations have become actively engaged in advocating for stronger measures against corruption.

Belize does not have a developed mineral sector and is not a conflict or high-risk country.  As such, it does not adhere to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas.  Belize’s extractive/mining industry is not developed, and it does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and/or the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

The country is not a signatory of The Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies, nor is it a supporter of the International Code of Conduct or Private Security Service Providers and is not a participant in the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers’ Association.

9. Corruption

Belize has anticorruption laws that are seldom enforced.  Under the Prevention of Corruption in Public Life Act, public officials are required to make annual financial disclosures, but there is little adherence and poor enforcement.  The Act criminalizes acts of corruption by public officials and includes measures on the use of office for private gain; code of conduct breaches; the misuse of public funds; and bribery.  This Act also established an Integrity Commission mandated to monitor, prevent, and combat corruption by examining declarations of physical assets and financial positions filed by public officers.  In practice, the office is understaffed and charges are almost never brought against officials.  It is not uncommon for politicians disgraced in corruption scandals to return to government after a short period of time has elapsed. The Money Laundering and Terrorism (Prevention) Act identifies “politically exposed persons” to include family members or close associates of any politician.

The Ministry of Finance issues the Belize Stores Orders and Financial Orders – policies and procedures for government procurement.  The Manual for the Control of Public Finances provides the framework for the registration and use of public funds to procure goods and services. Private companies are neither required to establish internal codes of conduct, ethics, or compliance programs, nor is it common to use them.

In June 2001, the Government of Belize signed the Organization of American States (OAS) Inter-American Convention on Corruption, which calls for periodic reviews.   In December 2016, Belize acceded to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) amid public pressure and demonstrations from the teachers’ unions.  The Belizean government continues to be criticized for the lack of political will to fully implement UNCAC.

There are few non-governmental institutions that monitor government activities. The most active, the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), lobbies within narrow labor-related areas.  Environmental NGOs and the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) often make statements regarding government policy as it affects their respective spheres of activity.  The government does not provide protection to NGOs investigating corruption.

Despite these measures, many businesspeople complain that both major political parties practice bias that creates an unlevel playing field related to businesses seeking licenses, the importation of goods, winning government contracts for procurement of goods and services, and transfer of government land to private owners.  Some middle-class citizens and business owners have complained of government officials, including police, soliciting bribes.

10. Political and Security Environment

Belize has traditionally enjoyed one of the most stable political environments in the region, having held peaceful and transparent democratic elections since gaining independence on September 21, 1981.  In general elections, the two major political parties usually trade leadership. The current People’s United Party gained an overwhelming majority in the November 2020 General Elections, winning twenty-six of the thirty-one electoral divisions. The few times political candidates have questioned the result of elections, these have been settled by the court.

There were incidents of property destruction at two American companies involved in sugar cane industry in the last year. In December 2021, cane farmers from Belize’s largest cane farmers association blockaded the access road to a major American investment in Orange Walk for three days, preventing other farmers from delivering cane to the factory. An impasse between the cane farmer association and the sugar mill for a contract to deliver cane sparked the incident. The American investment subsequently initiated two legal suits against the cane farmer’s association for destruction to property and economic losses incurred. The second company located in the Cayo District, suffered arson in January 2022, presumably related to a conflict associated with land rights. Over 1,200 acres of sugar cane was lost in the fire, an estimated loss of US $1.15 million. In response, a prominent agro-productive organization wrote to the Government in January 2022 expressing concerns that the Belizean government’s failure to protect and support private sector investors in these instances led to damaging the investment climate and Belizean economy still further.

Neighboring Guatemala’s long-standing territorial claim on Belize has persisted for almost two centuries.  The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is currently deliberating the territorial dispute.  In December 2020, Guatemala filed its claim to Belize’s continental land, islands, and seas, and Belize will file its counter claim in June 2022. Despite legal efforts to resolve the claim, the Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), a local Belizean NGO, continues to document illegal encroachments and settlements in and beyond the adjacency zone in Belize. In July 2021, FCD rangers accompanied by Belize Defence Force (BDF) members were fired upon by Guatemalan civilians as the former attempted to destroy illegal plantations in the Chiquibul forest reserve in Belize. The BDF retaliated, which in turn instigated the response of the Guatemalan Armed Forces (GAF). The incident did not escalate further and there were no casualties.

The second major security concern is the high level of crime countrywide. While Belize has a high murder rate per capita, it is primarily focused on the urban areas of Belize City. Corruption, human and drug trafficking, money laundering (institutional and trade-based), and local criminal gang activity remain significant problems exacerbated by the low conviction rate.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

According to the Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB), the population was estimated to be 432,516 as of September 2021.  The labor force was 191,881 as of September 2021.  Of this, the unemployed amounted to 17,644 persons for an unemployment rate of 9.2 percent, representing a 4.5 percent decrease from September 2020. The report noted that about 48 percent of working aged women participated in the labor force and 76.1 percent of men. The main reason women did not look for work was due to personal or family responsibilities, while men did not look for work mainly due to school or training.

In its Labor Force Survey of September 2021, the Statistical Institute of Belize estimated the number of persons in informal employment was 72,433 accounting for about 41.6 percent of all employed persons. Persons in informal employment earned about US $420 per month. A 2018/2019 Household Budget Survey assessed the country’s poverty level had increased from 41.3 percent in 2009 to 52 percent in 2012. The poverty line in 2018 was assessed at US $3,980 per annum or US $331.66 monthly. The Government of Belize asserts the COVID-19 pandemic raised the poverty rate, which hovers at almost 60 percent, and sparked significant growth of the informal sector. The agriculture sector has identified shortage of unskilled labor in the agriculture sector. The health sector faces a shortage of qualified nurses and high.

In general, there are no restrictions on employers adjusting their labor force in response to fluctuating market conditions.  Employers are flexible in offering salary increases, which are normally justified based on cost of living and prevailing practice consideration.  Severance payment is subject to local labor law, the Labour Act Chapter 297.  This Act differentiates between layoffs (voluntary termination and redundancy) and firing (dismissal).  In the cases of voluntary termination and redundancy, the law provides for an appropriate notice period, payment in lieu of notice, severance, etc.  In the case of redundancy, the employer must notify, where applicable, the recognized trade union or workers’ representative as well as the Labour Commissioner.

In addition to the general Social Security system, the government maintains a National Health Insurance scheme in certain marginalized communities throughout the country.  The government also provides some assistance to unemployed persons who represent marginalized sectors of the community, e.g., single women, single mothers, and young unemployed persons.

Foreign investors who have a development concession are permitted to bring in skilled personnel to complement their local labor force and, if appropriate, establish training programs for Belizean nationals. Labor laws are not generally waived to attract or retain investment.

Belize has eleven trade unions and an umbrella organization, the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB).  Belize has ratified 50 International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions, of which 45 are in force, including Convention 182 against the worst forms of child labor.  Trade unions are independent of the government and employers both in practice and in law.  The Department of Labour recognizes registered unions and employers’ associations.  Trade union laws establish procedures for the registration and status of trade unions and employers’ organizations and for collective bargaining.  Unions are common in the public sector (teachers, general public servants), the Social Security Board, the utility and agriculture sectors, and among port stevedores.

Where employees are unionized, employers must refer to the laws relating to the operation of unions as well as the terms of existing collective bargaining agreements between the employer and unions. Where disputes arise between an employer and employee in the private sector and where the employee is not represented by a union, both parties may approach the Labour Department to mediate discussions for an amicable solution. Failing a resolution, the matter is then first referred to the labor tribunal then to the court.

The national fire service, postal service, monetary and financial services, civil aviation and airport security services, and port authority pilots and security services are all deemed essential services. The law allows authorities to refer disputes involving employees who provide “essential services” to compulsory arbitration, prohibit strikes, and terminate actions.   On January 21, 2022, stevedores at the port in Belize City undertook industrial action against the port. The Essential Services Arbitration Tribunal delivered a notice on January 27, 2022, mandating the port management confirm the selected stevedores as registered stevedores, pay contributions to retirement savings for stevedores, and commence negotiations for the payment of redundancy packages. Port management countered with a lawsuit that remains before the courts, claiming US $500,000 in damages and loss of business.

Belize does have laws and regulations relating to international labor standards.  There is also a system in place for labor inspectors to advocate on labor-related concerns and complaints, as well as to visit and inspect business facilities to ensure adherence to local labor laws. Belize’s legislation does not address a situation in which child labor is contracted between a parent and the employer. The penalty for employing a child below minimum age is a fine not exceeding US $10 or imprisonment not exceeding two months.

Additionally, while there are laws that prohibit a wide range of discrimination in the workplace, they are not effectively enforced and do not explicitly provide protections for persons with disabilities or against discrimination related to sexual orientation and/or gender identity. There is anecdotal evidence that certain vulnerable sectors, particularly migrant workers, undocumented persons, young service workers, and agricultural laborers, were regularly paid below the minimum wage and classified as contract and nonpermanent employees to avoid providing certain benefits.

The GoB established a minimum wage task force to oversee the implementation of the five-dollar minimum wage in a phased approach, which is expected to commence by July 1, 2022.

14. Contact for More Information

Andrea De Arment
Chief of Political/Economic Section
4 Floral Park Road
Belmopan, Belize
T: +501-822-4011
BelmopanPolEcon@state.gov 

Vincent Lowney
Environmental, Science, Technology and Health Officer
4 Floral Park Road
Belmopan, Belize
T: +501-822-4011
BelmopanPolEcon@state.gov 

Carmen Silva
Economic/Commercial Assistant
4 Floral Park Road
Belmopan, Belize
T: +501-822-4011
BelmopanPolEcon@state.gov 

Costa Rica

Executive Summary

Costa Rica is the oldest continuous democracy in Latin America and the newest member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with an established government institutional framework, stable society, and a diversified upper-middle-income economy. The country’s well-educated labor force, relatively low levels of corruption, geographic location, living conditions, dynamic investment promotion board, and attractive free trade zone incentives all appeal to investors. Foreign direct investment inflow in 2020 was USD 1.76 billion, or 2.8 percent of GDP, with the United States accounting for USD 1.2 billion. Costa Rica recorded 7.6 percent GDP growth in 2021 (the highest level since 2008) as it recovered from a 4.5 percent contraction in 2020 largely due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Costa Rica has had remarkable success in the last two decades in establishing and promoting an ecosystem of export-oriented technology companies, suppliers of input goods and services, associated public institutions and universities, and a trained and experienced workforce. A similar transformation took place in the tourism sector, with a plethora of smaller enterprises handling a steadily increasing flow of tourists eager to visit despite Costa Rica’s relatively high prices. Costa Rica is doubly fortunate in that these two sectors positively reinforce each other as they both require and encourage English language fluency, openness to the global community, and Costa Rican government efficiency and effectiveness. A 2019 study of the free trade zone (FTZ) economy commissioned by the Costa Rican Investment and Development Board (CINDE) shows an annual 9 percent growth from 2014 to 2018, with the net benefit of that sector reaching 7.9 percent of GDP in 2018. This sector continued to expand during the pandemic. The value of exports increased by 24 percent in 2021, representing the highest growth in 15 years.

The Costa Rican investment climate is threatened by a high and persistent government fiscal deficit, underperformance in some key areas of government service provision, including health care and education, high energy costs, and deterioration of basic infrastructure. The Covid-19 world recession damaged the Costa Rican tourism industry, although it is recovering. Furthermore, the government has very little budget flexibility to address the economic fallout and is struggling to find ways to achieve debt relief, unemployment response, and the longer-term policy solutions necessary to continue compliance under the current stabilizing agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). On the plus side, the Costa Rican government has competently managed the crisis despite its tight budget and Costa Rican exports are proving resilient; the portion of the export sector that manufactures medical devices, for example, is facing relatively good economic prospects and companies providing services exports are specialized in virtual support for their clients in a world that is forced to move in that direction. Moreover, Costa Rica’s accession in 2021 to the Organization for Co-operation and Development (OECD) has exerted a positive influence by pushing the country to address its economic weaknesses through executive decrees and legislative reforms in a process that began in 2015. Also in the plus column, the export and investment promotion agencies CINDE and the Costa Rican Foreign Trade Promoter (PROCOMER) have done an excellent job of protecting the Free Trade Zones (FTZs) from new taxes by highlighting the benefits of the regime, promoting local supply chains, and using the FTZs as examples for other sectors of the economy. Nevertheless, Costa Rica’s political and economic leadership faces a difficult balancing act over the coming years as the country must simultaneously exercise budget discipline and respond to demands for improved government-provided infrastructure and services.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 39 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/2021/
index/cri
Global Innovation Index 2021 56 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-
indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 USD 2.0bill https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 11,530 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.
PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Costa Rica’s total of 28 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are commonly known by their abbreviated names. They include monopolies in petroleum-derived fuels (RECOPE), lottery (JPS), railroads (INCOFER), local production of ethanol (CNP/FANAL), water distribution (AyA), and electrical distribution (ICE, CNFL, JASEC, ESPH). SOEs have market dominance in insurance (INS), telecommunications (ICE, RACSA, JASEC, ESPH) and finance (BNCR, BCR, Banco Popular, BANHVI, INVU, INFOCOOP). They have significant market participation in parcel and mail delivery (Correos) and ports operation (INCOP and JAPDEVA). Six of those SOEs hold significant economic power with revenues exceeding 1 percent of GDP: ICE, RECOPE, INS, BNCR, BCR and Banco Popular. The 2020 OECD report “Corporate Governance in Costa Rica” reports that Costa Rican SOE employment is 1.9% of total employment, somewhat below the OECD average of 2.5%. Audited returns for each SOE may be found on each company’s website, while basic revenue and costs for each SOE are available on the General Controller’s Office (CGR) “Sistema de Planes y Presupuestos” https://www.cgr.go.cr/02-consultas/consulta-pp.html . The Costa Rican government does not currently hold minority stakes in commercial enterprises.

Costa Rican state-owned enterprises have not in recent decades required continuous and substantial state subsidy to survive. Several (notably ICE, AyA and RECOPE) registered major losses in pandemic year 2020, while others (INS, BCR, BNCR) registered substantial profits, which are allocated as dictated by law and boards of directors. Financial allocations to and earnings from SOEs may be found in the CGR “Sistema de Informacion de Planes y Presupuestos (SIPP)”.

U.S. investors and their advocates cite some of the following ways in which Costa Rican SOEs competing in the domestic market receive non-market-based advantages because of their status as state-owned entities.

  • According to Law 7200, electricity generated privately must be purchased by public entities and the installed capacity of the private sector is limited to 30 percent of total electrical installed capacity in the country: 15 percent to small privately-owned renewable energy plants and 15 percent to larger “buildoperatetransfer” (BOT) operations.
  • Telecoms and technology sector companies have called attention to the fact that government agencies often choose SOEs as their telecom services providers despite a full assortment of private-sector telecom companies. The Information and Telecommunications Business Chamber (CAMTIC) has long protested against what its members feel to be unfair use by government entities of a provision (Article 2) in the public contracting law that allows noncompetitive award of contracts to public entities (also termed “direct purchase”) when functionaries of the awarding entity certify the award to be an efficient use of public funds. CAMTIC has compiled detailed statistics showing that while the yearly total dollar value of Costa Rican government direct purchases in the IT sector under Article 2 has dropped considerably from USD 226 million in 2017, to USD 72.5 million in 2018, USD 27.5 million in 2019, USD 54 million in 2020, and USD 5 million in 2021, the number of purchases has actually increased from 56 purchases in both 2017 and 2018 to 86 in 2019, 104 in 2020, and 115 in 2021.
  • The state-owned insurance provider National Insurance Institute (INS) has been adjusting to private sector competition since 2009 but in 2021 still registered 66 percent of total insurance premiums paid; 13 insurers are now registered with insurance regulator SUGESE: ( https://www.sugese.fi.cr/SitePages/index.aspx ). Competitors point to unfair advantages enjoyed by the stateowned insurer INS, including a strong tendency among SOE’s to contract their insurance with INS.

Costa Rica is not a party to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) although it is registered as an observer. Costa Rica is working to adhere to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs ( www.oecd.org/daf/ca/oecdguidelinesoncorporategovernanceofstate-ownedenterprises.htm ). For more information on Costa Rica’s SOE’s, see the OECD Accession report “Corporate Governance in Costa Rica”, dated October 2020: https://www.oecd.org/countries/costarica/corporate-governance-in-costa-rica-b313ec37-en.htm  .

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Corporations in Costa Rica, particularly those in the export and tourism sectors, generally enjoy a positive reputation within the country as engines of growth and practitioners of Responsible Business Conduct (RBC).  The Costa Rica government actively highlights its role in attracting high-tech companies to Costa Rica; the strong RBC culture that many of those companies cultivate has become part of that winning package.  Large multinational companies commonly pursue RBC goals in line with their corporate goals and have found it beneficial to publicize RBC orientation and activities in Costa Rica.  Many smaller companies, particularly in the tourism sector, have integrated community outreach activities into their way of doing business. There is a general awareness of RBC among both producers and consumers in Costa Rica.

Multinational enterprises in Costa Rica have not been associated in recent decades in any systematic or high-profile way with alleged human or labor rights violations.  The Costa Rican government maintains and enforces laws with respect to labor and employment rights, consumer protection and environmental protection.  Costa Rica has no legal mineral extraction industry with its accompanying issues, but illegal small scale gold mining, particularly in the north of the country, is a focal point of serious environmental damage, organized crime, and social disruption.  Large scale industrial agriculture is also occasionally the focus of health or environmental complaints, including in recent years the pineapple industry for allegedly affecting water supplies and a banana producer with many workers with rashes allegedly induced by pesticide use. The government appears to respond appropriately. Indigenous communities in specific areas of the country have longstanding grievances against non-indigenous encroachment on their reserves, which has led to recent incidents of violence.

Costa Rica encourages foreign and local enterprises to follow generally accepted RBC principles such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (MNE) and maintains a national contact point for OECD MNE guidelines within the Ministry of Foreign Trade (see https://www.comex.go.cr/punto-nacional-de-contacto/  or  http://www.oecd.org/investment/mne/ncps.htm ). Costa Rica has been a participant since 2011 in the Montreux Document reaffirming the obligations of states regarding private military and security companies during armed conflict.

Costa Rica has a national climate strategy and a sophisticated system for monitoring natural capital, biodiversity, and ecosystem services. While the Central Bank compiles environmental accounts ( https://www.bccr.fi.cr/en/Economic-Indicators/environmental-accounts ), the Ministry of Environment and Energy oversees policies on environmental impact assessments and emissions. As part of Costa Rica’s nationally determined contribution to the United National Framework on Climate Change, Costa Rica targets maximum national net emissions in 2030 of 9.11 million tons of CO2. This number is consistent with the targeted trajectory of their National Decarbonization Plan which seeks to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Within the transportation sector Costa Rica aims to adopt standards to migrate towards a zero-emission motorcycle fleet by 2025, have 8% of their fleet of small vehicles be electric, and by 2030 have 8% of the public transportation fleet fully electric. There are currently no regulatory incentives or rebates for private sector contributions to achieve these goals. Costa Rican government efforts to reach net-zero emissions are largely limited to encouraging purchase and use of electric vehicles through tax reduction. In the absence of any significant budget for climate change response, the Costa Rican government necessarily relies on the private sector and international donors to implement its ambitions to be net zero by 2050. Costa Rica supports labels or designations meant to encourage good behavior with some considerable success: blue flag program at beaches and the Costa Rican country brand “Essential Costa Rica”. Official procurement policies do not include environmental or green growth considerations beyond those otherwise mandated by law.

9. Corruption

Costa Rica has laws, regulations, and penalties to combat corruption. Though the resources available to enforce those laws are limited, Costa Rica’s institutional framework is strong, such that those cases that are prosecuted are generally perceived as legitimate. Anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials, contemplate conflict-of-interest in both procurement and contract award, and penalize bribery by local businessmen of both local and foreign government officials. Public officials convicted of receiving bribes are subject to prison sentences up to ten years, according to the Costa Rican Criminal Code (Articles 347-360). Entrepreneurs may not deduct the costs of bribes or any other criminal activity as business expenses. In recent decades, Costa Rica saw several publicized cases of firms prosecuted under the terms of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Costa Rica ratified the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption in 1997. This initiative of the OECD and the Organization of American States (OAS) obligates subscribing nations to implement criminal sanctions for corruption and implies a series of follow up actions: http://www.oas.org/juridico/english/cri.htm . Costa Rica also ratified the UN Anti-Corruption Convention in March 2007, has been a member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) since 2012, and as of July 2017 is a party to the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery of Foreign Public Officials.

The Costa Rican government has encouraged civil society interest in good governance, open government and fiscal transparency, with a number of NGO’s operating unimpeded in this space. While U.S. firms do not identify corruption as a major obstacle to doing business in Costa Rica, some have made allegations of corruption in the administration of public tenders and in approvals or timely processing of permits. Developers of tourism facilities periodically cite municipal-level corruption as a problem when attempting to gain a concession to build and operate in the restricted maritime zone.

For further material on anti-bribery and corruption in Costa Rica, see the 2020 OECD study: https://www.oecd.org/countries/costarica/costa-rica-has-improved-its-foreign-bribery-legislation-but-must-strengthen-enforcement-and-close-legal-loopholes.htm 

Also on the OECD website, information relating to Costa Rica’s membership in the OECD anti-bribery convention: https://www.oecd.org/countries/costarica/costarica-oecdanti-briberyconvention.htm 

10. Political and Security Environment

Since 1948, Costa Rica has not experienced significant domestic political violence. There are no indigenous or external movements likely to produce political or social instability. However, Costa Ricans occasionally follow a long tradition of blocking public roads for a few hours as a way of pressuring the government to address grievances; the traditional government response has been to react slowly, thus giving the grievances time to air. This practice on the part of peaceful protesters can cause logistical problems.

Crime increased in Costa Rica in recent decades and U.S. citizen visitors and residents are frequent victims.  While petty theft is the main problem, criminals show an increased tendency to use violence. Some crime in Costa Rica is associated with the illegal drug trade.  Please see the State Department’s Travel Advisory page for Costa Rica for the latest information- https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/costa-rica-travel-advisory.html

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Although the unemployment rate fell in 2021, unemployment remains a major issue for Costa Rica’s economy. According to the National Statistics Institute (INEC) as of January 2022, the unemployment rate was 13.1 percent, or 319,000 unemployed workers. The unemployment rate among the male population was estimated at 10.6 percent and the female population at 16.8 percent. When comparing these figures with the same quarter in 2020-21, there was a 4.6 percent decrease among males and a 7.8 percent reduction among females. 45.7 percent of work was in the informal sector (45.7 percent among males and 45.6 percent among females) with no significant variation compared to the same period in 2020-21. From the percentage of individuals with informal employment, 91.5 percent were self-employed, and 29.4 percent received a salary.

INEC reported that from November 2021 to January 2022, 532,000 persons in the labor force (employed and unemployed) were negatively affected by COVID-19. Of the country’s employed population, 213,000 had a reduction in salary or income associated with suspension or reduction in working hours or had to suspend their own activity or business during the pandemic, which represented 10.1 percent of the employed population, of which 63.5 percent were male, and 36.5 percent were female. Of the total number of unemployed persons, 318,000 were negatively affected by the pandemic. Of those, 48.7 percent were men and 51.3 percent were women. Of the total number of unemployed persons affected, 97.5 percent indicated that they could not find a job due to COVID-19; and 2.5 percent stated that they were fired, suspended, or closed their business or activity.

INEC reported that during the pandemic more formal jobs were preserved and more informal jobs were lost. It is possible that some of the informal businesses that survived the pandemic chose to seek formal work, given increased demand for health insurance. Some of the activities most affected by health restrictions and the consequences of the pandemic (such as tourism, commerce, construction, and entertainment activities) had high demand for workers, including informal workers, before the pandemic.

According to the Central Bank of Costa Rica, formal employment returned to levels registered before the beginning of the pandemic, while as of November 2021, the number of informally employed persons was 11.4 percent lower than in February 2020. The recovery of employment for workers operating in the informal sector and those with medium qualifications has been much slower than that of the most qualified and those who work in the formal sector. Workers in the informal sector were not covered by wage, hour, and occupational health and safety laws and inspections, nor were they enrolled in the public health system.

The Costa Rican labor force has high educational standards. The country boasts an extensive network of publicly funded schools and universities while Costa Rica’s national vocational training institute (INA) and private sector groups provide technical and vocational training.

The growth of Costa Rica’s service, tourism, and technology sectors has stimulated demand for English-language speakers. The pool of job candidates with English and technical skills in the Central Valley is sufficient to meet current demand. However, the current finite number of job candidates with these skills limits the ability of foreign and local businesses to expand operations.

The government implemented a controlled entry of foreign migrant workers (Migration Traceability System, SITLAM) through the northern and southern borders. In a joint effort, the Costa Rican Social Security System (CCSS), Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MTSS) and the Costa Rican Coffee Institute implemented a program to enroll coffee workers in the health insurance system while taking into account turnover, migratory conditions, and harvest seasons while protecting the families of the workers.

The government does not keep track of shortages or surpluses of specialized labor skills. Foreign nationals have the same rights, duties, and benefits as local employees. The government is responsible for ensuring that foreign nationals do not displace local employees in employment. Labor law provisions apply equally across the nation, both within and outside free trade zones. The Immigration Law and the Labor Ministry’s regulations establish a mechanism to determine in which cases the national labor force would need protection. The Labor Ministry prepares a list of recommended and not-recommended jobs to be filled by foreign nationals.

There are no restrictions on employers adjusting employment to respond to fluctuating market conditions. The law does not differentiate between layoffs and dismissal without cause. There are concepts established in the law related to unemployment and dismissals such as the mandatory savings plan (Labor Capitalization Fund or Fondo de Capitalizacion Laboral, FCL), as well as the notice of termination of employment (preaviso) and severance pay (cesantia). The FCL, which is funded through employer contributions, functions as an unemployment insurance; the employee can withdraw the savings every five years if the employee has worked without interruption for the same employer. Costa Rican labor law requires that employees released without cause receive full severance pay, which can amount to close to a full year’s pay in some cases. Although there is no insurance for workers laid off for economic reasons, employers may voluntarily establish an unemployment fund.

In response to government-ordered temporary business closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2020, the Labor Ministry implemented the temporary suspension of employment contracts, a procedure established in the Labor Code, which grants employers the option of stopping the payment of wages temporarily during an emergency. Executive orders (Nos. 42522-MTSS and 42248-MTSS) established the procedures for employers to request the temporary suspension of labor contracts with their employees. Employers requested the suspension of contracts through the Labor Inspectorate of the Labor Ministry. In 2021, the Labor Ministry continued implementing the temporary suspension of employment contracts but only in sectors most adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic due to the restrictions and closures imposed by authorities.

The National Assembly approved a law (Law 9832) in 2020 to reduce working hours during the pandemic. Under the law, if income in a company decreases by 20 percent, compared to the income during the same month in 2019 or compared to the income of the previous three months, the employer can reduce the employees’ hours and salary up to 50 percent. If the decrease in income is greater than 60 percent, the reduction in salary can reach 75 percent. Legislators initially authorized this reduction for three months and employers could request extensions for two equal terms (9 months) and then to five terms (15 months) as the emergency continued. In May 2021, the National Assembly approved an extension (Legislative Order No. 9982) in the tourism sector which authorizes a reduction for four equal terms with previous approval from the Labor Ministry.

In 2020, the National Assembly authorized employees, whose labor contracts were terminated or suspended or whose salaries were reduced during the state of emergency declaration, to withdraw their contributions to the FCL plan (Law 9839).

Costa Rican labor law and practice allows some flexibility in alternate schedules; nevertheless, it is based on a 48-hour week made up of eight-hour days. Workers are entitled to one day of rest after six consecutive days of work. The labor code stipulates that the workday may not exceed 12 hours. Use of temporary or contract workers for jobs that are not temporary in nature to lower labor costs and avoid payroll taxes does occur, particularly in construction and in agricultural activities dedicated to domestic (rather than export) markets. No labor laws are waived to attract or retain investment‒all labor laws apply in all Costa Rican territory, including free trade zones. The government has been actively exploring ways to introduce more flexibility into the labor code to facilitate teleworking and flexible work schedules.

Costa Rican law guarantees the right of workers to join labor unions of their choosing without prior authorization. Unions operate independently of government control and may form federations and confederations and affiliate internationally. Most unions are in the public sector, including in state-run enterprises. Collective bargaining agreements are common in the public sector. “Permanent committees of employees” informally represent employees in some enterprises of the private sector and directly negotiate with employers; these negotiations are expressed in “direct agreements,” which have a legal status. Based on 2021 statistics, 15 percent of employees were union members. The Labor Ministry reported that from 2019 to 2021, they approved 27 collective agreements and accompanied 43 negotiation processes and handled 7 conciliation processes of a social economic nature. In 2021, the Ministry reported that collective bargaining agreements covered 10.6 percent of the working population, 50.7 percent within public sector entities and 1.1 percent within the private sector. The Ministry reported that 13,897 workers were covered by “direct agreements” in different sectors (agriculture and manufacturing industry) during 2021.

In the private sector, many Costa Rican workers join “solidarity associations,” through which employers provide easy access to saving plans, low-interest loans, health clinics, recreation centers, and other benefits. A 2011 law solidified that status by giving solidarity associations constitutional recognition comparable to that afforded labor unions. Solidarity associations and labor unions coexist at some workplaces, primarily in the public sector. Business groups claim that worker participation in permanent committees and/or solidarity associations provides for better labor relations compared to firms with workers represented only by unions. However, some labor unions allege private businesses use permanent committees and solidarity associations to hinder union organization while permanent workers’ committees displace labor unions on collective bargaining issues in contravention of internationally recognized labor rights.

The Ministry of Labor has a formal dispute-resolution body and will engage in dispute-resolution when necessary; labor disputes may also be resolved through the judicial process. The Ministry of Labor’s regulations establish that conciliation is the mechanism to solve individual labor disputes, as defined in the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Law (No. 7727, dated 9 December 1997). The Labor Code and ADR Law establish the following mechanisms: dialogue, negotiation, mediation, conciliation, and arbitration. The Labor Law promotes alternative dispute resolution in judicial, administrative, and private proceedings. The law establishes three specific mechanisms: arbitration to resolve individual or collective labor disputes (including a Labor Ministry’s arbitrator roster list); conciliation in socio-economic collective disputes (introducing private conciliation processes); and arbitration in socio-economic collective disputes (with a neutral arbitrator or a panel of arbitrators issuing a decision). The Labor Ministry also participates as mediator in collective conflicts, facilitating and promoting dialogue among interested parties. The law provides for protection from dismissal for union organizers and members and requires employers found guilty of anti-union discrimination to reinstate workers fired for union activities.

The law provides for the right of workers to conduct legal strikes, but it prohibits strikes in public services considered essential (police, hospitals, and ports). Strikes affecting the private sector are rare and do not pose a risk for investment.

Child and adolescent labor is uncommon in Costa Rica, and it occurs mainly in agriculture in the informal sector.  In 2020, the government published the results of a child labor risk identification model and a strategy to design preventive measures at local level. In 2021, the government continued a pilot project for the prevention of child labor in two at-risk cantons in the province of Limón. The government also activated the Houses of Joy (“Casas de la Alegría”) during the coffee harvest season 2021-2022. These are daycare centers for children of workers in different coffee regions of the country, mainly in the Brunca, Los Santos, and Western Valley regions.

Chapter 16 of the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement obliges Costa Rica to enforce laws that defend core international labor standards. The government, organized labor, employer organizations, and the International Labor Organization signed a memorandum of understanding to launch a Decent Work Program for the period 2019-2023, which aims to improve labor conditions and facilitate employability for vulnerable groups through government-labor-business tripartite dialogue.

The National Assembly recently approved a public employment reform bill that aims to establish the same salary for equal responsibilities in the public sector, eliminating different wage systems and salary bonus structures, which is projected to reduce the fiscal deficit.The legislation will take effect in March 2023.

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) 2020 $62,158 2020 $61,847 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $26,306 2020 $2,000 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $124 2020 $-86 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 1.2% 2020 2.9% UNCTAD data available at

https://unctad.org/topic/investment/world-investment-report

* Source for Host Country Data: Costa Rican Central Bank. The “FDI Stock” positions detailed here are an accounting expression of the accumulation of FDI through 2020, while the “FDI inflow” statistic given in the first paragraph of the executive summary is the sum of foreign direct investment made in Costa Rica during calendar year 2020, as reported by the Costa Rican Central Bank.    

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 46,115 100% Total Outward 3,578 100
United States 26,306 57% Nicaragua 1,065 30%
Spain 2,810 6% Guatemala 1,023 29%
Mexico 2,173 5% Panama 867 24%
The Netherlands 1,777 4% United States 124 4%
Colombia 1,681 4% Luxembourg 90 3%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

14. Contact for More Information

Attention: Investment Climate Statement
Economic Section
Embassy San Jose, Costa Rica
2519-2000
SanJoseEcon@state.gov 

Ecuador

Executive Summary

The government of Ecuador under President Guillermo Lasso has adopted an ambitious economic reform agenda to drive investment. Private sector leaders in Ecuador emphasize the “Lasso Effect” in investment given the surge of optimism following the April 2021 election of the region’s most pro-business president in decades. “More Ecuador in the world and more of the world in Ecuador” – President Lasso’s key message for his presidency – includes the administration’s drive to attract $30 billion in investment over his four-year administration. Indeed, investment is growing – with both international and domestic companies searching for opportunities in this traditionally protectionist market that once garnered little attention compared to neighbors Colombia and Peru. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are the cornerstone of the administration’s investment drive, including the establishment of a PPP Secretariat and the consolidation of PPP-related tax rules and regulations.

The Ecuadorian government is taking positive steps to improving fiscal stability. In September 2020, the International Monetary Fund approved a $6.5 billion, 27-month Extended Fund Facility for Ecuador and has already disbursed $4.8 billion to aid in economic stabilization and reform. The IMF program is in line with the government’s efforts to correct fiscal imbalances and to improve transparency and efficiency in public finance. The Ecuadorian Central Bank reported solid GDP growth of 4.2 percent in 2021 and projects 2.8 percent GDP growth in 2022. The Ecuadorian government remains committed to the sustainability of public finances and to continue a fiscal consolidation path. The fiscal deficit narrowed to 3.5 percent of GDP in 2021 (from over 7 percent of GDP in 2020) and is expected to narrow further to a little over 2 percent of GDP in 2022 due to improved tax collection, prudent public spending, and high oil prices.

Still, the Lasso administration faces major challenges to its investment agenda given the country’s long-term reputation as a high-risk country for investment. A challenging relationship with the National Assembly complicates the passage of needed economic reform legislation. While the administration’s November 2021 tax reform passed into law, the National Assembly soundly defeated President Lasso’s proposed investment promotion bill March 24. Serious budget deficits and the COVID-induced economic recession force the government to employ cost cutting measures and limit public investment. Ecuador has traditionally struggled to structure tenders and PPPs that are bankable, transparent, and competitive. This has discouraged private investment and attracted companies that lack a commitment to quality construction, accountability and transparency, environmental sustainability, and social inclusion. Corruption remains widespread, and Ecuador is ranked in the bottom half of countries surveyed for Transparency International’s Perceptions of Corruption Index. In addition, economic, commercial, and investment policies are subject to frequent changes and can increase the risks and costs of doing business in Ecuador.

Ecuador is a dollarized economy that has few limits on foreign investment or repatriation of profits, with the exception of a currency exit tax. It has a population that generally views the United States positively, and the Lasso Administration has expanded bilateral ties and significantly increased cooperation with the United States on a broad range of economic, security, political, and cultural issues.

Sectors of Interest to Foreign Investors

Petroleum and Gas: Per the 2008 Constitution, all subsurface resources belong to the state, and the petroleum sector is dominated by one state-owned enterprise (SOE) that cannot be privatized. Presidential Decree 95 published July 2021 opened private sector participation in oil exploration and production, with a goal to double oil production to 1 million barrels per day by 2028. The government can offer concessions of its refineries, sell off SOE gasoline stations, issue production-sharing contracts for oil exploration and exploitation, and prepare the SOE to be listed publicly on the stock market. The government maintained its consumer fuel subsidies since May 2020. The Ecuadorian government plans three oil field tenders in 2022 including concessions for Intracampos II and III and Block 60–Sacha. Given its declining and underdeveloped gas fields, the government plans to launch a tender for its Amistad offshore gas field. Additionally, the government announced potential tenders for a South-East concession, a private operator for the Esmeraldas refinery, and another to build and operate a new Euro 5 quality refinery.

Mining: The Ecuadorian government plans to accelerate mining development to increase revenues and diversify its economy. Presidential Decree 151, published August 2021, seeks to promote private sector participation in mining exploration and production. The decree allows for private sector investment, joint ventures with the state-owned mining enterprise (SOE); seeks to combat illegal mining; and establishes an Advisory Board to guide the government on best practices for responsible mining. The government announced plans to relaunch its mining cadastre in 2022, which was closed in 2018 due to irregularities in granting concessions. Ecuador has two operating mines — a gold mine operated by a Canadian company and a copper mine operated by a PRC-affiliated company. In 2021 the government issued two new mining concessions and announced plans to issue concessions for 12 additional strategic mining projects.

Electricity: Hydroelectric electricity accounts for 80 percent of Ecuador’s electricity generation. The PRC-built 1500 MW Coca Codo Sinclair (CCS) hydro power plant designed to provide 30 percent of Ecuador’s electricity has never generated its total installed power capacity and has been undergoing repairs since it began operating in 2016. CCS is also at risk from regressive erosion from the adjacent Coca River. The government contracted U.S. Army Corp of Engineers engineering services December 2021 to develop a solution to mitigate the river erosion. The government plans to develop wind, solar, hydro, biomass, biogas, geothermal, biofuel, combined cycle, and gas-fired electrical generation plants to diversify the energy matrix. It awarded a 200 MW solar tender and a 110 MW wind tender to private operators in 2020. It launched tenders for a 500 MW renewable energy block, a 400 MW combined cycle power plant, and a Northeast Interconnection transmission line in December 2021. The government imported its first LNG cargo December 2021 followed by a second shipment in February 2022.

Telecommunications: The Lasso administration is prioritizing rural connectivity as its major telecommunications policy. In mid-2021, the Ministry of Telecommunications (MINTEL) received from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) the valuation report for the 2.5 GHz (gigahertz) and 700 MHz (megahertz) bands. The cost set is reserved. Likewise, MINTEL asked the ITU for the valuation of the 3.5 GHz, 850, 900 AWS and 1900 bands, which in turn will allow new players in the market and the future deployment of the fifth generation of technologies (5G). Three 5G technology connectivity tests have taken place in Ecuador, though there is no target date for the beginning of 5G commercial operations. Ecuador is due to renegotiate the concession contracts with the mobile network operators, which expire in 2023. New terms and conditions of the concession rights and use of frequencies are currently in the works including technical, legal, and regulatory requirements. The current negotiations do not include the frequency bands for the 5G network and are instead focused on the frequencies currently assigned to operators.

ECommerce: In 2020, E-Commerce sales reached $2.3 billion record sales, an overnight digital transformation due to the pandemic. In 2021, according to Ecuador´s Electronic Commerce Chamber, E-Commerce sales grew 20 to 40 percent ($460 to $920 million, approximately). While many Ecuadorians are interested in purchasing online, they are limited in their ability to receive international shipments due to logistics and customs problems upon arrival in Ecuador. The Ministry of Production launched the National E-Commerce Strategy in 2021, establishing a framework for facilitating the digital transformation in the country. The strategy focuses on strengthening the current legal framework, capacity building for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and improving logistics and payment gateway capabilities. Since the issuance of the National E-Commerce Strategy, no new regulations have entered into force to facilitate its application and the objectives set forth therein. The government is also promoting the development of the Andean Digital Agenda together with the other Andean Community countries, whose update will be promulgated in the first half of this year.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 105 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
Global Innovation Index 2021 91 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $29 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm 
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 $5,530 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Ecuador has a total of 17 SOEs. The major SOEs include those for petroleum (Petroecuador), electricity (Electricity Corporation of Ecuador – CELEC – and the National Corporation for Electricity – CNEL), and telecommunications (National Corporation of Telecommunications – CNT). The 17 SOEs combined have approximately 30,000 employees. As part of the government’s austerity measures to deal with the COVID-19-related economic crisis, the Lasso administration continued with the SOE liquidation processes started in May 2020. As of September 2021, there were three liquidated SOEs (Manufacture Ecuador, Pharmaceutical Public Company, Public Cement Company) and eight in the process of liquidation, including the state-owned airline (TAME), railroad company (Ecuadorian Railways Company), a social development firm using profits from natural resource revenues (Strategic Ecuador), training centers for athletes (High Performance Training Centers), an agricultural storage company (National Storage Units), the public media company, and a science and technology research firm (Siembra EP, formerly Yachay City of Knowledge). In February 2021, the government announced that Ecuador Post Office will be replaced by Ecuador Postal Services (SPE). Ecuador’s Coordinator of Public Companies maintains a list of SOEs at: https://www.emco.gob.ec/Emco2/empresas-publicas-2/ .

The 2009 Organic Law of Public Enterprises regulates SOEs. SOEs are most active in areas designated by the 2008 Constitution as strategic sectors. SOEs follow a special procurement regime with greater flexibility and limited oversight. The Law of Public Enterprises requires SOEs to follow generally accepted accounting principles. Still, SOEs are not required to follow the same accounting practices as the central government, nor do they have to participate in the electronic financial management system used in most of the public sector for budget and accounting management. SOEs are eligible for government guarantees and face lower tax burdens than private companies. SOEs generally do not have professionally audited financial statements. The Ministry of Economy and Finance approves SOEs’ annual budgets and often slows distribution of funds to SOEs to compensate for other government expenditures.

Ecuador is not party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) within the framework of the World Trade Organization.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Article 66 of the 2008 Constitution guarantees the right to pursue economic activities in a manner that is socially and environmentally responsible. Civil society groups such as the Institute of Corporate Social Responsibility and the Ecuadorian Consortium for Social Responsibility promote responsible business conduct. Many Ecuadorian companies have programs to further responsible business conduct within their organizations. Ecuador joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in October 2020. The country still needs to comply with additional requirements to become a full member. Currently, Ecuador is preparing its Work Plan and is expected to deliver the first country report in April 2022. EITI validation will commence within two and a half years of becoming a candidate (by 5 April 2023).

A number of local and indigenous communities are active in opposing extractive industry projects in their territories, though some communities have welcomed responsible mining companies that are generating employment and bringing benefits to the local people. Ecuador’s Constitutional Court affirmed communities have the right to vote on whether to allow large-scale mining projects near their water sources in a September 2020 ruling on a plebiscite proposed by the Cuenca municipality. The Ecuadorian government is also legally obligated to carry out previous consultation (consulta previa) with indigenous groups and other communities per the Ecuadorian Constitution and its commitments under International Labor Organization Convention 169 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Ecuador’s Organic Law for Citizen Participation also mandates free, prior, and informed consultations (FPIC) on matters that may impact the environment, culture, and social wellbeing of local people. Ecuador’s 2018 Organic Law for the Integral Planning of the Amazon Region provides for the distribution of extractive industry income for the benefit of local communities affected by the sector’s operations. Still, few financial benefits have trickled down to local communities historically and instead royalties often serve to cover expenses from national and subnational government agencies.

Ecuador has no established protocols for the consultations with indigenous groups and other local communities, leading to political tensions and protests particularly in areas with oil drilling and mining projects. Local and indigenous opposition to mining projects has stalled numerous mining concessions in recent years, including the San Carlos-Panantza Copper Mine and the Rio Blanco Gold Mine. A triumvirate of indigenous groups, including the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), filed a lawsuit October 2021 with the Constitutional Court. They demand the Court nullify President Lasso’s Executive Decree 95 related to the oil sector on the basis that the decree violates the FPIC requirement in the Constitution. Although the Constitutional Court has not ruled on the Executive Decree’s constitutionality, in February 2022 the Court called for stronger protections to guarantee indigenous communities’ rights to decide on extractive projects in their territories. Indigenous people and their organizations are seeking more equitable and transparent processes that empower indigenous nations to attract select extractives in their territories and negotiate fair royalties.

Ecuadorian law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including all forms of labor exploitation and child labor. Article 42 of the labor code establishes that all companies engaged in global or domestic supply chains are required by law to pay minimum wage, ensure eight-hour workdays, and pay into social security. The Ministry of Labor’s Directorate for Control and Inspections is responsible for enforcement of labor laws. Ecuador currently has four products included on the Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs list of goods that it has reason to believe are produced by child labor or forced labor in violation of international standards, as required under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2005. These products include bananas, bricks, flowers, and gold. Ministry of Labor (MoL) officials received reports of child labor and conducted inspections but did not furnish specific or aggregated data on the number of inspections or child labor incidences in the production of bananas, bricks, gold, or flowers in 2020 or 2021.

Ecuador’s flower production consortium, in coordination with the International Labor Organization and the MoL, undertook a series of efforts to eliminate child labor from flower farms in 2020. The MoL reported that labor inspections of large flower farms in 2020 in Pichincha province did not find instances of child labor. This positive outcome is largely because these farms are part of the Business Network for a Child-Labor-Free Ecuador and are committed to the elimination of child labor. Despite their progress, flower exporting consortiums continue to resist a diagnostic survey to demonstrate the elimination of child labor.

According to international organizations, adolescents below age 15 engage in dangerous working conditions in the artisanal gold mining near the borders with Colombia and Peru.  Most gold mining is in southern Ecuador near Peru.  Adolescents engaged in hazardous unregulated mining operations faced exposure to mercury and other hazardous chemicals. Government officials admitted difficulty in monitoring for child labor in the unregulated artisanal gold mining sector, particularly in relatively inaccessible border areas. Government and civil society sources did not report child labor in mining for export-oriented firms.

Nationally the government does not mandate local employment. However, the Organic Law of the Amazon, approved by the National Assembly on May 21, 2018, mandates that any company, national or foreign, operating within the area covered by the law (the Amazon Basin) must hire at least 70 percent of their staff locally, unless they cannot find qualified labor from that area. The 2015 Organic Law for the Special Regime of the Galapagos (LOREG) and its regulations enacted in April 2017 include the mandatory hiring of local residents. The law stipulates non-residents can be hired only if companies demonstrate there are no local candidates with the required skill set.

Department of State

Department of the Treasury

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Corruption is a serious problem in Ecuador, and one that the Lasso administration is confronting. Ecuadorian courts have recently tried numerous cases of corruption, resulting in convictions of high-level officials, including former President Rafael Correa, former Vice President Jorge Glas (although the judiciary recently released him), and former Vice President Maria Alejandra Vicuña, among others. U.S. companies have cited corruption as an obstacle to investment, with concerns related specifically to non-transparent public tenders, dispute resolution, and payment of arbitration awards.

Ecuadorian law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, but the government has not implemented the law effectively, and officials have engaged in corrupt practices. Ecuador ranked 105 out of 180 countries surveyed for Transparency International’s 2021 Perceptions of Corruption Index and received a score of 36 out of 100. High-profile cases of alleged official corruption involving state-owned petroleum company PetroEcuador and Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht illustrate the significant challenges that confront Ecuador with regards to corruption. The Ecuadorian National Assembly approved anti-corruption legislation in December 2020. The legislation, which reforms the Comprehensive Organic Penal Code, creates new criminal acts including circumvention of public procurement procedures, acts of corruption in the private sector, and obstruction of justice. It also includes 11 provisions reforming the laws governing the public procurement system and the Comptroller General’s Office.

Illicit payments for official favors and theft of public funds reportedly take place frequently. Dispute settlement procedures are complicated by the lack of transparency and inefficiency in the judicial system. Offering or accepting a bribe is illegal and punishable by imprisonment for up to five years. The Comptroller General is responsible for the oversight of public funds, and there are frequent investigations and occasional prosecutions for irregularities.

Ecuador ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention in September 2005. Ecuador is not a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery. The 2008 Constitution created the Citizen Participation and Social Control Council (CPCCS), tasked with preventing and combating corruption, among other responsibilities. The 2018 national referendum converted the CPCCS from an appointed to a popularly elected body. In December 2008, President Correa issued a decree that created the National Secretariat for Transparency (SNTG) to investigate and denounce acts of corruption in the public sector. The SNTG became an undersecretariat and was merged with the National Secretariat of Public Administration June 2013. President Moreno established the Anticorruption Secretariat within the Presidency in February 2019 but disbanded it in May 2020 for allegedly intervening in corruption investigations conducted by the Office of the Attorney General. The CPCCS can receive complaints and conduct investigations into alleged acts of corruption. Responsibility for prosecution remains with the Office of the Attorney General.

10. Political and Security Environment

Widespread public protests in 1997, 2000, and 2005 contributed to the removal of three elected presidents before the end of their terms. Large-scale but peaceful demonstrations against the Correa government occurred in June 2015. Some indigenous communities opposed to natural resource development have blocked access by petroleum and mining companies. Opposition to the government’s decision to remove fuel subsidies led to nationwide violent protests in October 2019. The protests paralyzed the country for 11 days, causing significant property damage, including to petroleum and telecommunications infrastructure. A dialogue between the government and indigenous protest leaders, mediated by the United Nations and the Catholic Church, led to the government’s decision to restore the fuel subsidies. Security along the northern border with Colombia deteriorated significantly in late 2017 and early 2018, when dissident Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia groups attacked police and military units and kidnapped civilians, resulting in several deaths. Military and police increased their presence in the zone, and violence in the northern border area calmed in 2019, although illicit activities continue. Violence related to drug-trafficking organizations increased in 2020, 2021, and continue into 2022, particularly in Ecuador’s port cities. In 2021, the Lasso administration declared an emergency in the prison system after a series of riots in various prisons that left more than 300 prisoners dead. The Executive has submitted to the National Assembly updated regulations aimed at ensuring public safety and control of prison systems. The National Assembly continues to debate and analyze security sector reforms.

Ecuador’s Constitutional Court affirmed communities have the right to vote on whether to allow large-scale mining projects near their water sources, in a September 21 ruling on a plebiscite proposed by the municipality of Cuenca

11. Labor Policies and Practices

As of December 2021, Ecuador’s Statistics Institute (INEC) shows a 66 percent workforce participation rate and an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent. However, the official underemployment rate is 23.2 percent and an estimated 50.6 percent of workers labor in the informal sector, illustrating significant labor vulnerabilities. Semi-skilled and unskilled workers are relatively abundant at low wages. The supply of available workers is high due to layoffs in sectors affected by Ecuador’s flat economic growth since 2014. The COVID-19-related economic crisis is estimated to have resulted in the loss of 230,000 jobs in the formal sector in 2020. In addition, first Colombian and then Venezuelan migrants have added to the informal labor pool in recent years. The National Wages Council and Ministry of Labor Relations set minimum compensation levels for private sector employees annually. The minimum basic monthly salary for 2022 is USD 425 per month.

Ecuador’s Production Code requires workers be paid a dignified wage, defined as an amount that would enable a family of four with 1.6 wage earners to be able to afford basic necessities. INEC determines the cost and the products that are considered basic necessities. In February 2022, the monthly cost of basic necessities was USD 725.16, while the official family wage level is at USD 793.33. As of February 2022, INEC estimated 31.7 percent of workers had adequate employment. INEC defines adequate employment as earning at least the minimum basic salary working 40 hours per week.

Ecuador’s National Assembly approved in June 2020 limited labor reforms in an emergency law (Humanitarian Law) valid for two years to address the economic impacts of COVID-19. These reforms allowed for the reduction of working hours up to 50 percent and salary up to 45 percent; ability to modify a labor contract with mutual agreement between employer and employee; new temporary contracts for new investments that can be changed to permanent contracts at the end of the temporary period; and layoffs without severance payments only when the company closes entirely.

Ecuador’s National Assembly passed a labor reform law in March 2016 intended to promote youth employment, support unemployed workers, and introduce greater labor flexibility for companies suffering from reduced revenue. The law established a new unemployment insurance program, a subsidized youth employment scheme, temporary reductions in workers’ hours for financially strapped companies, and nine months of unpaid maternity or paternity leave.

The Law for Labor Justice and Recognition of Work in the Home, which included several changes related to labor and social security, took effect in April 2015. The law limits the yearly bonus paid to employees, which is equal to 15 percent of companies’ profits and is required by law, to 24 times the minimum wage. Any surplus profits are to be handed over to Ecuadorian Social Security Institute (IESS). The law also mandates that employees’ 13th and 14th-month bonuses be paid in installments throughout the year instead of in lump sums. Employees have the option to opt out of this change and continue to receive the payments in lump sums. The law eliminated fixed-term employee contracts and replaced them with indefinite contracts, which shortens the allowable trial period for employees to 90 days. The law also allows participation in social security pensions for non-paid work at home.

The Labor Code provides for a 40-hour work week, 15 calendar days of annual paid vacation, restrictions and penalties for those who employ child labor, general protection of worker health and safety, minimum wages and bonuses, maternity leave, and employer-provided benefits. The 2008 Constitution bans child labor, requires hiring workers with disabilities, and prohibits strikes in most of the public sector. Unpaid internships are not permitted in Ecuador.

Most workers in the private sector and at SOEs have the constitutional right to form trade unions, and local law allows for unionization of any company with more than 30 employees. Private employers are required to engage in collective bargaining with recognized unions. The Labor Code provides for resolution of conflicts through a tripartite arbitration and conciliation board process. The Code also prohibits discrimination against union members and requires that employers provide space for union activities.

Workers fired for organizing a labor union are entitled to limited financial indemnification, but the law does not mandate reinstatement. The Public Service Law enacted in October 2010 prohibits public sector workers in strategic sectors from joining unions, exercising collective bargaining rights, or paralyzing public services in general. The Constitution lists health; environmental sanitation; education; justice; fire brigade; social security; electrical energy; drinking water and sewerage; hydrocarbon production; processing, transport, and distribution of fuel; public transport; and post and telecommunications as strategic sectors. Public workers who are not under the Public Service Law may join a union and bargain collectively since they are governed by the provisions under the Labor Code. Approximately 3 percent of the total workforce was unionized, with the number of public and private unions registered by the Ministry of Labor decreasing by half since 2017. Labor unions and associations reported difficulties in registering unions in the Ministry of Labor due to excessive requirements and ministry staff shortages.

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) ($B USD) 2020 $98.80. 2019 $108.1  

https://data.worldbank.org/ 

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) 2020 $29 2019 $681 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $36 2019 $38 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020

 

21.4% 2019 18.2% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx

* Source for Host Country Data: Central Bank of Ecuador. The Central Bank publishes FDI calculated as net flows only. Outward Direct Investment statistics are not published by the Central Bank.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $493.0 100% Total Outward Amount 100%
Costa Rica $83.1 17% N/A N/A
Switzerland $73.4 15% N/A N/A
China $55.9 11% N/A N/A
UK $37.4 8% N/A N/A
Chile $36.1 7% N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Source: Central Bank of Ecuador – September 2021 data. The Central Bank publishes FDI calculated as net flows only. The Central Bank does not publish Outward Direct Investment statistics, nor is there information available on the IMF’s CDIS website.

14. Contact for More Information

US Embassy Quito
E12-170 Avirigas y Eloy Alfaro
Quito, Ecuador
+593-2-398-5000
EcuadorCommercial@state.gov

El Salvador

Executive Summary

El Salvador’s location and natural attributes make it an attractive investment destination. The macroeconomic context and declining rule of law present some challenges. El Salvador’s economy has registered the lowest levels of growth in the region for many years, with average annual GDP growth of 2.5 percent from 2016 to 2019. After a deep pandemic-related contraction (7.9 percent) in 2020, the Central Bank estimates GDP rebounded to 10.3 percent growth in 2021. The IMF expects the economy to grow 3.2 percent in 2022, with growth rates declining to 2 percent in the medium-term. Economic underperformance is mainly driven by fiscal constraints. Persistent budget deficits and increased government spending – exacerbated by the pandemic – have contributed to a heavy debt burden. With public debt at an estimated 88.5 percent of GDP in 2021, the Government of El Salvador (GOES) has limited capacity for public investment and job creation initiatives. Large financing needs are projected for 2022.

The Bukele administration continues to make efforts to attract foreign investment and has taken measures to reduce cumbersome bureaucracy and improve security conditions. However, the implementation of the reforms has been slow, and laws and regulations are occasionally passed and implemented quickly without consulting with the private sector or assessing the impact on the business climate.

After being announced in June 2021, Bitcoin became a legal tender in El Salvador on September 7, 2021, alongside the U.S. dollar. The Bitcoin Law mandates that all businesses must accept Bitcoin, with limited exceptions for those who do not have the technology to carry out transactions. Prices do not need to be expressed in Bitcoin and the U.S. dollar is the reference currency for accounting purposes. The GOES created a $150 million trust fund managed by El Salvador’s Development Bank to guarantee automatic convertibility and subsidize exchange fees. The rapid implementation caused uncertainty in the investment climate and added costs to businesses.

Government of El Salvador actions have eroded separation of powers and independence of the judiciary over the past year. In May 2021, the Legislative Assembly dismissed the Attorney General and all five justices of the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber and immediately replaced them with officials loyal to President Bukele. Furthermore, in August 2021, the legislature amended the Judicial Career Organic Law to force into retirement judges ages 60 or above and those with at least 30 years of service. The move was justified by the ruling party as an effort to root out corruption in the judiciary from past administrations. A September 2021 ruling from the newly appointed Constitutional Chamber allows for immediate presidential re-election, despite the Constitution prohibiting presidential incumbents from re-election to a consecutive term. Legal analysts believe these measures were unconstitutional and have enabled the Legislative Assembly and the Bukele administration to exert control over the judiciary.

The Legislative Assembly is not required to publish draft legislation and opportunities for public engagement are limited. With the Nuevas Ideas ruling party holding a supermajority, legislation is often passed quickly with minimal analysis and debate in parliamentary committees and plenary sessions, contributing to an overall climate of regulatory uncertainty.

Commonly cited challenges to doing business in El Salvador include the discretionary application of laws and regulations, lengthy and unpredictable permitting procedures, as well as customs delays. El Salvador has lagged its regional peers in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). The sectors with the largest investment have historically been textiles and retail establishments, though investment in energy has increased in recent years.

The Bukele administration has proposed several large infrastructure projects which could provide opportunities for U.S. investment. Project proposals include enhancing road connectivity and logistics, expanding airport capacity and improving access to water and energy, as well as sanitation. Given limited fiscal capacity for public investment, the Bukele administration has begun pursuing Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) to execute infrastructure projects. In August 2021, El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly approved the contract award of the first PPP project to expand the cargo terminal at the international airport.

As a small energy-dependent country with no Atlantic coast, El Salvador heavily relies on trade. It is a member of the Central American Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR); the United States is El Salvador’s top trading partner. Proximity to the U.S. market is a competitive advantage for El Salvador. As most Salvadoran exports travel by land to Guatemalan and Honduran ports, regional integration is crucial for competitiveness. Although El Salvador officially joined the Customs Union established by Guatemala and Honduras in 2018, implementation stalled following the Bukele administration’s decision to prioritize bilateral trade facilitation with Guatemala. In October 2021, however, the GOES announced it would proceed with Customs Union implementation. El Salvador rejoined technical level working group discussions and resumed testing of system interconnectivity.

The Bukele administration has taken initial steps to facilitate trade. In 2019, the government of El Salvador (GOES) relaunched the National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC), which produced the first jointly developed private-public action plan to reduce trade barriers. The plan contained 60 strategic measures focused on simplifying procedures, reducing trade costs, and improving connectivity and border infrastructure. Measures were not fully implemented in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. In 2021, the NTFC revised the action plan to adjust measures under implementation and finalized drafting the national trade facilitation strategy, which will be launched in March 2022. In January 2022, the NFTC met to evaluate progress on the action plan. The NFTC released the action plan for 2022 on February 17th. The 2022 action plan has 29 measures to facilitate cross-border trade and improve road and border infrastructure.

Table 1
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 115 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
Global Innovation Index 2021 96 of 132 http://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 3,4133 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.html#209 
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 3,630 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

El Salvador has bilateral investment treaties in force with Argentina, Belize, BLEU (Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union), Chile, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Republic of Korea, Morocco, the Netherlands, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay. El Salvador is one of the five Central American Common Market countries that have an investment treaty among themselves.

The CAFTA-DR entered into force in 2006 between the United States and El Salvador. CAFTA-DR’s investment chapter provides protection to most categories of investment, including enterprises, debt, concessions, contract, and intellectual property. Under this agreement, U.S. investors enjoy the right to establish, acquire, and operate investments in El Salvador on an equal footing with local investors. Among the rights afforded to U.S. investors are due process protections and the right to receive a fair market value for property in the event of expropriation. Investor rights are protected under CAFTA-DR by an effective, impartial procedure for dispute settlement that is transparent and open to the public.

El Salvador also has free trade agreements (FTAs) with Mexico, Chile, Panama, Colombia, and Taiwan. Although the GOES announced the cancellation of the Taiwan FTA in February 2019, the Supreme Court halted the cancellation in March 2019. The FTA remains in force pending a Supreme Court ruling.

In January 2020, the South Korea-Central America FTA became effective. This FTA includes investment provisions. El Salvador’s FTAs with Mexico, Chile, Dominican Republic, and Panama also include investment provisions. El Salvador continues trade agreement negotiations with Canada, which will likely include investment provisions. The Salvadoran government signed a Partial Scope Agreement (PSA) with Cuba in 2011 and an additional Protocol to the PSA in October 2018. El Salvador and Bolivia signed a PSA in November 2018 that is pending ratification in the Legislative Assembly. A PSA with Ecuador entered into force in 2017.

El Salvador, along with Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama, signed an Association Agreement with the European Union that establishes a Free Trade Area. The agreement entered into force with El Salvador in 2013. On March 1, 2022, El Salvador ratified the Protocol to the Association Agreement to take account of the accession of the Republic of Croatia to the European Union. The United Kingdom-Central America Association Agreement entered into force in January 2021. The agreement ensures continuity of commercial ties following Brexit and provides a framework for cooperation and investment.

El Salvador does not have a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States. El Salvador has one tax agreement with Spain, in effect since 2008.

El Salvador is a signatory of the Central American Mutual Assistance and Technical Cooperation Agreement in Tax and Customs Matters in force since 2012. On October 2018, El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly ratified the OECD Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters . The jurisdictions participating in the Convention can be found at:  www.oecd.org/ctp/exchange-of-tax-information/Status_of_convention.pdf

El Salvador became a member of the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes in 2011. The OECD published El Salvador’s Phase 1 peer review report, which demonstrates its commitment to international standards for tax transparency and exchange of information, in 2015. The Phase 2 peer review on implementation of the standards, published in 2016, concluded that El Salvador is “largely compliant.”

El Salvador is not a member of the OECD Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting.

In November 2020, El Salvador eliminated the Security Special Contribution on Large Taxpayers (CESC). Enacted in 2015, the CESC levied a five-percent tax on companies whose net income exceeded $500,000 to finance security measures, including the GOES’ Plan Control Territorial (Territorial Control Plan).

In May 2019, the legislature also approved an Authentic Interpretation of the Income Tax Law to clarify that energy distributors may deduct energy losses from the income tax, as energy losses are an unavoidable cost of distribution.  Prior to the authentic interpretation, tax authorities repeatedly imposed back taxes, interest, and penalties for improper deductions. Companies successfully challenged most of the tax assessments but had incurred legal costs and increased financial exposure.

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

El Salvador has successfully liberalized many sectors, though it maintains state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in energy generation and transmission, water supply and sanitation, ports and airports, and the national lottery (see chart below).

SOE 2022 Budgeted Revenue Number of Employees
National Lottery $51,553,600 148
State-run Electricity Company (CEL) $403,309,045 795
Water Authority (ANDA) $255,939,465 4,281
Port Authority (CEPA) $186,895,990 2,551

Although the GOES privatized energy distribution in 1999, it maintains significant energy production facilities through state-owned Rio Lempa Executive Hydroelectric Commission (CEL), a significant producer of hydroelectric and geothermal energy.

In October 2021, El Salvador’s legislature enacted the Creation Law of the Power, Hydrocarbons, and Mines General Directorate. The new General Directorate will be responsible for dictating the national energy policy and proposing amendments to energy legislation and by-laws, as well as implementing the energy policy. The law allows the President of the state-owned power company (CEL) to serve as the Director General of the new entity. The law will enter into force in November 2022. Industry stakeholders are concerned about the potential conflict of interest that would result from CEL making energy policy and participating in the sector as SOE.

The primary water service provider is the National Water and Sewer Administration (ANDA), which provides services to 96.6 percent of urban areas and 77 percent of rural areas in El Salvador.

The Autonomous Executive Port Commission (CEPA) operates both the seaports and the airports. CEL, ANDA, and CEPA Board Chairs hold Minister-level rank and report directly to the President.

The Law on Public Administration Procurement and Contracting (LACAP) covers all procurement of goods and services by all Salvadoran public institutions, including the municipalities. Exceptions to LACAP include: procurement and contracting financed with funds coming from other countries (bilateral agreements) or international bodies; agreements between state institutions; and the contracting of personal services by public institutions under the provisions of the Law on Salaries, Contracts and Day Work. Additionally, LACAP allows government agencies to use the auction system of the Salvadoran Goods and Services Market (BOLPROS) for procurement. Although BOLPROS is intended for use in purchasing standardized goods (e.g., office supplies, cleaning products, and basic grains), the GOES uses BOLPROS to procure a variety of goods and services, including high-value technology equipment and sensitive security equipment. As of October 2021, public procurement using BOLPROS totaled $157.1 million. The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) also support government agencies in the procurement of a wide range of infrastructure projects. Procurement for municipal infrastructure works is governed by the Simplified Procurement Law for Municipal Works in force since November 2021 and centralized in the National Directorate of Municipal works created by the Bukele administration to oversee investment in infrastructure and social projects in municipalities. The GOES has created a dedicated procurement website to publish tenders by government institutions. https://www.comprasal.gob.sv/comprasal_web/ ).

In August 2020, President Bukele signed an executive order allowing the submission of bids for contractual services via email and eliminating bidders’ obligation to register online with the public procurement system (Comprasal), as well as lifting the responsibility of procurement officers to keep a record of companies and individuals who receive tender documents. Transparency advocates and legal experts have noted that the order would decrease potential bidders’ ability to access and compete fairly for government tenders. The order is pending review in the Supreme Court of Justice, but without injunctive effect.

Alba Petroleos is a joint venture between a consortium of mayors from the FMLN party and a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA. As majority PDVSA owned, Alba Petroleos has been subject to Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctions since January 2019. Alba Petroleos operates a reduced number of gasoline service stations and businesses in other industries, including energy production, food production, convenience stores, and bus transportation. Alba Petroleos has been surrounded by allegations of mismanagement, corruption, and money laundering. Critics charged that the conglomerate received preferential treatment during FMLN governments and that its commercial practices, including financial reporting, are non-transparent. In May 2019, the Attorney General’s Office initiated an investigation against Alba Petroleos and its affiliates for money laundering. Alba Petroleos’ assets are frozen by court order and some of its gasoline service stations are being managed by the National Council for Asset Administration (CONAB).

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The private sector in El Salvador, including several prominent U.S. companies, has embraced the concept of responsible business conduct (RBC). Many companies donated to COVID-19 relief efforts in 2020. Several local foundations promote RBC practices, entrepreneurial values, and philanthropic initiatives. El Salvador is also a member of international institutions such as Forum Empresa (an alliance of RBC institutions in the Western Hemisphere), AccountAbility (UK), and the InterAmerican Corporate Social Responsibility Network. Businesses have created RBC programs to provide education and training, transportation, lunch programs, and childcare. In addition, RBC programs have included inclusive hiring practices and assistance to communities in areas such as health, education, senior housing, and HIV/AIDS awareness. Organizations monitoring RBC are able to work freely.

Following a reorganization under the Bukele administration, the Legal Secretariat is responsible for developing strategies and actions to promote transparency and accountability of government agencies, as well as fostering citizen participation in government. The watchdog organization Transparency International is represented in-country by the Salvadoran Foundation for Development (FUNDE).

El Salvador does not waive or weaken labor laws, consumer protection, or environmental regulations to attract foreign investment. El Salvador’s ability to enforce domestic laws effectively and fairly is limited by a lack of resources. El Salvador does not allow metal mining activity.

9. Corruption

U.S. companies operating in El Salvador are subject to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Corruption can be a challenge to investment in El Salvador. El Salvador ranks 115 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index. While El Salvador has laws, regulations, and penalties to combat corruption, their effectiveness is at times questionable. Soliciting, offering, or accepting a bribe is a criminal act in El Salvador. The Attorney General’s Anticorruption and Anti-Impunity Unit handles allegations of public corruption. The Constitution establishes a Court of Accounts that is charged with investigating public officials and entities and, when necessary, passing such cases to the Attorney General for prosecution. Executive-branch employees are subject to a code of ethics, including administrative enforcement mechanisms, and the government established an Ethics Tribunal in 2006.

In June 2021, El Salvador terminated its 2019 agreement with the organization of American States (OAS) to back the International Commission Against Impunity and Corruption (CICIES). CICIES audited pandemic spending in 2020. After receiving CICIES preliminary findings in November 2021, the Attorney General’s Office began criminal investigations in 17 government agencies for alleged procurement fraud and misuse of public funds. In May 2021, the Legislative Assembly passed the “Law for the Use of Products for Medical Treatments in Exceptional Public Health Situations Caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic” to protect vaccine manufacturers from liability, a precondition for Pfizer to sell vaccines to El Salvador. However, the law’s broad liability shield provisions, including civil and criminal immunity for a wide range of medical product manufacturers and healthcare providers, raised concerns about the future of investigations into fraudulent purchases of medical supplies and PPE. The law was subsequently amended in October 2021 to clarify there is no immunity for acts of corruption, fraud, bribery, theft, counterfeiting or piracy and trafficking of stolen goods. Even though the reforms removed some of the most controversial aspects of the bill, investigations stalled after the Attorney General appointed by the Bukele Administration removed prosecutors working on pandemic-related probe against GOES officials.

Corruption scandals at the federal, legislative, and municipal levels are commonplace and there have been credible allegations of judicial corruption. Three of the past four presidents have been indicted for corruption, a former Attorney General is in prison on corruption-related charges, and a former president of the Legislative Assembly, who also served as president of the investment promotion agency during the prior administration, faces charges for embezzlement, fraud, and money laundering. The former Minister of Defense during two FMLN governments is being prosecuted for providing illicit benefits to gangs in exchange for reducing homicides (an agreement known as the 2012-2014 Truce). In February 2020, the Attorney General’s Office indicted high-ranking members of the ARENA and FMLN parties under charges of conspiracy and electoral fraud for negotiating with gangs for political benefit during the run up to the 2014 presidential elections. In September 2020, the Attorney General’s Office launched a probe against the Director of Penal Centers, the Vice Minister of Justice, and the Chief of the Social Fabric Reconstruction Unit for covert dealings with gangs on a homicide reduction in exchange for better prison conditions. Since the appointment of the current Attorney General, the investigation into Bukele administration’s gang pacts has not progressed. U.S Treasury designated the two officials and Bukele’s Chief of Cabinet for financial sanctions in December 2021. The law provides criminal penalties for corruption, but implementation is generally perceived as ineffective. Former President Funes faces criminal charges for embezzlement, money laundering, and misappropriation of public funds. Although there are several pending arrest warrants against Funes, he has fled to Nicaragua and cannot be extradited because he was granted Nicaraguan citizenship. In 2018, former president Elias Antonio (Tony) Saca pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $300 million in public funds. The court sentenced him to 10 years in prison and ordered him to repay $260 million.

The NGO Social Initiative for Democracy stated that officials, particularly in the judicial system, often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Long-standing government practices in El Salvador, including cash payments to officials, shielded budgetary accounts, and diversion of government funds, facilitate corruption and impede accountability.  For example, the accepted practice of ensuring party loyalty through off-the-books cash payments to public officials (i.e., sobresueldos) persisted across five presidential administrations. President Bukele eliminated these cash payments to public officials and the “reserved spending account,” nominally for state intelligence funding. At his direction, in July 2019, the Court of Accounts began auditing reserve spending of the Sanchez Ceren administration. In July 2021, the Attorney General’s Office accused ten former FMLN legislators and former cabinet members who served in the Funes administration (2009-2014), including former President Salvador Sanchez, of money laundering, embezzlement, and illicit enrichment for allegedly receiving sobresueldos from the President’s Office reserved spending account.

El Salvador has an active, free press that reports on corruption. The Illicit Enrichment Law requires appointed and elected officials to declare their assets to the Probity Section. The declarations are not available to the public, and the law only sanctions noncompliance with fines of up to $500. In 2015, the Probity Section of the Supreme Court began investigating allegations of illicit enrichment of public officials. In 2017, Supreme Court Justices ordered its Probity Section to audit legislators and their alternates. In 2019, in observance of the Constitution, the Supreme Court instructed the Probity Section to focus its investigations only on public officials who left office within ten years. In 2020, the Supreme Court issued regulations to standardize the procedures to examine asset declarations of public officials and carry out illicit enrichment investigations, as well as to set clear rules for decision-making. At the end of 2021, the Probity Section had a total of 452 active investigations on illicit enrichment. Between 2015 and 2021, the office completed economic examinations in 58 cases, but the Supreme of Court recommended civil prosecution for illicit enrichment in only 21 of those cases. In an October 2021 interview, the President of the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court indicated that 127 illicit enrichment cases were nearing the end of the 10-year constitutional statute of limitations.

In 2011, El Salvador approved the Law on Access to Public Information. The law provides for the right of access to government information, but authorities have not always effectively implemented the law. The law gives a narrow list of exceptions that outline the grounds for nondisclosure and provide for a reasonably short timeline for the relevant authority to respond, no processing fees, and administrative sanctions for non-compliance. The Bukele administration has weakened the autonomy of the Access to Public Information Agency (IAIP) – charged with ensuring compliance with the law – by reforming IAIP’s regulations to increase the President’s Office control over the appointment of its commissioners. Enacted amendments also add requirements for accessing information, including for the release of restricted information. Civil society organizations claim it is common practice of the Bukele administration to declare information to be reserved (confidential) or deny information without justification and in violation of the law to avoid citizen oversight and accountability.

In 2011, El Salvador joined the Open Government Partnership. The Open Government Partnership promotes government commitments made jointly with civil society on transparency, accountability, citizen participation and use of new technologies ( http://www.opengovpartnership.org/country/el-salvador ).

10. Political and Security Environment

El Salvador’s 12-year civil war ended in 1992. Since then, there has been no political violence aimed at foreign investors.

The crime threat level in El Salvador is critical, with high rates of crime and violence. Most serious crimes in El Salvador are never solved. El Salvador lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases and to deter crime. For more information, visit: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/ElSalvador.html

El Salvador has thousands of known gang members from several gangs including Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street (M18). Gang members engage in violence or use deadly force if resisted. These “maras” concentrate on extortion, violent street crime, carjacking, narcotics and arms trafficking, and murder for hire. Extortion is a common crime in El Salvador. U.S. citizens who visit El Salvador for extended periods are at higher risk for extortion demands. Bus companies and distributors often must pay extortion fees to operate within gang territories, and these costs are passed on to customers. The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Index reported that costs due to organized crime for businesses in El Salvador are the highest among 141 countries.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

According to the National Directorate of Statistics and Censuses (DIGESTYC), in 2021 El Salvador had a labor force of about 2.9 million people. Female labor force participation remained low at 41.2 percent. Around 70 percent of the workers were employed in the informal sector. The number of people working in the informal sector increased during the pandemic due to high unemployment rates. These workers do not have access to government health and pension benefits, and according to the 2020-2021 Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development report, 63.9 percent of workers the informal sector belong to vulnerable groups, such as women, children, and the rural poor.

http://fusades.org/publicaciones/informe-de-coyuntura-social-2020-2021 

https://www.elsalvador.com/noticias/negocios/trabajo-informal-pocos-incentivos-alejan-salvadorenos-tener-pension/829945/2021/ )

Labor laws require 90 percent of the workforce in plants and in clerical positions be Salvadoran citizens. While Salvadoran labor is regarded as hard-working, general education and professional skill levels are low. According to many large employers, there is a lack of middle management-level talent, which sometimes results in the need to bring in managers from abroad. Employers do not report labor-related difficulties in incorporating technology into their workplaces.

The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, to strike, and to bargain collectively. The law also prohibits anti-union discrimination, although it does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Military personnel, national police, judges, and high-level public officers may not form or join unions. Workers who are representatives of the employer or in “positions of trust” also may not serve on a union’s board of directors. Only Salvadoran citizens may serve on unions’ executive committees. The labor code also bars individuals from holding membership in more than one trade union.

Unions must meet complex requirements to register, including having a minimum membership of 35 individuals. If the Ministry of Labor (MOL) denies registration, the law prohibits any attempt to organize for up to six months following the denial. Collective bargaining is obligatory only if the union represents most workers.

In 2021, some unions were concerned about the MOL’s delay in approving their organization’s credentials, required to continue operating as a union and to participate in various tripartite consultative committees between government, the private sector, and the unions. Without credentials, unions cannot participate in decision-making within tripartite committees on subjects such as worker social security benefits, minimum wage, housing, and other worker benefits. The members of the unions also lose their immunity from termination by their employers if their unions do not have credentials. As of January 2022, the MOL failed to grant credentials to more than 250 unions before their certifications expired. These unions represent workers in municipal, healthcare, education, and judicial trades, leaving these workers vulnerable to termination by their employers. The unions receiving their credentials quickly were those aligned with the political party of the Nuevas Ideas dominated government.

The law contains cumbersome and complex procedures for conducting a legal strike. The law does not recognize the right to strike for public and municipal employees or for workers in essential services. The law does not specify which services meet this definition, and courts therefore interpret this provision on a case-by-case basis. The law requires that 30 percent of all workers in an enterprise must support a strike for it to be legal and that 51 percent must support the strike before all workers are bound by the decision to strike. Unions may strike only to obtain or modify a collective bargaining agreement or to protect the common professional interests of the workers. They must also engage in negotiation, mediation, and arbitration processes before striking, although many unions often skip or expedite these steps. The law prohibits workers from appealing a government decision declaring a strike illegal.

The government did not effectively enforce the laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Penalties remained insufficient to deter violations. Judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. According to union representatives, the government inconsistently enforced labor rights for public workers, maquiladora/textile workers, food manufacturing workers, subcontracted workers in the construction industry, security guards, informal-sector workers, and migrant workers.

Unions functioned independently from the government and political parties, although many generally were aligned with the traditional political parties of ARENA and the FMLN. Workers at times engaged in strikes regardless of whether the strikes met legal requirements.

Employers are free to hire union or non-union labor. Closed shops are illegal. Labor laws are generally in accordance with internationally recognized standards but are not enforced consistently by government authorities. Although El Salvador has improved labor rights since the CAFTA-DR entered into force and the law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, there remains room for better implementation and enforcement.

The MOL is responsible for enforcing the law. The government proved more effective in enforcing the minimum wage law in the formal sector than in the informal sector. Unions reported the ministry failed to enforce the law for subcontracted workers hired for public reconstruction contracts. The government provided its inspectors updated training in both occupational safety and labor standards and conducted thousands of inspections in 2019.

The law sets a maximum normal workweek of 44 hours, limited to no more than six days and to no more than eight hours per day, but allows overtime, which is to be paid at a rate of double the usual hourly wage.  The law mandates that full-time employees receive pay for an eight-hour day of rest in addition to the 44-hour normal workweek. The law provides that employers must pay double time for work on designated annual holidays, a Christmas bonus based on the time of service of the employee, and 15 days of paid annual leave. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law states that domestic employees are obligated to work on holidays if their employer makes this request, but they are entitled to double pay in these instances. The government does not adequately enforce these laws.

There is no national minimum wage; the minimum wage is determined by sector. On July 1, 2021, the government announced an increase in the minimum wage by about 20 percent for all industries in the formal sector. This was implemented on August 1, 2021, resulting in a one-month implementation period for industry. The increase had no impact on the majority of workers because most are employed in the informal sector.

El Salvador adopted the Telework Regulation Law in March 2020. The law is applicable in both private and public sectors and requires a written agreement between employer and employee outlining the terms and conditions of the arrangement, including working hours, responsibilities, workload, performance evaluations, reporting and monitoring, and duration of the arrangement, among others. Legislation prescribes employers as responsible for providing the equipment, tools, and programs necessary to perform duties remotely. Employers are subject to the obligations contained in labor laws, while workers are entitled to the same rights as staff working at the employer’s premises, including benefits and freedom of association.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $27,022.64 2019 $27,023 https://data.worldank.org/country/el-salvador
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $2,104.22 2019 $3,413 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=209
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 N.A. 2019 N.A. BEA data available at
http://bea.gov/international/direct_
investment_multinational_companies_
comprehensive_data.htm
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020  40.9% 2020 N.A,

* Central Bank, El Salvador. In 2018, the Central Bank released GDP estimates using the new national accounts system from 2008 and using 2005 as the base year.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (2020)*
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 10,075 100% Total Outward 3.1 100%
Panama 3,656 36.3% Guatemala 1.6 49.5%
 United States 2,104 20.9% Honduras 0.8 24.3%
Spain 1,339 13.3% Costa Rica 0.5 17.3%
Colombia 833 8.3% Nicaragua 0.3 8.9%
Mexico 670 6.7%      
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

*Coordinated Direct Investment Survey, International Monetary Fund 

14. Contact for More Information

Aaron Feit
Deputy Economic Counselor
U.S. Embassy San Salvador
Address: Final Blvd. Santa Elena, Antiguo Cuscatlán, La Libertad, El Salvador
Phone: +503 2501-2999
Email: FeitAL@state.gov

To reach the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service (FCS) Office, please email: Office.Sansalvador@trade.gov 

Guatemala

Executive Summary

Guatemala has the largest economy in Central America, with a $ 85.9 billion gross domestic product (GDP) in 2021. The economy grew by an estimated 7.5 percent in 2021 following a 1.5 percent retraction in 2020. Remittances, mostly from the United States, increased by 34.9 percent in 2021 and were equivalent to 17.8 percent of GDP. The United States is Guatemala’s most important economic partner. The Guatemalan government continues to make efforts to enhance competitiveness, promote investment opportunities, and work on legislative reforms aimed at supporting economic growth. More than 200 U.S. and other foreign firms have active investments in Guatemala, benefitting from the U.S. Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). Foreign direct investment (FDI) stock was $21.4 billion in 2021, a 21.9 percent increase over 2020. FDI flows increased by 272.6 percent in 2021 mostly due to the purchase of outstanding shares of a local company by a foreign telecommunications company. Some of the activities that attracted most of the FDI flows in the last three years were information and communications, financial and insurance activities, manufacturing, commerce and vehicle repair, water, electricity, and sanitation services.

Despite steps to improve Guatemala’s investment climate, international companies choosing to invest in Guatemala face significant challenges. Complex laws and regulations, inconsistent judicial decisions, bureaucratic impediments, and corruption continue to impede investment.

Citing Guatemala’s CAFTA-DR obligations, the United States has raised concerns with the Guatemalan government regarding its enforcement of both its labor and environmental laws.

Guatemala’s Climate Change Framework Law established the groundwork for Guatemala’s Low Emission Development Strategy (LEDS) and is designed to align Guatemala’s emissions and development targets with national planning documents in six sectors: energy, transportation, industry, land use, agriculture, and waste management. In November 2020, the Guatemala government endorsed the LEDS as the country’s official strategy for climate change mitigation.

As part of the government’s efforts to promote economic recovery during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Economy (MINECO) began implementing an economic recovery plan in September 2020, which focuses on recovering lost jobs and generating new jobs, attracting new strategic investment, and promoting consumption of Guatemalan goods and services locally and globally.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 150 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 101 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 USD 789 https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 4,490 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Guatemala has three main state-owned enterprises: The National Electricity Institute (INDE) and two state-owned ports, Santo Tomas on the Caribbean coast, and Port Quetzal on the Pacific coast. INDE is a state-owned electricity company responsible for expanding the provision of electricity to rural communities. INDE owns approximately 14 percent of the country’s installed effective generation capacity, and it participates in the wholesale market under the same rules as its competitors. It also provides a subsidy to consumers of up to 88 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per month. Its board of directors comprises representatives from the government, municipalities, business associations, and labor unions. The board of directors appoints the general manager. The Guatemalan President appoints Santo Tomas Ports’ board of directors, and the board of directors appoints the general manager. The Guatemalan President also appoints the president of Port Quetzal’s board, and the president of the board appoints the general manager. The Guatemalan government also appoints the manager of state-owned telephone company GUATEL, which split off from the fixed-line telephone company during the 1998 privatization program. GUATEL’s operations are small, and it continuously fails to generate sufficient revenue to cover expenses. The GUATEL director reports to the Guatemalan President and to the board of directors.

The Guatemalan government currently owns 16 percent of the shares of the Rural Development Bank (Banrural), the second largest bank in Guatemala, and holds 3 out of 10 seats on its board of directors. Banrural is a mixed capital company and operates under the same laws and regulations as other commercial banks.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is a general awareness of expectations of standards for responsible business conduct (RBC) on the part of producers and service providers, as well as Guatemalan business chambers. A local organization called the Center for Socially Responsible Business Action (CentraRSE) promotes, advocates, and monitors RBC in Guatemala. They operate freely with multiple partner organizations, ranging from private sector to United Nations entities. CentraRSE currently has over 100 affiliated companies from 20 different sectors that provide employment to over 150,000 individuals. CentraRSE defines RBC as a business culture based on ethical principles, strong law enforcement, and respect for individuals, families, communities, and the environment, which contributes to businesses competitiveness, general welfare, and sustainable development. The Guatemalan government did not have a definition of RBC as of March 2022. Guatemala joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in February 2011 and was designated EITI compliant in March 2014. The EITI board suspended Guatemala in February 2019 for failing to publish the 2016 EITI report and the 2017 annual progress report by the December 31, 2018 deadline. Guatemala published the 2016-2017 EITI report and the 2017 annual progress report in February and March 2019. The EITI board suspended Guatemala again in January 2020 after deciding that Guatemala has made inadequate progress in implementing the 2016 EITI standard. The EITI board requested Guatemala to undertake corrective actions before a second validation related to the requirements started on July 23, 2021. On December 24, 2020, the EITI board postponed the date to start Guatemala’s second validation process to April 1, 2022. Guatemala published the 2018-2020 EITI report in November 2021 but remained suspended as of March 2022.

The State Department has recognized U.S. companies such as McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Denimatrix for corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs in Guatemala that aimed to foster safe and productive workplaces as well as provide health and education programs to workers, their families, and local communities. Communities with low levels of government funding for health, education, and infrastructure generally expect companies to implement CSR practices.

Conflict surrounding certain industrial projects – in particular mining and hydroelectric projects – is frequent, and there have been several cases of violence against protestors in the recent past, including several instances of murder. On October 24, 2021, President Alejandro Giammattei declared a State of Siege in El Estor as dozens of protestors, including environmental defenders, indigenous activists, and outside agitators blocked coal trucks from accessing a nickel mine and clashed with National Police (PNC). Media reported that the government maintained a force of 500 police and military in El Estor during the 30-day State of Siege to carry out patrols, manage vehicle checkpoints, and conduct raids. Indigenous leaders, journalists, and civil society organizations alleged that they faced arbitrary detentions and persecution for participating in anti-mining protests. Lack of clarity over indigenous consultations continues to impact Guatemala’s investment climate. On December 10, 2021, the government declared the successful conclusion of the ILO consultations with those indigenous groups they designated as participants in the consultation process for the nickel mine. The community’s self-determined governance structure, the Ancestral Council of Q’eqchi Peoples, was excluded from the consultations, and critics claimed that the government purposely neglected to include the group.

9. Corruption

Bribery is illegal under Guatemala’s Penal Code. Guatemala scored 25 out of 100 points on Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perception Index, ranking it 150 out of 180 countries globally, and 28 out of 32 countries in the region. The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the Public Ministry (MP) prosecuted very few government corruption cases.

Investors find corruption pervasive in government procurement, including payment of bribes in exchange for awarding public construction contracts. Investors and importers are frequently frustrated by opaque customs transactions, particularly at ports and borders. The Tax and Customs Authority (SAT) launched a customs modernization program in 2006, which implemented an advanced electronic manifest system and resulted in the removal of many corrupt officials. However, reports of corruption within customs’ processes remain. In 2021, SAT implemented additional customs reforms that route flagged shipments to a dedicated secondary inspection team for resolution, rather than assigning the case to the original inspector. The change eliminates opportunity for an inspector to impose deliberate delays.

From 2006 to 2019, the UN-sponsored International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) undertook numerous high-profile official corruption investigations, leading to significant indictments. For example, CICIG unveiled a customs corruption scheme in 2015 that led to the resignations of the former president and vice president. Since then-President Morales terminated CICIG in 2019 and actions by Attorney General Consuelo Porras to impede anti-corruption prosecutors, impunity has increased and poses significant risks for potential new investors.

Guatemala’s Government Procurement Law requires most government purchases over $116,363 to be submitted for public competitive bidding. Since March 2004, Guatemalan government entities are required to use Guatecompras ( https://www.guatecompras.gt/ ), an Internet-based electronic procurement system to track government procurement processes. Guatemalan government entities must also comply with government procurement commitments under CAFTA-DR. In August 2009, the Guatemalan congress approved reforms to the Government Procurement Law, which simplified bidding procedures; eliminated the fee previously charged to receive bidding documents; and provided an additional opportunity for suppliers to raise objections over the bidding process. Despite these reforms, large government procurements are often subject to appeals and injunctions based on claims of irregularities in the bidding process (e.g., documentation issues and lack of transparency). In November 2015, the Guatemalan congress approved additional amendments to the Government Procurement Law that tried to improve the transparency of the procurement processes by barring government contracts for some financers of political campaigns and parties, members of congress, other elected officials, government workers, and their immediate family members. However, there continue to be multiple allegations corruption and nepotism in the procurement process. The 2015 reforms expanded the scope of procurement oversight to include public trust funds and all institutions (including NGOs) executing public funds. The U.S. government continues to advocate for the use of open, fair, and transparent tenders in government procurement as well as procedures that comply with CAFTA-DR obligations, which would allow open participation by U.S. companies.

Guatemala ratified the U.N. Convention against Corruption in November 2006, and the Inter-American Convention against Corruption in July 2001. Guatemala is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. In October 2012, the Guatemalan congress approved an anti-corruption law that increased penalties for existing crimes and added new crimes such as illicit enrichment, trafficking in influence, and illegal charging of commissions.

10. Political and Security Environment

According to the National Civil Police (PNC), the murder rate in 2020 dropped 28 percent – from 20.8 per 100,000 to 15 per 100,000, compared to 2019, continuing a downward trend in recent years. The Guatemalan government attributed the general decline in violence to the economic downturn during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, including interdepartmental travel restrictions and the prohibition of most alcohol sales. The murder rate increased to 16.6 per 100,000 in 2021, a 9 percent increase compared to 2020. Rule of law is a challenge and the judicial system is faces significant delays in case processing and inefficiency. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents. Major criminal groups operating in Guatemala are involved in a number of illicit activities, including violent street crime, drug trafficking, kidnaping, extortion, arms trafficking, illegal adoption rings, and environmental crimes. Although security remains a concern, foreigners are not usually singled out as targets of crime.

The political climate in Guatemala, marked by its 36 years of armed conflict, is characterized by periodic civil disturbances. For example, in October 2021, President Alejandro Giammattei declared a State of Siege in El Estor as dozens of protestors, including environmental defenders, indigenous activists, and outside agitators blocked coal trucks from accessing a nickel mine and allegedly clashed with National Police (PNC) forces who attempted to clear the road for mining traffic. Protests and highway roadblocks organized by transportation workers and military veterans have caused disruption and heightened security, impacting general mobility and traffic condition, on a recurring basis in recent years.

In November 2020 civil unrest sparked by congressional approval of the 2021 budget proposal, which added to long-standing grievances. Largely peaceful protests were marred by isolated acts of vandalism and violence, including fire damage to the national congress building, as well as acts of violence by both security forces against some protestors and by some protestors against security forces. The main source of tension among indigenous communities, Guatemalan authorities, and private companies is the lack of prior consultation and alleged environmental damage.

Damage to projects or installations is rare. However, there were instances in October 2018 and January 2019 in which unidentified arsonists burned machinery and other equipment at the site of a hydroelectric construction project near the northern border with Mexico. Additionally, activist groups at times have engaged in blockades to prevent personnel, materials, and equipment from entering or leaving disputed installations.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

According to the 2021 national survey of employment and income, the Guatemalan workforce consists of an estimated 2.1 million individuals employed in the formal sector. Additionally, roughly 5.1 million individuals, or 70.8 percent of the total workforce, work in the informal sector, including some who are too young for formal sector employment. According to the 2017 Survey on Employment and Income, the most recent survey with child labor data available, child labor, particularly in rural areas, remains a serious problem in certain economic activities. The informal economy represented 22 percent of GDP in 2019 according to official data. About 75.7 percent of female workers and 84.9 percent of indigenous workers were employed in the informal sector. Approximately 30 percent of the total labor force is engaged in agricultural work. The availability of a large, unskilled, and inexpensive labor force led many employers, such as construction and agricultural firms, to use labor-intensive production methods. Roughly, 14 percent of the employed workforce is illiterate. In developed urban areas, however, education levels are much higher, and a workforce with the skills necessary to staff a growing service sector emerged. Even so, highly capable technical and managerial workers remain in short supply, with secondary and tertiary education focused on social science careers. The Ministry of Labor issued a regulation in March 2022 that requires recruiters of Guatemalans being employed outside of Guatemala to be registered and to comply with all the requirements related to contracts established in Article 34 of the Labor Code.

No special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws cover export-processing zones. The Ministry of Labor issued a regulation in December 2021 that allows to set different minimum wages for two economic regions of the country starting in 2023. In July 2021, the Constitutional Court revoked the provisional suspension of the Ministry of Labor’s agreement on part-time work, based on ILO Convention 175, which enabled companies to hire workers for six hours or fewer per workday for wages equivalent to the fraction of full time work they complete.

The Labor Code requires that at least 90 percent of employees be Guatemalan, but the requirement does not apply to high-level positions, such as managers and directors. The Labor Code sets out: employer responsibilities regarding working conditions, especially health and safety standards; benefits; severance pay; premium pay for overtime work; minimum wages; and bonuses. Mandatory benefits, bonuses, and employer contributions to the social security system can add up to about 55 percent of an employee’s base pay. However, many workers, especially in the agricultural sector, do not receive the full compensation package mandated in the labor law. All employees are subject to a two-month trial period during which time they may resign or be discharged without any obligation on the part of the employer or employee. For any dismissal after the two-month trial period, the employer must pay unpaid wages for work already performed, proportional bonuses, and proportional vacation time. If an employer dismisses an employee without just cause, the employer must also pay severance equal to one month’s regular pay for each full year of employment. Guatemala does not have unemployment insurance or other social safety net programs for workers laid off for economic reasons.

Guatemala’s Constitution guarantees the right of workers to unionize and to strike, with an exception to the right to strike for security force members and workers employed in hospitals, telecommunications, and other public services considered essential to public safety. Before a strike can be declared, workers and employers must engage in mandatory conciliation and then approve a strike vote by 50 percent plus one worker in the enterprise. If conciliation fails, either party may ask the judge for a ruling on the legality of conducting a strike or lockout. Legal strikes in Guatemala are extremely rare. The Constitution also commits the state to support and protect collective bargaining and holds that international labor conventions ratified by Guatemala establish the minimum labor rights of workers if they offer greater protections than national law. In most cases, labor unions operate independently of the government and employers both by law and in practice. The law requires unions to register with the Ministry of Labor and their leadership must obtain credentials to carry out their functions. Delays in such proceedings are common. The law prohibits anti-union discrimination and employer interference in union activities and requires employers to reinstate workers dismissed for organizing union activities. A combination of inadequate allocation of budget resources for labor rights enforcement to the Ministry of Labor and other relevant state institutions, and inefficient administrative and justice sector processes, act as significant impediments for more effective enforcement of labor laws to protect these workers’ rights. As a result, investigating, prosecuting, and punishing employers who violate these guarantees remain a challenge, particularly the enforcement of labor court orders requiring reinstatement and payment of back wages resulting from dismissal. The rate of unionization in Guatemala is very low.

Both the U.S. government and Guatemalan workers have filed complaints against the Guatemalan government for allegedly failing to adequately enforce its labor laws and protect the rights of workers. In September 2014, the U.S. government convened an arbitration panel alleging that Guatemala had failed to meet its obligations under CAFTA-DR to enforce effectively its labor laws related to freedom of association and collective bargaining and acceptable conditions of work. The panel held a hearing in June 2015 and issued a decision favorable to Guatemala in June 2017. Separately, the Guatemalan government faced an International Labor Organization (ILO) complaint filed by workers in 2012 alleging that the government had failed to comply with ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association. The complaint called for the establishment of an ILO Commission of Inquiry, which is the ILO’s highest level of scrutiny when all other means failed to address issues of concern. In 2013, the Guatemalan government agreed to a roadmap with social partners in an attempt to avoid the establishment of a Commission. The government took some steps to implement its roadmap, including the enactment of legislation in 2017 that restored administrative sanction authority to the labor inspectorate for the first time in 15 years. As part of a tripartite agreement reached at the ILO in November 2017, a National Tripartite Commission on Labor Relations and Freedom of Association was established in February 2018 to monitor and facilitate implementation of the 2013 roadmap. Based in large part on the 2017 tripartite agreement, the ILO Governing Body closed the complaint against Guatemala in November 2018.

14. Contact for More Information

John Szypula
szypulaj@state.gov
Trade and Investment Officer
U.S. Embassy Guatemala
Av. Reforma 7-01 Zona 10, Guatemala
(502) 2326-4000

Honduras

Executive Summary

Honduras contains all the ingredients for a thriving, prosperous economy: strategic location next to U.S. markets with a deep-water port, a rich endowment of natural resources, breathtaking tourist destinations, and hard-working people, including a significant cadre of skilled labor. Despite these advantages, per capita income in Honduras is the third lowest in all Latin America. Investors cite corruption, crime, and poor infrastructure and weak or nonexistent rule of law as the primary reasons that Honduras does not attract more of the private investment it needs to stimulate inclusive economic growth. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), real Honduran GDP grew by 12.5 percent in 2021, a rebound from the devastating effects in 2020 of the COVID-19 pandemic and twin hurricanes Eta and Iota. The IMF predicts the economy will grow by 3.8 percent in 2022.

The 2022 inauguration of Honduras first woman president, Xiomara Castro, marked the beginning of a new era in the country’s political economy. The participation of U.S. Vice President Harris at President Castro’s inauguration exemplified the strong U.S. commitment to Honduras. The two countries have committed to work jointly to address the root causes of migration, including by combating corruption and expanding economic opportunity. Since taking office, the Castro administration has launched initiatives to reduce corruption, improve education and public health, and create jobs.

These laudable efforts have been frustrated by fiscal challenges, including budget planning and debt management. Although the United States and international organizations including the IMF assess Honduras as low risk for debt distress, public messaging from the administration announcing a fiscal crisis roiled international bond markets, driving up the risk premium on Honduran debt. To address these budget shortfalls, the government announced it will utilize its foreign reserves to finance operations, which could put additional inflationary pressure on the economy. To help Honduras implement its social agenda without increasing its debt burden, the United States has begun a debt management technical assistance program with the Ministry of Finance.

In both public and private, the Castro administration emphasizes the need for job creation and private investment in Honduras. The government approved a new law in 2022 to facilitate the development and formalization of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). The government’s Results-Based Governance system and other anti-corruption efforts are excellent examples of efforts to improve the investment climate. From the perspective of the private sector, however, these efforts have been overshadowed by policy decisions that have dramatically increased the uncertainty of investment returns. Chief among these was the May 2022 approval of a new energy law that threatens power generators with forced sale at a “just price” if they do not reduce their tariffs to the government’s satisfaction. The law provides no guarantee of future payment, stipulates that new energy investment must be majority state-owned, and all but eliminates private trade in energy. As a result of the new law, several private energy companies have discontinued planned projects in Honduras and are exploring investment opportunities in other countries in the region.

The Castro administration also eliminated the special economic zones known as “ZEDEs” by their initials in Spanish. The ZEDEs were broadly unpopular, including with much of the private sector, and viewed as a vector for corruption. Rather than pursuing reforms or seeking dialogue with the ZEDE investors, by eliminating the frameworks without any regard for the protections afforded the investors under the U.S.-Honduras Bilateral Investor Treaty (BIT) or the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), the government has exposed itself to potentially significant liability and fueled concerns about the government’s commitment to commercial rule of law.

Another government policy contributing to uncertainty in the investment climate has been the elimination of the legal framework used by most businesses to employ per-hour workers. The law’s repeal fulfilled a Castro campaign promise, responding to criticism by labor unions that temporary work allowed companies to evade their social security obligations and exploit workers. Business representatives note, however, that many industries, including retail, tourism, and food service rely heavily on hourly labor and will be constrained by the new framework. Civil society representatives also point out that the change adversely affects women and students, who relied on hourly work to manage households and school schedules, although union leaders counter that the previous framework allowed employers to target women and young people for economic exploitation, given that their personal circumstances often do not allow them to take on full-time employment.

Many foreign investors in Honduras operate thriving enterprises. At the same time, all investors face challenges including unreliable and expensive electricity, corruption, unpredictable tax application and enforcement, high crime, low education levels, and poor infrastructure. Squatting on private land is an increasingly severe problem in Honduras and anti-squatting laws are poorly enforced. Continued low-level protests and strikes are additional concerns for private investors.

Despite these setbacks, over 200 American companies operate businesses in Honduras. Honduras enjoys preferential market access to the United States under CAFTA-DR, which has allowed for the development of intra-industry trade in textiles and electrical machinery, among other sectors. The proximity to the United States and established supply chain linkages means that opportunities exist to increase nearshoring sourcing to meet U.S. demand for a variety of goods. The White House “Call to Action to Deepen Investment in the Northern Triangle” is designed to coordinate increased U.S. investment in the region, including Honduras. This program, along with others, aims to support sustained and inclusive economic development in Honduras and surrounding countries.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 157 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
Global Innovation Index 2021 108 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 USD 1,111 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 2180 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Most state-owned enterprises are in telecommunications, electricity, water utilities, banking, and commercial ports. The main state-owned Honduran telephone company, Hondutel, has private contracts with eight foreign and domestic carriers. The GOH has yet to establish a legal framework for foreign companies to obtain licenses and concessions to provide long distance and international calling. As a result, investors remain unsure if they can become fully independent telecommunication service providers.

The state-owned National Electric Energy Company (ENEE) is the single largest contributor to the country’s fiscal deficit. Due to years of mismanagement and corruption, ENEE loses over $30 million every month and its debt amounts to more than 10 percent of Honduran GDP. With the May 2022 energy law, the government has reversed energy reform legislation that called for the separation of ENEE into three independent units for distribution, transmission, and generation. The law also weakened the electricity regulator and eliminated the independent systems operator. Electricity subsector experts say that dispatch decisions have become much less transparent since the elimination of the systems operator, a disincentive for new investment. The electrical subsector faces serious structural problems, including high electricity system losses, a transmission system in need of upgrades, vulnerability of generation costs to volatile international oil prices, an electricity tariff that does not reflect actual costs, and the high costs of long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs), which have often been awarded directly to companies with political connections instead of via a fair and transparent tendering and procurement process. Many businesses have installed on-site power generation systems to supplement or substitute for power from ENEE due to frequent blackouts and high tariffs.

Honduran law grants municipalities the right to manage water distribution and to grant concessions to private enterprises. Major cities with public-private concessions include San Pedro Sula, Puerto Cortes, and Choloma. The state water authority National Autonomous Aqueduct and Sewer Service (SANAA) manages Tegucigalpa’s water distribution. Persistent water shortages are another constraint on private enterprise in Honduras, especially during the spring dry season. The Honduran National Port Company (ENP) is the state-owned organization that oversees management of the country’s government-operated maritime ports, including Puerto Cortes, La Ceiba, Puerto Castilla, and San Lorenzo. Private companies Central American Port Operators and Maritime Ports of Honduras have 30-year concessions to operate container and bulk shipping facilities at Honduras’ principal port Puerto Cortes.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Awareness of the importance of Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) is growing among both producers and consumers in Honduras. An increasing number of local and foreign companies operating in Honduras include conduct-related responsibility practices in their business strategies. The Honduran Corporate Social Responsibility Foundation (FUNDAHRSE) has become a strong proponent in its efforts to promote transparency in the business climate and provides the Honduran private sector, particularly small- and medium-sized businesses, with the skills to engage in responsible business practices. FUNDAHRSE’s approximately 110 members can apply for the foundation’s “Corporate Social Responsibility Enterprise” seal for exemplary responsible business conduct involving work in areas related to health, education, environment, codes of ethics, employment relations, and responsible marketing.

RBC related to the environment and outreach to local communities is especially important to the success of investment projects in Honduras. Several major foreign investment projects in Honduras have stalled due to concerns about environmental impact, land rights issues, lack of transparency, and problematic consultative processes with local communities, particularly indigenous communities. Although the International Labor Organization Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples was ratified by the GOH in 1995 and Honduras voted in favor of UN’s Indigenous People’s rights in 2007, there is still much to do in the area. There is still a need for foreign investors to build trust with local communities, while employing international best practices and standards to reduce the risk of conflict and promote sustainable and equitable development.

Examples of international best practices include the following:

Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights Initiative

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

9. Corruption

In February 2022, President Castro fulfilled her campaign promise to request support from the UN for an international anti-corruption commission (CICIH).  A UN Technical Assistance Mission visited Honduras in May 2022 to begin work on the request.  The commission would continue the work started by the OAS Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) which left Honduras in 2020 after the former administration failed to renew its mandate. Though details are still under discussion, the commission would likely fill an investigative and prosecutorial role similar to MACCIH. Its mandate would likely extend beyond the current administration.  Several risks remain; notably, a broad amnesty law passed in February 2022 that would prevent the commission from investigating a significant number of cases, and unclear financing for the commission.

U.S. businesses and citizens report corruption in the public sector and the judiciary is a significant constraint to investment in Honduras.  Historically, corruption has been pervasive in government procurement, issuance of government permits, customs, real estate transactions (particularly land title transfers), performance requirements, and the regulatory system.  Civil society groups are critical of recent legislation granting qualified immunity to government officials and a 2019 law that gave the highly politicized government audit agency a first look at corruption cases.  Congress repealed the latter in 2022.  In 2018, Congress passed a revision of the 1984 penal code that lowered penalties for some corruption offenses. The new code went into effect in June 2020 and was retroactively applied to several high-profile corruption cases resulting in a spate of dismissals and retrials.  In late 2020, the GOH created a new Ministry of Transparency to act as the government’s lead institution in coordinating and implementing efforts to promote transparency and integrity and prevent government corruption. The Castro government further institutionalized the ministry’s anti-corruption mandate, naming it the Ministry of Transparency and the Fight against Corruption. The Castro administration’s Government by Results initiative should pay off in decreased vulnerability to corruption, and the ministers of Health and Economic Development both signed cooperation agreements with the country’s Anticorruption Council.

Honduras’s Rankings on Key Corruption Indicators:

Measure Year Index/Ranking
TI Corruption Index 2021 23/100, 157 of 180
MCC Government Effectiveness FY 2022 -0.12 (35 percent)
MCC Rule of Law FY 2022 -0.42 (10 percent)
MCC Control of Corruption FY 2022 -0.40 (16 percent)

The United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) deems it unlawful for a U.S. person, and certain foreign issuers of securities to make corrupt payments to foreign public officials for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business for directing business to any person. The FCPA also applies to foreign firms and persons who take any act in furtherance of such a corrupt payment while in the United States. For more information, see the FCPA Lay-Person’s Guide:  http://www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/  .

Honduras ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention in December 2005. The UN Convention requires countries to establish criminal penalties for a wide range of acts of corruption. The UN Convention covers a broad range of issues from basic forms of corruption such as bribery and solicitation, embezzlement, trading in influence, and the concealment and laundering of the proceeds of corruption. The UN Convention contains transnational business bribery provisions that are functionally similar to those in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Anti-Bribery Convention.

Honduras ratified the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (OAS Convention) in1998. The OAS Convention establishes a set of preventive measures against corruption; provides for the criminalization of certain acts of corruption, including transnational bribery and illicit enrichment; and contains a series of provisions to strengthen the cooperation between its states’ parties in areas such as mutual legal assistance and technical cooperation.

10. Political and Security Environment

Crime and violence rates remain high and add cost and constraint to investments. Demonstrations occur regularly in Honduras and political uncertainty poses a challenge to ongoing stability.

U.S. citizens should be aware that large public gatherings might become unruly or violent quickly. For more information, consult the Department of State’s latest travel warning:  https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Honduras.html.

Although violent crime remains a persistent problem, Honduras has successfully reduced homicides to less than 40 per 100,000 inhabitants. Cases of violence, extortion, and kidnapping are still relatively common, particularly in urban areas where gang presence is more pervasive. Drug traffickers continue to use Honduras as a transit point for cocaine and other narcotics en route to the United States and Europe, which fuels local turf battles in some areas and injects illicit funds into judicial proceedings and local governance structures to distort justice. The business community historically had been a target for ransom kidnappings, but the number of such kidnappings dropped from 92 in 2013 to 15 in 2021, primarily through the work of the USG-supported Honduran National Police National Anti-Kidnapping Unit. Although violent crime rates are trending downward, corruption and white-collar crime, including money laundering, negatively affect economic prosperity and stability for the business community.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The Honduran Labor Law prescribes a maximum eight-hour workday, 44-hour workweek, and at least one 24-hour rest period per week. The Labor Code provides for paid national holidays and annual leave. Most employment sectors also receive two one-month bonuses as part of the base salary, known as the 13th and 14th month salary, issued in mid-December and mid-June, respectively. New hires receive a prorated amount based on time-in-service during their first year of employment. The Labor Code requires companies to pay one month’s salary to employees terminated without cause. Companies do not owe severance to employees who resign or are terminated for cause. Employees terminated for cause can contest the basis for the termination in court to claim severance. There are no government-provided unemployment benefits in Honduras, although unemployed individuals may have access to their accumulated pension funds.

As mentioned above, in April 2022, President Castro signed the repeal of the Hourly Employment Law. Labor groups had alleged that some employers used hourly contracts to avoid responsibility for severance, provide employee benefits, and prevent union formation. The repeal did not stipulate the process for transitioning employees from hourly to salaried, but it did prevent the termination of employees.

The Secretariat of Labor and Social Security (SETRASS) is responsible for registering collective bargaining agreements. The Labor Code prohibits the employment of persons under the age of 14. Minors between the ages of 14 and 18 must receive special permission from SETRASS to work. The majority of the violations of the labor-related provisions of the children’s code occur in the agricultural sector and informal economy.

While Honduran labor law closely mirrors International Labor Organization standards, the U.S. Department of Labor has raised serious concerns regarding the effective enforcement of Honduran labor laws. Labor organizations allege the SETRASS fails to enforce labor laws, including laws on the right to form unions, reinstating employees unjustly fired for union activities, child labor, minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health. A 2015 U.S. Department of Labor report provided recommendations to address labor concerns in Honduras and called for a monitoring and action plan (MAP) to improve labor law enforcement in Honduras following a 2012 submission brought under the labor chapter of CAFTA-DR. While the government has made significant progress toward addressing areas of concern, outstanding issues to completing the Honduran government’s obligations under the MAP include resolution of emblematic collective bargaining cases and the enforcement and collection of fines for labor violations.

The U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices describes a number of labor and human rights compliance issues that affect the Honduran labor market: https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/honduras/. These include employers’ anti-union discrimination, refusal to engage in collective bargaining, and employer control of unions.

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Counselor
Scott Hansen
U.S. Embassy
Avenida La Paz  Tegucigalpa, M.D.C.
hansensw@state.gov

Nicaragua

Executive Summary

Investors should be extremely cautious about investing in Nicaragua. The regime of President Ortega and Vice President Murillo continues to suspend constitutionally guaranteed civil rights, detain political prisoners, and disregard the rule of law, creating an unpredictable investment climate rife with reputational risk and arbitrary regulation.

President Ortega awarded himself a fourth consecutive term in November 2021 after arbitrarily jailing opposition figures, barring all credible opposition political parties from participating in elections, blocking legitimate international election observation efforts, and committing widespread electoral fraud. Through a sham judicial process, regime-controlled courts subsequently convicted more than 40 political prisoners – including all of those who aspired to run against Ortega as presidential candidates – on vague, spurious charges. The Ortega-Murillo regime has also targeted the independent media and journalists and in 2021 seized La Prensa, Nicaragua’s only print newspaper. Independent universities have faced invasive governmental investigations and extreme budget cuts, causing 14 university closures. The regime-controlled National Assembly subsequently took control of six universities, leaving 30,000 students in limbo.

In 2020, the National Assembly approved six repressive laws that alarmed investors. Some of the most concerning include: a gag law that criminalizes political speech; a foreign agents law that requires organizations and individuals to report foreign assistance and prevents any person receiving foreign funding from running for office; and a consumer protection law that could prevent financial institutions from making independent decisions on whether to service financial clients, including OFAC-sanctioned entities. Tax authorities have seized properties following reportedly arbitrary tax bills and jailed individuals without due process until taxes were negotiated and paid. Arbitrary fines and customs inspections prejudice foreign companies that import products.

In response to the Ortega-Murillo regime’s deepening authoritarianism, almost all international financial institutions have stopped issuing new loans to Nicaragua, and external financing will fall sharply beyond 2022. The regime is publicly betting that a new economic partnership with the People’s Republic of China – following a break in diplomatic relations with Taiwan and establishment of ties with China in December 2021 – will provide fresh investment and financing to make up for its growing isolation.

Nicaragua’s economic forecast is uncertain and subject to downside risks. Independent economists predict Nicaragua’s economic growth will slow considerably to a rate of less than 3 percent in 2022. Growth in 2021 was unexpectedly high at more than 9 percent but followed three years of contractions from 2018 to 2020. Official estimates from the Nicaraguan Central Bank project growth between 4 and 5 percent in 2022. Inflation increased to 7 percent in 2021. The number of Nicaraguans insured through social security, a measure of the robustness of the formal economy, remains 6 percent below 2018 levels. After several years of very low activity, Nicaragua’s credit market began expanding in 2021. The uncertainty surrounding the government’s 2019 tax reforms – and multiple years of still-unresolved legal challenges – continue to pause companies’ plans for expansion or reinvestment.

Nicaragua’s economy still has significant potential for growth if investor confidence can be restored by strengthening institutions and improving the rule of law. Its assets include: ample natural resources; a well-developed agricultural sector; an organized and sophisticated private sector committed to a free economy; ready access to major shipping lanes; and a young, low-cost labor force that supports the manufacturing sector. The United States is Nicaragua’s largest trading partner – it is the source of roughly one quarter of Nicaragua’s imports, and the destination of approximately two-thirds of Nicaragua’s exports.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 164 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index N/A N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) N/A N/A https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 1,850 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

It is virtually impossible to identify the number of companies that the Nicaraguan government owns or controls, because they are not subject to any regular audit or accounting measures and are not fully captured by the national budget or in other public documents. Beyond the official state-owned enterprises (SOE), which are not transparent or subject to oversight, the Ortega-Murillo regime uses a vast network of front men to control companies. State-controlled companies receive non-market-based advantages, including tax exemption benefits not granted to private actors. In some instances, these companies are given monopolies through implementing legislation. In other instances, the government uses formal and informal levers to advantage its businesses.

The government owns and operates the National Sewer and Water Company (ENACAL), National Port Authority (EPN), National Lottery, and National Electricity Transmission Company (ENATREL). Private sector investment is not permitted in these sectors. In sectors where competition is allowed, the government owns and operates the Nicaraguan Insurance Institute (INISER), Nicaraguan Electricity Company (ENEL), Las Mercedes Industrial Park, Nicaraguan Food Staple Company (ENABAS), Nicaraguan Post Office, International Airport Authority (EAAI), Nicaraguan Mining Company (ENIMINAS), and Nicaraguan Petroleum Company (Petronic).

Many of Nicaragua’s SOEs and quasi-SOEs were established using ALBANISA, now OFAC sanctioned. The Ortega-Murillo regime used ALBANISA funds to purchase television and radio stations, hotels, cattle ranches, power plants, and pharmaceutical laboratories. ALBANISA’s large presence in the Nicaraguan economy and its ties to the government disadvantage companies trying to compete in industries dominated by ALBANISA or government-managed entities. In 2020, the government nationalized Nicaragua’s main electricity distributor Disnorte-Dissur, which was previously owned by ALBANISA.

In 2020, following the OFAC designation of state-owned petroleum distributor Distribuidor Nicaraguense de Petroleo (DNP), the government created four new entities: the Nicaraguan Gas Company (ENIGAS); the Nicaraguan Company to Store and Distribute Hydrocarbons (ENIPLANH); the Nicaraguan Company for Hydrocarbon Exploration (ENIH); and the Nicaraguan Company to Import, Transport, and Commercialize Hydrocarbons (ENICOM).

Through the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute (INSS), the government owns a pharmaceutical manufacturing company, and other companies and real estate holdings. The Military Institute of Social Security (IPSM), a state pension fund for the Nicaraguan military, controls companies in the construction, manufacturing, and services sectors. In January 2022, OFAC sanctioned three members of the IPSM board of directors.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Many large businesses have active Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) programs that include improvements to the workplace environment, business ethics, and community development initiatives. Prominent business groups such as CCSN and the Nicaraguan Union for Corporate Social Responsibility (UniRSE) are working to create more awareness of corporate social responsibility. Nicaragua’s Foreign Agents Law has forced many businesses to curtail or end their corporate social responsibility operations to avoid the burdensome and intrusive registration process.

The government does not factor RBC policies or practices into its procurement decisions, nor does it explicitly encourage RBC principles. The government does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative or the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. There are no domestic transparency measures requiring the disclosure of payments made to governments. Nicaragua is not a signatory to the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies or a participant in the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers’ Association.

9. Corruption

Nicaragua has a legal framework criminalizing corruption, but there is no expectation that the framework will be enforced. A general state of permissiveness, lack of strong institutions, ineffective system of checks and balances, and the Ortega-Murillo regime’s complete control of government institutions, create conditions for rampant corruption. The judicial system remained particularly susceptible to bribes, manipulation, and political influence. Businesses reported that corruption is an obstacle to investment, particularly in government procurement, licensing, and customs and taxation.

The government does not require private companies to establish internal controls. However, Nicaraguan banks have robust compliance and monitoring programs that detect corruption. Multiple government officials and government-controlled entities have been sanctioned for corruption.

Nicaragua ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2006 and the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption in 1999. It is not party to the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

10. Political and Security Environment

The regime of President Daniel Ortega and his wife and Vice President Rosario Murillo dominates Nicaragua’s highly centralized, authoritarian political system. Ortega is serving in his fourth consecutive term as president following rigged elections in November 2021. The regime’s rule has been marked by increasing human rights abuses, consolidation of executive control, and consolidation of strategic business sectors that enrich Ortega and his inner circle. Political risk remains high, and the future of the country’s political institutions remains uncertain.

An ongoing sociopolitical crisis began in April 2018 when regime-controlled police violently crushed a peaceful student protest. The ensuing conflict killed more than 325 people, injured thousands, imprisoned hundreds of peaceful protestors, and exiled more than 100,000. The regime amended terrorism laws to include prodemocracy activities and used the legislature and justice system to characterize civil society actors as terrorists, assassins, and “coup-mongers.” The regime continues to hold 170 political prisoners – most suffering from a lack of adequate food and proper medical care. Prisoners were arrested for activities considered normal in a free society, including practicing independent journalism, working for civil society organizations, seeking to compete in elections, or publicly expressing an opinion contrary to the government. Excessive use of force, false imprisonment, and other harassment against opposition leaders – including many private sector leaders – is common. The regime-controlled Nicaraguan National Police maintains a heavy presence throughout Nicaragua, including randomized checkpoints.

In response to the Ortega-Murillo regime’s antidemocratic behavior and human rights abuses, the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Treasury have imposed visa and financial restrictions on multiple government agencies and hundreds of individuals.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Nicaragua’s labor market is highly informal. According to government statistics from third quarter 2021, 44 percent of the population is underemployed. These individuals operate in the informal sector, facing economic instability and lacking social security benefits. Independent economists estimate most underemployed people earn 25 to 50 percent of the minimum wage, which itself is not sufficient to afford the basic basket of goods. Social security provider INSS reported in December 2021 the number of enrolled employees remained 6 percent below pre-2018 levels. Independent think tanks estimate that 1.6 million people or 25 percent of the population lived below the poverty line in 2021.

Despite the absence of reliable government data, independent economists estimate unemployment at 5 percent. Official government estimates of 4 percent are skewed by the government’s definition of unemployment, which considers any individual who worked at least one hour in a month, regardless of remuneration, to be employed.

Nicaragua lacks skilled and technical labor. The government-run National Technological Institute (INATEC) regulates technical education and professional training in Nicaragua. Employers often import administrative or managerial employees from outside of the country, as permitted by law. Article 14 of the Nicaraguan Labor Code states that 90 percent of any company’s employees must be Nicaraguan. The Ministry of Labor may make exceptions when justified for technical reasons.

Minimum wages are low and, prior to 2018, revised through an inclusive dialogue process between the private sector, labor unions, and the government. Nicaragua’s minimum wages are reviewed yearly for nine sectors of the economy, while a tenth sector – free trade zones – reviews its minimum wage every five years. The most recent negotiations did not include COSEP, formerly the most influential independent business chamber and traditional private sector representative. This year APRODESNI, a newly created and regime-aligned alternative chamber, was the official private sector representative. In 2022, the minimum wages for all nine sectors were increased 7 percent. The next review for the free trade zone minimum wage will be in 2023 and will cover the period 2023-2027.

Nicaraguan labor law requires employers to pay at year-end the equivalent of an extra month’s salary. Upon termination of an employee, the employer must pay a month’s salary for each year worked, up to five months’ salary. There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws, including in the free trade zones. The CAFTA-DR Labor Chapter establishes commitments to ensure effective labor law enforcement within the country and comply with commitments made to the International Labor Organization.

Nicaraguan law provides for the right of public and private sector workers, except for the military and police, to form and join independent unions of their choice without authorization and to bargain collectively. Workers can exercise this right in practice, but unions not affiliated with the regime face challenges. A collective bargaining agreement cannot exceed two years and is automatically renewed if neither party requests revision. Strikes are legal but rare due to the government’s control over unions. The Nicaraguan Ministry of Labor can receive labor complaints and emit enforceable resolutions in labor disputes. The Ministry can perform health and safety inspections and virtual and in-person labor inspections.

For more information regarding labor conditions in Nicaragua, please see the annual Human Rights Report and the Department of Labor Child Labor reports 

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) 2020 $12,621 2020 $12,621 World Bank: www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2020 -$3 BEA: https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2020 $3 BEA: https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 7.7% 2020 7.1 % UNCTAD: https://unctad.org/topic/investment/world-investment-report 

* Source for Host Country Data: Nicaraguan Central Bank https://www.bcn.gob.ni/publicaciones/periodicidad/anual/informe_anual/index.php

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section
U.S. Embassy Managua
+505 7877-7600
ManaguaEcon@state.gov 

Panama

Executive Summary

Panama’s investment climate is mixed. Over the last decade, Panama was one of the Western Hemisphere’s fastest growing economies. Its economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is outpacing most other countries in the region, with a 15.3 percent growth rate in 2021 (after a contraction of 17.9 percent in 2020) and a projected growth rate of 7.8 percent for 2022, according to the World Bank. Panama also has one of the highest GDP per capita rates in the region and has several investment incentives, including a dollarized economy, a stable democratic government, the world’s second largest free trade zone, and 14 international free trade agreements. Although Panama’s market is small, with a population of just over 4 million, the Panama Canal provides a global trading hub with incentives for international trade. However, Panama’s structural deficiencies weigh down its investment climate with high levels of corruption, a reputation for government non-payment, a poorly educated workforce, a weak judicial system, and labor unrest. Panama’s presence on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list since June 2019 for systemic deficiencies in combatting money laundering and terrorist financing increases the risk of investing in Panama, notwithstanding the government’s ongoing efforts to increase financial transparency.

The government is eager for international investment and has several policies in place to attract foreign direct investment (FDI). As such, it continues to attract one of the highest rates of FDI in the region, with $4.6 billion in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. As of March 18, 2022, Panama’s sovereign debt rating remains investment grade, with ratings of Baa2 (Moody’s), BBB- (Fitch), and BBB (Standard & Poor’s with a negative outlook).

Panama’s high vaccination rates of 80 percent of the eligible population with at least one dose and 70 percent with at least two doses as of March 21 have contributed to its economic recovery. As the global economy rebounded, Panama’s services and infrastructure-reliant industries bounced back significantly in 2021. Sectors with the highest economic growth in 2021 included mining (148 percent increase), construction (29 percent), commerce (18 percent), industrial manufacturing (11 percent), and transportation, storage, and communications (11 percent). Panama ended 2021 with a year-on-year inflation rate variation of 2.6 percent, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC).

The government’s assertion that it is climate-negative creates opportunities for economic growth, aided by laws 37, 44, and 45 that provide incentives to promote investment in clean energy sources, specifically wind, solar, hydroelectric, and biomass/biofuels.

Panama’s investment climate is threatened, however, by high government fiscal deficits, unemployment, and inequality. The pandemic resulted in government debt ballooning by $3 billion in 2021 to over $40 billion. The country’s debt-to-GDP ratio stands at around 64 percent, well above the 46 percent it stood at before the pandemic. Unemployment peaked at 18.5 percent in September 2020, a 20-year high, but has since fallen to 11.3 percent as of October 2021. Yet high levels of labor informality persist. Additionally, Panama is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with the 14th highest Gini Coefficient and a national poverty rate of 14 percent. The World Bank’s 2022 Global Economic Prospects Report and the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Risks Report noted that Panama should focus on inclusive economic growth and structural reforms to avoid economic stagnation and an employment crisis.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings 
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 105 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 83 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 $4.6 billion https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 $12,420 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Panama has 16 non-financial State-Owned Enterprises (SOE) and 8 financial SOEs that are included in the budget and broken down by enterprise. Each SOE has a Board of Directors with Ministerial participation. SOEs are required to send a report to the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Comptroller General’s Office, and the Budget Committee of the National Assembly within the first ten days of each month showing their budget implementation. The reports detail income, expenses, investments, public debt, cash flow, administrative management, management indicators, programmatic achievements, and workload. SOEs are also required to submit quarterly financial statements. SOEs are audited by the Comptroller General’s Office.

The National Electricity Transmission Company (ETESA) is an example of an SOE in the energy sector, and Tocumen Airport and the National Highway Company (ENA) are SOEs in the transportation sector. Financial allocations and earnings from SOEs are publicly available at the Official Digital Gazette ( http://www.gacetaoficial.gob.pa/ ). There is a website under construction that will consolidate information on SOEs: https://panamagov.org/organo-ejecutivo/empresas-publicas/ #.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Panama maintains strict domestic laws relating to labor and employment rights and environmental protection. While enforcement of these laws is not always stringent, major construction projects are required to complete environmental assessments, guarantee worker protections, and comply with government standards for environmental stewardship.

The ILO program “Responsible Business Conduct in Latin America and the Caribbean” is active in Panama and has partnered with the National Council of Private Enterprise (CoNEP) to host events on gender equality. Panama does not yet have a State National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights.

In February 2012, Panama adopted ISO 26000 to guide businesses in the development of corporate social responsibility (CSR) platforms. In addition, business groups, including the Association of Panamanian Business Executives (APEDE) and the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), are active in encouraging and rewarding good CSR practices. Since 2009, the AmCham has given an annual award to recognize member companies for their positive impact on their local communities and environment.

Panama has two goods on the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor”: melons and coffee. DOL removed sugarcane from the list in 2019. Child labor is also prevalent among street vendors and in other informal occupations.

There have been several disputes over the resettlement of indigenous populations to make room for hydroelectric projects, such as at Barro Blanco and Bocas del Toro. The government mediates in such cases to ensure that private companies are complying with the terms of resettlement agreements.

Despite human resource constraints, Panama effectively enforces its labor and environmental laws relative to the region and conducts inspections in a methodical and equitable manner. Panama encourages adherence to the OECD’s Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas and supports the Kimberley Process. Panama is not a government sponsor of either the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) or the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

The National Council of Organized Workers (CONATO) and the National Confederation of Trade Union Unity (CONUSI) are the most active labor organizations advocating for worker rights in the private sector. They enjoy access to and dialogue with key decisionmakers. CONATO is currently participating in a nationwide dialogue to defend the sustainability of the workers retirement fund. CONUSI is focused on labor rights in the construction sector.

Panama is a signatory of the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies. Panama follows the standards set by the International Standards Organization (ISO) and certifies security companies in quality management and security principles consistent with ISO standards.

9. Corruption

10. Political and Security Environment

Panama is a peaceful and stable democracy. On rare occasions, large-scale protests can turn violent and disrupt commercial activity in affected areas. Mining and energy projects have been sensitive issues, especially those that involve development in designated indigenous areas called comarcas. One U.S. company has reported not only protests and obstruction of access to one of its facilities, but costly acts of vandalism against its property. The unrest is related to disagreements over compensation for affected community members. The GoP has attempted to settle the dispute, but without complete success.

In May 2019, Panama held national elections that international observers agreed were free and fair. The transition to the new government was smooth. Panama’s Constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, and the government respects this right. No authorization is needed for outdoor assembly, although prior notification for administrative purposes is required. Unions, student groups, employee associations, elected officials, and unaffiliated groups frequently attempt to impede traffic and disrupt commerce in order to force the government or private businesses to agree to their demands.

Homicides in Panama increased by 11 percent in 2021, to 554, 57 more than were recorded in 2020. Strife among rival gangs and turf battles in the narcotrafficking trade contributed significantly to the increase in the homicide rate in 2021. Panamanian authorities assess that 70 percent of homicides in the country are linked to organized crime, especially transnational drug trafficking and gangs. The 2021 homicide rate of 12.95 per 100,000 people is still among the lowest in Central America, but is consistent with an upward trend since 2019, year-on-year.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

According to official surveys carried out in October 2021, the unemployment rate in Panama improved significantly, but the level of informality and the size of the economically active population (EAP) worsened. That is, fewer people were looking for work. As of October 2021, the unemployment rate stood at 11.3 percent and the informality rate at 47.6 percent, while the economically active population had decreased by 66.5 percent, according to the labor market survey (EML) carried out by the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC).

There is a shortage of skilled workers in accounting, information technology, and specialized construction, and a minimal number of English-speaking workers. Panama spends approximately 13 percent of its budget, or 3 percent of GDP, on education. While Panama has one of the highest minimum wages in the hemisphere, the 2018-2019 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report ranked Panama 89 out of 141 countries for the skillsets of university graduates.

The government’s labor code remains highly restrictive. The Panamanian Labor Code, Chapter 1, Article 17, establishes that foreign workers can constitute only 10 percent of a company’s workforce, or up to 15 percent if those employees have a specialized skill. By law, businesses can only exceed these caps for a defined period and with prior approval from the Ministry of Labor.

Several sectors, including the Panama Canal Authority, the Colon Free Zone, and export processing zones/call centers, are covered by their own labor regimes. Employers outside these zones, such as those in the tourism sector, have called for greater flexibility, easier termination of workers, and the elimination of many constraints on productivity-based pay. The Panamanian government has issued waivers to regulations on an ad hoc basis to address employers’ demands, but there is no consistent standard for obtaining such waivers.

The law allows private sector workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. Public sector employees may organize to create a professional association to bargain collectively on behalf of its members, even though public institutions are not legally obligated to bargain with the association. Members of the national police are the only workers prohibited from creating professional associations. The law prohibits anti-union discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers terminated for union activity, but does not provide adequate mechanisms to enforce this right.

The Ministry of Labor’s Board of Appeals and Conciliation has authority to resolve certain labor disagreements, such as internal union disputes, enforcement of the minimum wage, and some dismissal issues. The law allows arbitration by mutual consent, at the request of the employee or the ministry, and in the case of a collective dispute in a privately held public utility. It allows either party to appeal if arbitration is mandated during a collective dispute in a public-service company. The Board of Appeals and Conciliation has exclusive competency for disputes related to domestic employees, some dismissal issues, and claims of less than $1,500.

The Ministry of the Presidency’s Conciliation Board hears and resolves complaints by public-sector workers. The Board refers complaints that it fails to resolve to an arbitration panel, which consists of representatives from the employer, the professional association, and a third member chosen by the first two. If the dispute cannot be resolved, it is referred to a tribunal under the Board. Observers, however, have noted that the Ministry of the Presidency has not yet designated the tribunal judges. The alternative to the Board is the civil court system.

Panama does not have a system of unemployment insurance. Instead, workers receive large severance payments from their employer upon termination. During the COVID-19 pandemic, employers were permitted to furlough workers for longer than normally permitted, without paying severance. Law 201 of February 25, 2021 allowed employers to establish temporary measures to preserve employment and normalize labor relations by extending furloughs to the end of 2021, This law ended on December 31, 2021. Yet even after its expiration, some companies have kept workers furloughed because of a lack of resources to rehire them or pay their severances. Press reports suggest these companies have yet to recover from the pandemic-related economic crisis.

14. Contact for More Information

Colombia Primola
Economic Specialist – Economic Section
E-mail: PrimolaCE@state.gov
Office: +507-317-5491
Cell: +(507) 6613-4687

Peru

Executive Summary

The Government of Peru’s (GOP’s) focus on sound fiscal management and macroeconomic fundamentals contributed to the country’s region-leading economic growth since 2002. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a severe economic contraction of over 11 percent in 2020, but Peru recovered with 13.3 percent GDP growth in 2021. Recent political instability (Peru has had four presidents since 2020) is restricting near-term growth, with consensus forecasts calling for approximately 3.0 percent GDP growth in 2022, and 2.9 percent in 2023. COVID-19 health costs and an economic stimulus package strained Peru’s fiscal accounts somewhat, but the deficit stabilized to 2.6 percent of GDP in 2021. The surge in spending, however, continues to impact Peru’s debt, which increased from 26.8 percent of GDP in 2019 to 36.1 percent in 2021. Net international reserves remain strong at $78.4 billion. Global price pressures moved inflation higher, to 4.0 percent in 2021, a significant spike from the 1.8 percent in 2020. Inflation continued in 2022, with Peru’s 12-month rate through March reaching 6.8 percent.

Along with recent political instability, corruption, and social conflict negatively impact Peru’s investment climate. As of April 1, 2022, President Castillo had appointed four cabinets since taking office in July 2021. Allegations of corruption plague the current and previous administrations. Transparency International ranked Peru 105th out of 180 countries in its 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index. Peru’s Ombudsman office reported 157 active social conflicts in the country as of February 2022. More than half of them (86) occurred in the mining sector, which represents 10 percent of Peru’s economic output. Citing political instability, including contentious relations between the administration and congress, and governance challenges, the three major credit rating agencies (Fitch, Moody’s, and S&P) downgraded Peru’s sovereign credit ratings since Castillo’s inauguration. All three, however, maintained Peru at investment grade.

Peru fosters an open investment environment, which includes strong protections for contract and property rights. Peru is well integrated in the global economy including with the United States through the United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (PTPA), which entered into force in 2009. Peru’s investment promotion agency ProInversion seeks foreign investment in nearly all areas of the economy, particularly to support infrastructure. Prospective investors would benefit from seeking local legal counsel to navigate Peru’s complex bureaucracy. Private sector investment made up more than two-thirds of Peru’s total investment in 2021.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank/Amount Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 105 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
Global Innovation Index 2021 70 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 USD 7,394 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/  
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 6,030 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD   

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Peru wholly owns 35 state-owned enterprises (SOEs), 34 of which are under the parastatal conglomerate FONAFE. The list of SOEs under FONAFE can be found here: https://www.fonafe.gob.pe/empresasdelacorporacion . FONAFE appoints an independent board of directors for each SOE using a transparent selection process. There is no notable third-party analysis on SOEs’ ties to the government. SOE ownership practices are generally consistent with OECD guidelines.

The largest SOE is PetroPeru which refines oil, operates Peru’s main oil pipeline, and maintains a stake in select concessions. In March 2022, S&P Ratings downgraded PetroPeru’s global foreign currency rating to “junk” status, citing PricewaterhouseCoopers’ refusal to sign the firm’s 2021 financial audit.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Peru has legal and regulatory frameworks to support responsible business conduct (RBC) standards. However, Peru does not have a holistic action plan or national standards for RBC, and there are still challenges of enforcement – particularly in remote regions of the country and with respect to informal workers, indigenous people, and other vulnerable groups. Many Peruvian and multinational companies already adhere to high standards for RBC. Several independent NGOs freely monitor and promote RBC. Standards for conduct on environmental, social, and governance issues are implemented through sector-specific regulation. The UN Working Group on Business & Human Rights is pressing Peru to join the Voluntary Principles on Human Rights and Security Initiative as part of its work towards implementing the UN Principles.

Given its importance to the Peruvian economy, the extractives sector has been a GOP priority for promoting RBC. Supreme Decree No. 042-2003-EM promotes social responsibility in the mining sector, encouraging local employment opportunities, community investment, and purchase of local goods and services. The decree requires mining companies publish an annual report on sustainable development activities. In 2012, Peru joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) as a compliant country, requiring the GOP and extractive industries to regularly and openly publish government revenues and private firm financials related to oil, gas, and mining. The EITI Board found that Peru had made meaningful progress in meeting the EITI Standard in its first EITI validation in 2017. However, Peru failed to submit its National EITI report due March 2022. Given the reporting lapse, the EITI Board is reviewing Peru’s EITI revalidation.

ProInversion serves as the National Point of Contact (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (MNE), to which Peru is an adherent. The NCP participates in activities with the NCP OECD Network located in 50 countries and is in permanent coordination with the OECD Responsible Business Conduct working group.

9. Corruption

Corruption in Peru is widespread and systematic, affecting all levels of government and the whole of society, which, until recently, had developed a high tolerance to corruption. Embezzlement, collusion, bribery, extortion, and fraud in the justice system, politics, and public works by high-level authorities and key public officers is common. Corruption in public procurement is relatively common due to weak control and risk management systems, lack of ethical or integrity values among some public officials, lack of transparency and accountability in procurement processes, social tolerance of corruption, and minimal enforcement. This embedded dynamic has eroded trust in public entities and the private sector.

In 2021, Peru fell to 105 (from 94 in 2020) among 180 countries in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index, below Chile (27), Colombia (87), and Argentina (96), and tied with Ecuador. According to Transparency International, this backsliding reflected, in part, continued problems with structural corruption, impunity, and political instability. National surveys on corruption by Proética, Transparency International’s National Chapter in Peru, identified corruption as one of the leading public issues in the country. The OECD’s January 2022 decision to open accession discussions with Peru may provide momentum for anti-corruption efforts.

It is illegal in Peru for a public official or an employee to accept any type of outside remuneration for the performance of his or her official duties. The law extends to family members of officials and to political parties. In 2019, Peru made the irregular financing of political campaigns a crime, carrying penalties up to eight-years jail time. Peru has ratified both the UN Convention against Corruption and the OAS’ Inter-American Convention against Corruption. Peru has signed the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions and has adopted OECD public sector integrity standards through its National Integrity and Anticorruption Plan.

The Public Auditor (Contraloria) oversees public administration. In January 2017, Peru passed legislative decrees extending the scope of civil penalties for domestic acts of bribery, including by NGOs, corporate partners, board members, and parent companies if subsidiaries acted with authorization.  Penalties include an indefinite exclusion from government contracting and substantially increased fines. The Public Auditor also began auditing construction projects in real time, rather than after project implementation, in an effort to improve transparency. It is also auditing the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

10. Political and Security Environment

President Pedro Castillo is Peru’s fifth president in five years (and fourth president since 2020), a reflection of both deep polarization and continued power struggles between the legislative and executive branches over multiple administrations.  Allegations of corruption and incompetence among cabinet ministers spurred Castillo to designate four cabinets in seven months.  There are also ongoing investigations of persons close to the president for alleged high-level corruption. Castillo’s Peru Libre party holds the largest congressional voting bloc, 34 of 130 seats, in an opposition-led congress that took office July 28.  Eleven political parties in the legislature divide the congress in thirds among left, right, and center.  Pedro Castillo has been subject to two failed impeachment motions since his July 2021 inauguration, one in December and the second in March. According to a March 2022 IPSOS poll, Castillo held just a 26 percent approval rating, while President of Congress Maricarmen Alva held just 20 percent approval.

According to the Ombudsman, there were 157 active social conflicts in Peru as of March 2022. Although political violence against investors is rare, protests are common. In many cases, protestors sought public services not provided by the government. Widespread protests in late 2020 across several agricultural producing regions resulted in the repeal and rewriting of the nation’s agricultural law. Protests throughout 2021 and 2022 across several mining producing regions also resulted in temporary suspension of activities at several mining operations, including an intermittent suspension at Peru’s second largest copper mine, Las Bambas, for several months in 2021 and 2022.

Violence remains a concern in coca-growing regions. The Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso, “SL”) narco-terrorist organization continued to conduct a limited number of attacks in its base of operations in the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM) emergency zone, which includes parts of Ayacucho, Cusco, Huancavelica, Huanuco, and Junin regions. Estimates vary, but most experts and Peruvian security services assess SL membership numbers between 250 and 300, including 60 to 150 armed fighters. SL collects “revolutionary taxes” from those involved in the drug trade and, for a price, provides security and transportation services for drug trafficking organizations to support its terrorist activities.

At present, there is little government presence in the remote coca-growing zones of the VRAEM. The U.S. Embassy in Lima restricts visits by official personnel to these areas because of the threat of violence by narcotics traffickers and columns of the Shining Path. Information about insecure areas and recommended personal security practices can be found at http://www.osac.gov  or http://travel.state.gov.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Labor is abundant, although several large investment projects in recent years led to localized shortages of highly skilled workers in some fields. According to the National Bureau for Statistics (INEI), 76.8 percent of the labor force was informal as of December 2021, following an uptick in informal labor caused by the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impact. Unemployment was 7.4 percent in 2020. Unemployment is most prevalent among 14-24 year olds (14.7 percent in 2020). Additionally, 96 percent of unemployed people reside in urban areas.

Workers in Peru are usually paid monthly. Some workers, like formal miners, are relatively highly paid and, per statute, receive a share of company profits up to a maximum total annual amount of 18 times their base monthly salary. The statutory monthly minimum wage is PEN 930/month ($266 USD). INEI estimated the poverty line to be PEN 344/month ($99) per person, although it varied by region due to different living costs. Many workers in the unregulated informal sector, most of them self-employed, make less than minimum wage. Peru’s labor law provides for a 48-hour workweek and one day of rest and requires companies to pay overtime for more than eight hours of work per day and additional compensation for work at night.

Peru does not have a specific unemployment insurance program, however the “Compensation for Time of Service” (CTS) requirement mandates an employer pay one month’s salary of an employee per year of work into the employee’s CTS Account set for that purpose. When employees stop working for the employer (willingly or not), they can access the CTS Account. In addition, a fired employee receives one month’s salary per year worked, up to a maximum of twelve months.

In December 2020, in response to agricultural worker protests, Congress repealed a 2019 Executive Order (Urgency Decree 043-2019) that had extended policies originally designed to support investment in the agriculture sector. With Congress’s repeal, businesses in the non-traditional exports (NTE) sector, which includes textiles and certain agricultural products, became subject to the same labor rules as other sectors, such as a five-year limit on consecutive short-term contracts.

Labor unions are independent of the government and employers. Approximately six percent of Peru’s private sector labor force was unionized in 2017 (latest date available), with unionization highest in the electricity, water, construction, and mining sectors (ranging from 22 to 39 percent unionization in each sector). Union membership is more common in the public sector (16 percent). The labor procedure law (No. 29497) requires the resolution of labor conflicts in less than six months, allows unions or their representatives to appear in court on behalf of workers, requires proceedings to be conducted orally and video-recorded, and relieves the employee from the burden of proving an employer-employee relationship.

Either unions or management can request binding arbitration in contract negotiations. Strikes can be called only after approval by a majority of all workers (union and non-union), voting by secret ballot, and only in defense of labor rights. Unions in essential public services, as determined by the government, must provide a sufficient number of workers during a strike to maintain operations.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (USDOL’s) Worst Forms of Child Labor Report ( https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/peru ), some children in Peru have been subjected to the worst forms of child labor, including in mining and in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking.  However, in 2020 (the last available report), USDOL reported that Peru made significant advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.

While the government has made improvements in recent years, it often does not dedicate sufficient personnel and resources to labor law enforcement. The Ministry of Labor created the National Labor Inspectorate Superintendent (SUNAFIL) in 2014 and oversees regional offices to represent the labor inspectorate nationally. In 2021, SUNAFIL employed 822 labor inspectors. SUNAFIL labor inspectors also help identify and investigate cases of forced and child labor. Additional information on forced labor in Peru can be found in the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report: https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-trafficking-in-persons-report/peru/.

14. Contact for More Information

Michael Gunzburger
Economic Officer
U.S. Embassy Peru
+51 1-618-2414
gunzburgerml@state.gov

Esteban Sandoval
Senior Economic Specialist
U.S. Embassy Peru
+51 1-618-2672
sandovalej@state.gov

Spain

Executive Summary

Spain is open to foreign investment and actively seeks additional investment as a key component of its COVID-19 recovery. After six years of growth (2014-2019), Spain’s GDP fell 11 percent in 2020 – the worst performance in the Eurozone – due in large part to high COVID-19 infection rates, a strict three-month lockdown, border closures, and pandemic-related restrictions that decimated its tourism and hospitality sectors. By building on healthy fundamentals and fueled by up to 140 billion euros in Next Generation EU recovery funds, Spain rebounded with 5.1 percent GDP growth in 2021, and unemployment improved to 13.3 percent. Economic activity is expected to return to its pre-crisis level in 2023, though Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine could threaten the recovery by pushing up energy prices, compounding supply chain disruptions, and stoking inflation. Service-based industries, particularly those related to tourism, and energy-intensive industries remain most vulnerable to the economic shock. Spain’s key economic risks are high public debt levels and ballooning pension costs for its aging population, though these areas are targets for government reforms.

Despite COVID-19’s economic shock, Spain’s excellent infrastructure, well-educated workforce, large domestic market, access to the European Common Market, and leadership on renewable energy make it an appealing foreign investment destination. Spanish law permits up to 100 percent foreign ownership in companies, and capital movements are completely liberalized. According to Spanish data, in 2021, foreign direct investment flow into Spain was EUR 28.8 billion, 17.7 percent more than in 2020. Of this total, EUR 1.6 billion came from the United States, the fifth largest investor in Spain in new foreign direct investment. Foreign investment is concentrated in the energy, real estate, financial services, engineering, and construction sectors.

Spain aims to use its Next Generation EU recovery funds to transform the Spanish economy, especially through digitalization and greening of the economy, to achieve long-term increases in productivity and growth. Full financing is contingent on additional economic reforms beyond labor reform. Spain’s credit ratings remain stable, and issuances of public debt – especially for green bonds – have been oversubscribed, reflecting strong investor appetite for investment in Spain. However, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which account for more than 99 percent of Spanish businesses and have been acutely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, still have some difficulty accessing credit and rely heavily on bank financing. Small firms also experience more challenges accessing EU recovery funds.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 34 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 30 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 $38,500 https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 27,360 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Spain’s public enterprise sector is relatively small, and the role and importance of state-owned enterprises (SOE) decreased since the privatization process started in the early 1980s. The reform of SOE oversight in the 1990s led the government to create the State Holding for Industrial Participations (SEPI) in 1995. SEPI has direct majority participation in 15 SOEs, which make up the SEPI Group, with a workforce of more than 78,000 employees. It is a direct minority shareholder in nine SOEs (five of them listed on stock exchanges) and participates indirectly in ownership of more than one hundred companies. Either legislative chamber and any parliamentary group may request the presence of SEPI and SOE representatives to discuss issues related to their performance. SEPI and the SOEs are required to submit economic and financial information to the legislature on a regular basis. The European Union, through specialized committees, also controls SOEs’ performance on issues concerning sector-specific policies and anti-competitive practices.

Companies with a majority interest: Agencia Efe, Cetarsa, Ensa, Grupo Cofivacasa, Grupo Correos, Grupo Enusa, Grupo Hunosa, Grupo Mercasa, Grupo Navantia, Grupo Sepides, GrupoTragsa, Hipodromodo la Zarzuela, Mayasa, Saeca, Defex (in liquidation)

Companies with a minority interest: Airbus Group, Alestis Aerospace, Enagas, Enresa, Hispasat, Indra, International Airlines Group, Red Electrica Corporacion, Ebro Foods

Attached companies: RTVE, Corporacion de Radio y Television Espanola

SEPI also has indirect participation in more than 100 subsidiaries and other investees of the majority companies, which make up the SEPI Group.

Corporate Governance of Spain’s SOEs uses criteria based on OECD principles and guidelines. These include the state ownership function and accountability, as well as issues related to performance monitoring, information disclosure, auditing mechanisms, and the role of the board in the companies.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Although the visibility of responsible business conduct (RBC) efforts is still moderate by international standards, it has garnered growing interest over the last two decades. Today, almost all of Spain’s largest energy, telecommunications, infrastructure, transportation, financial services, and insurance companies, among many others, undertake RBC projects, and such practices are spreading throughout the economy.

Spain enforces domestic and EU laws and regulations to protect human rights, labor rights, consumer protection, and environmental protections. Spain endorsed the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and supports the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies. The national point of contact is the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Tourism.

9. Corruption

Spain has a variety of laws, regulations, and penalties to address corruption. The legal regime has both civil and criminal sanctions for corruption, bribery, financial malfeasance, etc. Giving or accepting a bribe is a criminal act. Under Section 1255 of the Spanish civil code, corporations and individuals are prohibited from deducting bribes from domestic tax computations. There are laws against tax evasion and regulations for banks and financial institutions to fight money laundering terrorist financing. In addition, the Spanish Criminal Code provides for jail sentences and hefty fines for corporations’ (legal persons) administrators who receive illegal financing.

The Spanish government continues to build on its already strong measures to combat money laundering. After the European Commission threatened to sanction Spain for failing to bring its anti-money laundering regulations into full accordance with the EU’s Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive, in 2018, Spain approved measures to modify its money laundering legislation to comply with the EU Directive. These measures establish new obligations for companies to license or register service providers, including identifying ultimate beneficial owners; institute harsher penalties for money laundering offenses; and create public and private whistleblower channels for alleged offenses.

The General State Prosecutor is authorized to investigate and prosecute corruption cases involving funds in excess of roughly USD 500,000. The Office of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor, a subordinate unit of the General State Prosecutor, investigates and prosecutes domestic and international bribery allegations. The Audiencia Nacional, a corps of magistrates has broad discretion to investigate and prosecute alleged instances of Spanish businesspeople bribing foreign officials.

Spain enforces anti-corruption laws on a generally uniform basis. Public officials are subjected to more scrutiny than private individuals, but several wealthy and well-connected business executives have been successfully prosecuted for corruption. In 2021, Spanish courts arraigned 344 defendants involved in 53 corruption cases. The courts issued 65 sentences, with 44 including a full or partial guilty verdict.

There is no obvious bias for or against foreign investors. U.S. firms rarely identify corruption as an obstacle to investment in Spain, although entrenched incumbents have frequently attempted and at times succeeded in blocking the growth of U.S. franchises and technology platforms in both Madrid and Barcelona.

Spain’s rank in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index fell slightly in 2021 to position 34; its overall score (61) is lower than that of many other Western European countries.

Spain is a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery and the UN Convention Against Corruption. It has also been a member of the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) since 1999. Spain has made progress addressing OECD concerns about the low level of foreign bribery enforcement in Spain and the lack of implementation of the enforcement-related recommendations. In a 2021 report, GRECO highlighted that of the group’s 11 recommendations to combat corruption from 2013, six had been fully implemented, four had been partly implemented, and one had not been implemented.

10. Political and Security Environment

There are periodic peaceful demonstrations calling for salary and pension increases and other social or economic reforms. Public sector employees and union members organize frequent small demonstrations in response to service cuts, privatization, and other government measures. Demonstrations and civil unrest in Catalonia have resulted in vandalism and damage to store fronts and buildings in Barcelona and other cities. Some regional business leaders have expressed concern that disturbances could negatively affect business operations and investments in the region.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The COVID-19 pandemic and public health crisis derailed progress on reducing Spain’s stubbornly high unemployment rate, which peaked at 26.9 percent in 2013 after the European financial crisis. At the end of 2021, unemployment stood at 13.3 percent, among the highest unemployment rates in the EU. The figure, however, excludes about 100,000 workers who were enrolled in temporary government furlough schemes established to provide income support for workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic. The youth unemployment rate decreased to 30.7 percent in 2021, from the 40.1 percent in 2020, representing 452,000 unemployed people under the age of 25. Spain’s economically active population totaled 23.3 million people, of whom 20.2 million were employed and 3.1 million unemployed. Foreign nationals comprised 15.3 percent of Spain’s workforce (3,094,900 people) in 2021.

Spain approved a landmark labor reform law in 2022 that satisfies EU requirements to unlock subsequent tranches of European recovery funds. Key components include:

  • Elimination of temporary contracts except for periods of high demand and temporary substitution of workers: The reform allows for two types of temporary contracts: structural, to respond to temporary increases in demand for up to one year, and substitution, to cover workers’ absences due to medical and parental leave.
  • Permanent-intermittent contracts: The reform’s limitations on temporary contracts will push employers to use a permanent-intermittent contract, which provides firms flexibility to use seasonal workers and allows seasonal workers to earn seniority for the entire duration of the employment relationship – not just the time of services provided.
  • Limits on training contracts: The goal of this measure is to reduce the share of Spanish young people employed on temporary contracts. It defines two broad types of educational contracts, including for students under 30 who work part-time while studying for a period of up to two years, and for professional trainees who are seeking work experience toward specific certifications.
  • Workers sector-wide will receive the same benefits: Firms must now apply the appropriate sector-wide labor agreement to the service a subcontractor performs, such as cleaning, maintenance, or information support, rather than the firm-level labor agreement.
  • Restoration of indefinite agreements between firms and unions: Expired labor agreements will now stay in effect until they are replaced.
  • Establishment of permanent state-backed furloughs (ERTEs) and stronger fraud-fighting measures: The reform establishes a permanent furlough scheme to protect workers in firms or sectors facing significant structural economic changes that require workers to retrain and find new employment. The measures strengthen fines for firms “overusing” temporary contracts.

The labor market is mainly divided into permanent workers with full benefits and temporary workers with many fewer benefits. In the event of dismissal for an objective reason (e.g., economic reasons), severance pay is available to the worker and amounts to 20 days’ wages per year of service with a maximum of 12 months’ wages. A worker dismissed for disciplinary reasons is not entitled to severance pay. For termination of a fixed term contract (either its term expiration or completion of the work), the worker is entitled to a severance payment of 12 days per year of service. Under Spanish Labor law, an employee may bring a claim against the employer for unfair dismissal within 20 days of receiving a termination letter.

Mechanisms for preventing and resolving individual labor disputes in Spain are developed by labor laws and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) systems through collective bargaining agreements. Each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities has a different ADR system at different levels generally dealing with collective disputes. Spanish law stipulates that, before taking individual labor disputes to court in search of a solution, parties must first attempt to reach agreement through conciliation or mediation.

The Spanish Public Employment Service (SEPE) under the Ministry of Labor and Social Economy administers unemployment benefits called the Contributory Unemployment Protection. This benefit protects those who can and wish to work but become unemployed temporarily or permanently, or those whose normal working day is reduced by a minimum of 10 percent and a maximum of 70 percent.

Collective bargaining is widespread in both the private and public sectors. A high percentage of the working population is covered by collective bargaining agreements, although only a minority (generally estimated to be about 10 percent) of those covered are union members. Large employers generally have individual collective bargaining agreements, while smaller companies use industry-wide or regional agreements. As a result of the recent labor reform, sectoral-level agreements currently hold primacy over business-level agreements.

The Constitution guarantees the right to strike, and this right has been interpreted to include the right to call general strikes to protest government policy.

The informal or underground economy costs Spain an estimated EUR 270 billion, or about 25 percent of GDP as of 2020. The informal economy is most common in sectors such as construction or retail that tend to use more cash in commercial transactions. In July 2021, the Spanish Parliament approved an anti-fraud law (Law 11/2021) to prevent and combat tax fraud, lower the limit for cash payments to EUR 1,000 between professionals and EUR 2,500 between individuals, and prohibit tax amnesties.

14. Contact for More Information

Ana Maria Waflar, Economic Specialist, tel.: (34) 91 587 2290