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Bahamas

Executive Summary

The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is a 760-mile-long archipelago stretching from the south-east coast of Florida to the north-west coast of Haiti. Despite historical and cultural similarities with many Caribbean countries, The Bahamas is actually in the North Atlantic Ocean. Only 29 of its 700 islands are occupied, with the majority of the population clustered around the two largest cities of Nassau and Freeport. The country maintains a stable environment for investment with a long tradition of parliamentary democracy, respect for the rule of law, and a well-developed legal system. Bahamians’ use of English and frequent travel to the U.S. contribute to their familiarity and preference for U.S. goods and services. The Bahamas is a developed country with an educated populace and high per capita GDP of $34,864. The Bahamas relies primarily on imports from the United States to satisfy its fuel and food needs and conducts more than 85 percent of its international trade with the United States. U. S. exports to The Bahamas were valued at $3.01 billion in 2020, resulting in a trade surplus of $2.9 billion in the United States’ favor.

The Free National Movement (FNM) government, elected in May 2017, has sought to manage an economy dealing with the dual, unprecedented economic crises wrought by the passage of Hurricane Dorian in September 2019 and the global COVID-19 pandemic. According to Standard & Poors November 2020 forecasts, The Bahamas’ GDP growth is expected to fall by a 21 percent in 2020, a loss of more than $2 billion compared to 2018’s real GDP of $10.8 billion. Full economic recovery is not anticipated until 2022, subject primarily to the buoyancy of the tourism sector and post-pandemic economic recovery. Both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) predict The Bahamas could suffer the most severe economic contraction of all Caribbean countries.

With few natural resources and a limited industrial sector, the Bahamian economy is heavily dependent on tourism and, to a lesser degree, financial services. These sectors have traditionally attracted the majority of foreign direct investment (FDI). Tourism contributes over 50 percent of the country’s GDP and employs just over half of the workforce. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than seven million tourists, mostly American, visited the country annually. The plummet in tourism has deprived the country of its main source of revenue, and efforts to reopen hotels, resorts, restaurants, and other tourism infrastructure have been stymied by the ongoing pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reignited questions about the country’s dependence on tourism and vulnerability to external shocks, leading to calls for economic diversification and other sources of foreign exchange. The government and private sector have identified areas for development and investment, including light manufacturing, technology, agriculture and fisheries, extractive industries, and renewable energy.  The government has also committed to digitizing its business services and jumpstarting domestic productivity through small and medium enterprises, especially those operating in non-traditional sectors.

The Bahamas maintains an open investment climate and promotes a liberal tax environment and freedom from many types of taxes, including capital gains, inheritance, and corporate and personal income tax. The Bahamas does not offer export subsidies, engage in trade-distorting practices, or maintain a local content requirement, but foreign capital investments must meet a $500,000-dollar minimum before being allowed into the country. The country continues to attract FDI from various parts of the world and has recently benefitted from significant investments in the tourism sector from international companies based in China. Investments from the United States are also primarily in the tourism sector and range from general services to million-dollar private homes and billion-dollar resort developments. U.S. companies have also shown interest in emerging sectors, such as non-oil energy, renewable energy, niche tourism, and digital technology.

Positive aspects of The Bahamas’ investment climate include political stability, a parliamentary democracy, an English-speaking labor force, a profitable financial services infrastructure, established rule of law, general respect for contracts, an independent judicial system, and strong purchasing power with a high per-capita GDP. Negative aspects include a lack of transparency in government procurement, labor shortages in certain sectors, high labor costs, a bureaucratic and inefficient investment approvals process, time consuming resolution of legal disputes, internet connectivity issues, and high energy costs. The price of electricity averages four times higher than in the United States and is driven by antiquated generation systems and a dependence on inefficient fossil-fueled power plants. To remedy energy sector deficiencies, the current government has prioritized infrastructure projects focused on non-oil energy, including a liquid natural gas (LNG) plant and various solar projects; however, the LNG plant is stuck in multi-year negotiations.

Another barrier to investment in the country is the prohibition of foreign investment in 15 sectors of the economy without prior approval from the National Economic Council (NEC). These sectors include commercial fishing, public transport, advertising, retail operations, security services, and real estate agencies, among others. In 2018, the government set a goal of accession to the WTO by the end of 2019, which would require opening at least some of these protected sectors to foreign investment. However, the government later confirmed it was unlikely accession would take place before 2025.

The absence of transparent investment procedures and legislation is also problematic. U.S. and Bahamian companies alike report the resolution of business disputes often takes years and debt collection can be difficult even after court judgments. Companies also describe the approval process for FDI and work permits as cumbersome and time-consuming. The Bahamian government does not have modern procurement legislation and companies have complained the tender process for public contracts is not consistent, and that it is difficult to obtain information on the status of bids. In response, the current government passed a Public Procurement Bill and launched an e-procurement and suppliers registry system to increase levels of accountability and transparency. The Public Procurement Bill was passed in March 2021, but has not yet been fully enacted.

The Bahamas scored 63 out of 100 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index in 2020 (where zero is perceived as highly corrupt and 100 is very transparent). This means The Bahamas is perceived as notably transparent when compared to the 180 countries ranked. However, the country’s scores have dropped eight points since 2012, perhaps indicating an erosion of transparency. The Bahamas still lacks an Office of the Ombudsman to strengthen access to information, nor has it fully enacted its Freedom of Information Act (2017) or appointed an independent Information Commissioner. Although the current government is pursuing legislative reforms to strengthen investment policies, progress on these efforts has been mixed.

Despite its World Bank designation as a high-income country, income inequality is higher in The Bahamas than in other Caribbean countries. This is in part due to The Bahamas’ popularity among wealthy foreigners as a convenient and attractive location to purchase a second home. These privileged, gated communities do not reflect reality for most Bahamians, especially those on less developed islands. The country grapples with high crime, unemployment, and xenophobia directed at irregular migrants from elsewhere in the Caribbean, especially Haiti. Conservative and patriarchal norms sometimes lead to inequality of opportunity, notably for women and migrant children. Women have raised concerns regarding bureaucratic hurdles to register businesses, and difficulty in securing financing. The Small Business Development Centre (SBDC) has made economic empowerment of women entrepreneurs and lessoning the income gap priorities.

Table 1
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 63 of 100 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2020 119 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions) 2018 17.609 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=250&UUID=aa8d34cd-4c30-485d-aa74-1656d2ff9eed 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 33,460 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies towards Foreign Direct Investment

The government encourages FDI, particularly in the tourism and financial services sector. The National Investment Policy (NIP) and the Commercial Enterprises Act (CEA) explicitly encourage foreign investment in certain sectors of the economy: touristic resorts; upscale villas, condominium, timeshare, and second home development; international business centers; aircraft and maritime services; marinas; information and data processing; information technology services; light industry manufacturing and assembly; agro-industries; mari-culture; food and beverage processing; banking and other financial services; offshore medical centers and services; e-commerce; arbitration; international arbitrage; computer programming; software design and writing; bioinformatics and analytics; and data storage and warehousing.

The Bahamas has an investment promotion strategy that includes multiple government agencies working to attract foreign direct investment. The Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) ( www.bahamas.gov.bs/bia ) takes the lead on administering investment policies, functions as the investment facilitation agency, and acts as a ‘one stop shop’ to assist investors in navigating the cumbersome approvals process. All foreign investors must apply for approval from the BIA. Each administration has consistently supported new investment and has generally honored agreements made by previous administrations. The current government has introduced policies and legislative support for Small and Medium Enterprises (which represent 85 percent of registered businesses), and in 2018 launched the Small Business Development Centre (SBDC). The SBDC provides business advisory services, training, professional development opportunities, incubation services, access to capital, and advocacy for individual businesses. In response to the pandemic and to create opportunities for Bahamian entrepreneurs, the government earmarked $250 million in 2020 for loans and grants over five years to local small and medium enterprises.

The Bahamas reserves certain sectors of the economy for Bahamian investors. The reserved areas are: wholesale and retail operations (although international investors may engage in the wholesale distribution of any product they produce locally); agencies engaged in import or export; real estate agencies and domestic property management; domestic newspapers and magazine publications; domestic advertising and public relations firms; nightclubs and restaurants except specialty, gourmet, and ethnic restaurants, and those operating in a hotel, resort or tourist attraction; security services; domestic distribution of building supplies; construction companies except for special structures requiring foreign expertise; personal cosmetic or beauty establishments; commercial fishing including both deep water fishing and shallow water fishing of crustaceans, mollusks, fish, and sponges; auto and appliance services; public transportation including boat charters; and domestic gaming. The government does make exceptions to this policy on a case-by-case basis, and the Embassy is aware of several cases in which the Bahamian government has granted foreign investors full market access.

With the exception of these sectors, the Bahamian government does not give preferential treatment to investors based on nationality, and investors have equal access to incentives, which include land grants, tax concessions, and direct marketing and budgetary support. The government provides guidelines for investment through the National Investment Policy (NIP), administered by the BIA, and through the Commercial Enterprises Act (CEA) administered by the Ministry of Financial Services, Trade & Industry and Immigration. The CEA provides incentives to domestic and foreign investors to establish specific investment projects, including approval of a specified number of work permits for senior posts and the expedited issuance of work permits.

Large foreign investment projects, particularly those that require environmental and economic impact assessments, require approval by the National Economic Council (NEC) of The Bahamas. This process generally requires review by multiple government agencies prior to NEC consideration. Bureaucratic impediments are not limited to the NEC approvals process, and the country continues to lag on international metrics related to starting a business. According to the 2020 World Bank Doing Business rankings, The Bahamas scores 119 out of 190 countries overall, 181 in registering property, 77 in getting construction permits, 152 in access to credit, and 71 in resolving insolvency. All these categories saw a decrease in ratings from 2019 metrics, with the exception of getting construction permits. The Embassy is aware of cases of significant delays in the approvals process, including cases where the Bahamian government failed to respond to investment applications. Despite bureaucratic challenges and the impact of COVID-19, investment continues in tourism, finance, construction, and fast-food franchises.

In response to the losses from Hurricane Dorian and the economic fallout from COVID-19, the government announced efforts to accelerate FDI, including liberalization of requirements for investment and accelerating the review process for proposals. In April 2020, the government also appointed an Economic Recovery Committee (ERC) – a public-private coalition to develop recommendations for government policies to addresses the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ERC’s full report can be accessed via https://opm.gov.bs/economic-recovery-committee-executive-summary-report-2020/ .

The ERC’s nearly two dozen recommendations were intended to transform the Bahamian investment regime, remove structural impediments, and incentivize domestic and foreign investment. The government accepted certain recommendations, including the establishment of an entrepreneur visa for persons wishing to work or study from The Bahamas for one year ( www.bahamasbeats.com ), limiting approvals for projects under $10 million, creating special economic zones on lesser developed islands, and establishing an autonomous agency to oversee a modern investment regime (INVESTBAHAMAS). With this new agency in place, bureaucratic delays, functionality and transparency are expected to improve. The agency will reportedly give priority to high-tech financial products, biotechnology, renewable energy investments, and climate adaptability projects. INVESTBAHAMAS remains in the planning stages.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign investors have the right to establish private enterprises and, after approval, most companies operate unencumbered. Key considerations for approval include economic impact, job creation, infrastructural development, economic diversification, environmental protection and corporate social responsibility. With the assistance of a local attorney, investors can create the following types of businesses: sole proprietorship, limited or general partnership, joint stock company, or subsidiary of a foreign company. The most popular all-purpose vehicles for foreign investors are the International Business Company (IBC) and the Limited Duration Company (LDC). Both benefit from income, capital gains, gift, estate, inheritance, and succession tax exemptions. Investors are required to establish a local company and be registered to operate in The Bahamas.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The Bahamas ranks 119 out of 190 countries in terms of “ease of doing business” in the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report. See http://doingbusiness.org/rankings . The Bahamas is the only Western Hemisphere country not in the WTO, and therefore has never benefitted from a WTO trade policy review. The current government launched accession negotiations with the WTO in April 2019, initially announcing the goal of full membership later the same year. However, the government later described the 2019 target as purely aspirational, confirming it was unlikely accession would take place before 2025. A vocal domestic constituency opposes WTO accession on the grounds that membership will hurt domestic producers and service providers.

Neither the OECD nor UNCTAD have conducted investment policy reviews. The Bahamas achieved the G-20 standard on transparency and cooperation on tax matters, a standard initially advanced by the OECD.

Business Facilitation

According to the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Index, starting a business in The Bahamas takes 12 days, requires seven procedures, and costs the same for both men and women. In 2017, the Bahamian government streamlined this process and launched an e-business portal, which allowed companies to apply for or renew their business licenses online ( http://inlandrevenue.finance.gov.bs/business-licence/copy-applying-b-l/ ).

In 2020, as part of the business license application process, the government expanded provisional licenses for many small, domestic businesses so the majority would be able to start operations while awaiting formal approval. The government also removed the fee for starting a new business and renewed business licenses in under 48 hours. Foreign companies and most larger businesses are not eligible for provisional licenses, expedited renewals, or new business license fee exemptions.

All companies with an annual turnover of $100,000 or more are required to register with the government to receive a Tax Identification Number and a Value Added Tax Certificate. The lengthy registration processes are generally viewed as an impediment to the ease of doing business.

Outward Investment

The Bahamian government neither promotes nor prohibits its citizens from investing internationally, however, all outward direct investments by residents require the prior approval of the Exchange Control Department of the Central Bank of The Bahamas ( https://www.centralbankbahamas.com/exchange-control-notes-and-guidelines ). Applications are considered in light of the probable impact the investments may have on The Bahamas’ balance of payments, specifically business activities that promote the receipt of foreign currency.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

The Bahamas has no bilateral investment agreements but has signed tax information exchange agreements with 34 countries, including the United States in 2002. The agreement designates The Bahamas as a qualified jurisdiction and allows U.S. companies to qualify for tax credits for conventions and related corporate expenses.

Tax information exchange agreements to date include: Argentina (2009), Aruba (2011), Australia (2010), Belgium (2009), Canada (2010), China (2009), Czech Republic (2014), Denmark (2010), Faroe Islands (2010), Finland (2010), France (2009), Georgia (2016), Germany (2010), Greenland (2010), Guernsey (2011), Iceland (2010), India (2011), Indonesia (2015), Ireland (2015), Japan (2011), Malta (2012), Mexico (2010), Monaco (2009), Netherlands (2009), Norway (2010), Poland (2013), Republic of Korea (2011), San Marino (2009), South Africa (2011), Spain (2010), Sweden (2010), United Kingdom (2009), and the United States of America (2002).

The Bahamas was the first in the Caribbean region to sign the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Agreement (FATCA) with the United States. Since September 2015, The Bahamas has implemented a non-reciprocal, inter-governmental agreement (Model 1B) to satisfy the obligations of the agreement. Additionally, in January 2017, the government implemented the OECD-developed Common Reporting Standard (CRS) through the Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information Act and has activated exchange relationships with 63 partners ( www.taxreporting.finance.gov.bs/ ).

The Bahamas is a signatory to the 2008 Economic Partnership Agreement between the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) and the European Union, and the 2019 Economic Partnership Agreement between CARIFORUM and the United Kingdom. Both agreements provide for the asymmetrical liberalization of trade in goods and services between CARIFORUM and the other signatories and include specific commitments on investments and trade in services. The Bahamas has not yet ratified either trade agreement, but provisionally applies both.

The Bahamas remains a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) but does not participate in the customs union. The Bahamas does not have a free trade agreement with the United States but, as a member of CARICOM, is signatory to the US-CARICOM Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (2013).

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Bahamas’ legal and regulatory systems are transparent and generally consistent with international norms. The Bahamian government is reforming public accounting procedures to conform to international financial reporting standards. In March 2021, the government passed a suite of legislation aimed at improving the country’s fiscal governance by enhancing transparency and accountability. The legislation included the Public Debt Management Bill (2021) that seeks to enshrine proper debt management policies into law and improve transparency concerning central government and SOE debt; the Public Finance Management Bill (2021) that expands budgetary and fiscal reporting requirements for central government and SOEs; the Statistics Bill (2021) that transforms the current Department of Statistics into a quasi-independent National Statistics Institute; and the Public Procurement Bill (2020), that overhauls current arrangements for government contracts to improve transparency and accountability.

Proposed legislation is available at the Government Publications Office and public engagement is encouraged, particularly on controversial legislation. There is no equivalent to the Federal Register, but the government regularly updates its website ( www.bahamas.gov.bs ) to list draft legislation, bills before parliament, and its legislative agenda. Regulatory system reform legislation has not been fully implemented. Public consultation on investment proposals is not required by law. The Embassy is unaware of any informal regulatory processes managed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or private sector associations that restrict foreign participation in the economy.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) was passed in 2018 to establish broad parameters related to revenue, expenditure, deficits, and public debt. It also calls for an annual Fiscal Strategy Report (FSR) which provides a three-year fiscal forecast that sets targets for the preparation of the government’s annual budgets. The 2020 FSR gave a detailed synopsis of the state of public finances and future plans for revenue, expenditure, debt, and economic growth. The government presents the FSR and makes financial information available during the budget submissions to parliament. The information is also published on the government’s budget website ( www.bahamasbudget.gov.bs ) in simple and non-technical language.

Although efforts have been made to fulfill FRA reporting obligations, The Bahamas’ supreme audit institution, the Office of the Auditor General, has not published a timely audit report of the government’s budget for several years. The last publicly available audit covers fiscal year 2016/2017. Acknowledging the need to meet international standards, the Office of the Auditor General is liaising with the U.S. Global Accountability Office to identify ways to fulfill its reporting obligations.

The government has taken on increasing levels of debt during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to provide social safety nets while stimulating the economy. Some observers consider the debt levels unsustainable and have even speculated about the possibility of default. The Central Bank of The Bahamas denies this speculation and provides quarterly updates on debt obligations on its website ( www.centralbankbahamas.com ).

International Regulatory Considerations

The Bahamas is not a member of the WTO, so does not notify the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) of draft technical regulations. As part of WTO accession negotiations launched in 2018, The Bahamas announced it is reviewing investment policies with the aim of developing comprehensive, WTO-compliant investment legislation. The Bahamas is not a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures, nor is it a member of a regional economic bloc.

The Bahamas has enacted basic laws governing standards. The Bahamas Bureau of Standards and Quality (BBSQ), launched in 2016, governs standards for goods and services, particularly metrology (weights and balances). BBSQ also cooperates with other ministries on quality standards, such as sanitary and phytosanitary standards with the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources and the Bahamas Health and Food Safety Agency (BAHFSA). BBSQ serves as the country’s focal point on trade barrier issues and is supported by the EU and the Caribbean Regional Organization for Standards and Quality (CROSQ) in the development of national standards. Trade barriers are not a hindrance to trade with the United States and U.S. products are widely accepted.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Bahamian legal system is based on English common law and foreign nationals are afforded full rights in Bahamian legal proceedings. Contracts are legally enforced through the courts, however, there are instances where local and foreign investors have civil disputes tied up in the court system for many years. Investors have been defrauded of sums ranging from several hundred thousand to several million dollars, but the court system has lacked the capacity to recover their investments. Throughout 2020, a U.S. investor and a government utility company were engaged in a civil dispute concerning the termination of a contract, non-payment for services provided, and ownership of equipment and materials. This case is ongoing.

The judiciary is independent and allegations of government interference in the judicial process are rare. With the recommendation of the Prime Minister, the Governor General appoints the highest-ranking officials in the judicial system, including the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the President of the Court of Appeals. The Bahamas is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and uses the Privy Council Judicial Committee in London as the final court of appeal and also contributes financially to the operations of the Caribbean Court of Justice. The Bahamas continues to advance efforts to develop its reputation as a center for international arbitration by drafting legislation to govern domestic arbitration and incorporate key provisions of the Model Law of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). The legislation has not yet been passed.

In 2020, the government announced it continued to leverage alternative dispute resolution (ADR) as a method of resolving disputes without resorting to the court system, including by establishing an ADR unit in mid-August 2020 and developing a two-year strategic plan to promote this method for settling commercial and other types of disputes.

Judgments by British courts and select Commonwealth countries can be registered and enforced in The Bahamas under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments Act. Court judgments from other countries, including those of the United States, must be litigated in local courts and are subject to Bahamian legal requirements. The current government is taking steps to increase judicial transparency and efficiency. Their goal is to modernize the justice system by digitizing court records, streamlining court administration, constructing a new Supreme Court complex, and drafting new rules and legislation to govern court procedures. Progress has been mixed.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

While some public pronouncements have been made on FDI policies, no major laws, regulations, or judicial decisions have been passed since the 2020 Investment Climate Statement. The government has drafted a Foreign Investment Bill purported to codify the existing National Investment Policy, align with international best practices, and bring additional transparency, accountability, and predictability to the country’s foreign investment process. The Embassy is not aware of efforts to advance this Bill in 2020.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) regulates the telecommunications and energy sectors and imposes antitrust restrictions in these sectors. However, there is no legislation governing competition or anti-trust. A Competition (Antitrust) Bill has been drafted in line with The Bahamas’ CARIFORUM-EU obligations and WTO accession requirements, and initial public consultations were held in August 2018. The Embassy is not aware of any efforts to advance this Bill in 2020.

URCA continues to build technical capacity with the support of the U.S. Government.

Expropriation and Compensation

Property rights are protected under Article 27 of the Bahamian constitution, which prohibits the deprivation of property without prompt and adequate compensation. There have been compulsory acquisitions of property for public use, but in all instances, there was satisfactory compensation at fair market value.

The Emergency Power (COVID-19) Regulations, passed in March 2020 to stem COVID-19 infections, grant the government authorization to requisition any building, ship, aircraft, or article if it is reasonably required for any statutory purpose for the duration of the emergency. At the conclusion of the requisition, the government is to make prompt and adequate compensation to the owner. The Regulations are expected to expire upon cancelation of the state of emergency. The Embassy is not aware of any instance in 2020 where the government invoked this law.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The Bahamas is a member of both the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention and the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (commonly known as the New York Convention). Disputes between companies are generally handled in local courts, but foreign investors can refer cases to ICSID and in at least one instance, recourse was sought in a U.S. court in a dispute involving a $4 billion resort development. The Bahamas’ Arbitration Act of 2009 enacted the New York Convention and provides a legal framework.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Order 66 of the Rules of the Bahamian Supreme Court provides rules for arbitration proceedings. The 1958 United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards entered into force for The Bahamas on March 20, 2007. This convention provides for the enforcement of agreements for commercial disputes. Under the convention, courts of a contracting state can enforce such an agreement by referring the parties to arbitration. There are no restrictions on foreign investors negotiating arbitration provisions in private agreements.

The Bahamas is a signatory to Economic Partnership Agreements between CARIFORUM and the European Union (2008) and CARIFORUM and the United Kingdom (2019). Both agreements include dispute settlement provisions and procedures. The Bahamas has not yet ratified either of the trade agreements, but provisionally applies both.

Investment disputes in The Bahamas that directly involve the Bahamian government are rare and there is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Bahamas is a member of the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), which insures investors against current transfer restrictions, expropriation, war and civil disturbances, and breach of contract by member countries. Local courts enforce and recognize foreign arbitral awards and foreign investors are provided national treatment. The Embassy is not aware of any cases involving state owned enterprises that resulted in litigation.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Company liquidations, voluntary or involuntary, proceed according to the Companies Act. Liquidations are routinely published in newspapers in accordance with the legislation. Creditors of bankrupt debtors and liquidated companies participate in the distribution of the bankrupt debtor’s or liquidated company’s assets according to statute. U.S. investors should be aware that there is no equivalent to Chapter 11 bankruptcy law provisions to protect assets located in The Bahamas.

The Bahamas ranked 152 out of 190 countries with regards to getting credit in the 2020 Ease of Doing Business report, indicating relatively weak credit reporting systems and the ineffectiveness of collateral and bankruptcy laws in facilitating lending. Recognizing the need for credit reforms, the Credit Reporting Act was passed in February 2018, and the Central Bank confirmed that Italian-based CRIF S.P.A. would launch The Bahamas’ first credit bureau in 2021. Bahamian commercial banks and other lenders will be required to share their clients’ credit history with CRIF and allowed to access credit reports.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Tax relief is by far the most compelling and significant investment incentive in The Bahamas. The government does not impose taxes on income, estates, or inheritances. Other incentives for investment include waivers on import duties, property tax abatement, and, in some cases, land grants or extended leases for private development at below-market rates. Certain incentives are negotiated directly with the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) and require the approval of the National Economic Council (NEC). In some instances, terms of the incentives are outlined in a Heads of Agreement and the size of the concessions will vary depending on the scale and impact of a project.

Other investment incentives are outlined in concessionary legislation such as the Hotels Encouragement Act, the Bahamas Vacation Plan and Timeshare Act, the Agricultural Manufacturers Act, the Family Islands Development Encouragement Act, the Industries Encouragement Act, the Tariff Act, the International Persons Landholding Act, the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, Grand Bahama Act, and the Commercial Enterprises Act. BIA either administers the legislation or acts as the intermediary between the foreign investor and relevant authority. Further information on investment incentives is available at http://www.bahamas.gov.bs .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The city of Freeport is a 233-square-mile Free Trade Zone on the island of Grand Bahama. The Hawksbill Creek Agreement (1955) between the Bahamian government and the Grand Bahama Port Authority guarantees the “special economic zone” until 2054. Businesses operating in Freeport are subject to licensing by the Port Authority but exempt from most taxes (including property, excise, import, and business taxes). The Bahamian government has made efforts to regulate business activities and extract tax revenues from the free zone, but most have been litigated to the Port’s benefit. The current government has repealed legislation that differentiated between local and foreign licensees within the Port.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, the two islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama were both declared Special Economic Recovery Zones (SERZ), which allowed residents and businesses to benefit from wide-ranging tax exemptions and incentives until December 31, 2020. In late December 2020, the government extended most of the tax concessions to June 2021, including tax-free sale of fuel and importation of household goods; continuing tax concession on replacement vehicles; and a discount on the value-added tax (VAT) on the sale of real estate valued up to $500,000.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The Bahamas maintains few formal performance requirements for investments. During the approvals process, an investor provides proof of adequate and legitimate sources of funding and, depending on the type of investment, produces economic and environmental impact assessments. The government negotiates requirements on a project-by-project basis, and, particularly in the case of larger developments, writes a “Heads of Agreement” between the government and the investor. These agreements include government obligations to the investor. There is no official mandate to hire local personnel, though many Heads of Agreement stipulate the proportion of workers who must be Bahamian.

There is no policy of forced localization to compel foreign investors to purchase locally or transfer technology, but the government encourages commercial enterprises to source from local producers and transfer skills to the local labor market. This engagement is a part of the negotiations with the government during the approval phase, and it is common for an investor to gain concessions where they can benefit local businesses, create jobs, or support the transfer of skills and technology.

The government negotiates and sometimes facilitates work permits for key employees as part of the investment approvals process, and particularly under the Commercial Enterprises Act (CEA). For non-essential services, the Bahamian government requires investors to document efforts to recruit local Bahamians as part of their applications for work permits, but the law does not stipulate an exact percentage. Buyers of second homes can apply for permanent residency and benefit from expedited approval for home purchases that exceed $500,000. The government generates revenue by collecting fees for work permits. Depending on the category, work permits can cost up to $15,000 annually. Fees can be assessed and paid at www.immigration.gov.bs .

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Despite the high number of second-home owners in The Bahamas, the country’s score for ease of “registering property” in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report is 181 out of 190 countries. This makes it among the worst in the world. The cost of registering property in The Bahamas increased to 11.8 percent of property value, compared with 5.9 percent for Latin America and The Caribbean, and 4.7 percent for OECD high-income countries. The time to complete the registration process remains high at 122 days, and there has been limited progress in creating digital land registries or establishing time limits for procedures. These facts resulted in a World Bank ranking of 3 for quality of land administration (on a scale of 0 to 30). The Bahamian government does not publish an official number citing the proportion of land without clear title. Unoccupied property cannot revert to other owners, such as squatters. This leads to a high incidence of unoccupied, derelict, and partially constructed residences in The Bahamas, with little evidence of successful government policies to encourage their sale or productive use. Abandoned buildings are also in evidence in commercial districts, such as downtown Nassau.

The various forms of land ownership in The Bahamas have their foundation in English law and can include crown land, commonage land, and generational land. The legal system facilitates the investor’s secured interest in both mobile and immobile property and is recognized and enforced by law. Mortgages in real property and legal rights in personal property are recorded with the Registrar General of The Bahamas.

The Embassy has received reports of problems obtaining clear title to property, either because the seller had no legal right to convey, or because separate claims to ownership arose after a purchase was made.

Intellectual Property Rights

The Bahamian government is taking steps to strengthen Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in response to pressure from the business community and as part of its protracted WTO accession process. These new regulations cover patents, trademarks, copyrights, integrated circuits, false trade descriptions act, new plant varieties, and geographical indicators. The government anticipates the new regulations will bring The Bahamas into compliance with the terms of the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement.

The Bahamas is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) but has not ratified the WIPO Internet treaties. The Bahamas is also signatory to the following intellectual property conventions and agreements:

  • Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works;
  • Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property;
  • Universal Copyright Convention (UCC);
  • Convention establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO);
  • Convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export, and transfer of ownership of cultural property.

The Bahamas has not recently been listed as a country of concern in the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Report and is not included in USTR’s 2020 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy.

The Bahamas’ intellectual property registry is maintained by the Department of the Registrar General ( https://www.bahamas.gov.bs/rgd ), and enforcement is coordinated by the Royal Bahamas Police Force with support from Bahamas Customs. The Copyright Royalty Tribunal (established under the Copyright Act) is responsible for royalty-related activities, such as collecting and distributing royalties.

The government and the Economic Recovery Commission (ERC) have recognized the need to strengthen the intellectual property regime in The Bahamas. The government announced plans to develop a functional and efficient Intellectual Property/Copyright Legislative Department and accelerate the digitization of intellectual property registration and interconnectivity of government agency systems.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The government encourages the free flow of capital markets, and the Central Bank supports this flow through its regulatory functions. The Bahamas is an Article VIII member of the IMF and has agreed not to place restrictions on currency transactions, such as payments for imports. The Bahamas Securities Commission regulates the activities of investment funds, securities, and capital markets ( www.scb.gov.bs ). The fledgling local stock market, established in 1999, excludes foreign investors but is effectively regulated by the Securities Commission.

There are no legal limitations on foreigners’ access to the domestic credit market, and commercial banks make credit available at market rates. The government encourages Bahamian-foreign joint ventures, which are eligible for financing through both commercial banks and the Bahamas Development Bank ( http://www.bahamasdevelopmentbank.com/ ).

Customarily, the government does not prohibit its citizens from investing internationally. However, all outward direct investments by residents, including foreign portfolio investments, require the prior approval of the Exchange Control Department of the Central Bank of The Bahamas ( www.centralbankbahamas.com/exchange – controls). Applications are assessed by their probable impact on The Bahamas’ balance of payments, specifically business activities that promote the receipt of foreign currency.

In an effort to maintain adequate foreign reserves during the economic crisis brought on by COVID-19, the Central Bank suspended purchases of foreign currency on May 4, 2020 for specific transactions that could drain reserves and jeopardize the country’s ability to maintain a fixed, one-to-one exchange rate with the U.S. dollar. The Central Bank also suspended Bahamian investments in U.S.-dollar denominated investment funds created by local brokers seeking higher returns in overseas markets. The Central Bank warned it was prepared to act swiftly in imposing even harsher restrictions, if necessary, to maintain the country’s fixed exchange rate and to conserve foreign currency reserves. The suspension remained in place throughout 2020 and had not been lifted as of spring 2021.

Money and Banking System

The financial sector of The Bahamas is highly developed and consists of savings banks, trust companies, offshore banks, insurance companies, a development bank, a publicly controlled pension fund, a housing corporation, a public savings bank, private pension funds, cooperative societies, credit unions, commercial banks, and the state-owned Bank of The Bahamas. These institutions provide a wide array of services via several types of financial intermediaries. The financial sector is regulated by The Central Bank of The Bahamas, the Securities Commission, Insurance Commission, the Inspector of Financial and Corporate Service Providers, and the Compliance Commission.

According to the Central Bank’s Quarterly Economic Review of December 2020, the contraction in domestic credit outpaced the reduction in the deposit base during the fourth quarter of 2020. Consequently, both bank liquidity and external reserves expanded, bolstered by foreign currency inflows from the government’s external borrowings. However, banks’ credit indicators deteriorated during the fourth quarter due to the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, data from the third quarter revealed a reduction in banks’ overall profitability, reflecting higher levels of provisioning for bad debt.

In the external sector, the estimated current account balance went from a surplus in 2019 to a deficit during the final quarter of 2020. The services account also moved from surplus to deficit, as travel restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant reduction in travel receipts. In contrast, the surplus on the capital and financial account increased considerably, owing primarily to an expansion in debt-financed government spending.

In the domestic banking sector, four of the eight commercial banks are subsidiaries of Canadian banks, three are locally owned, and one is a branch of a U.S.-based institution. Continued reorganization by the Canadian banks has severely limited banking services on some of the less populated islands.

The Central Bank’s strategic goals include responding to the loss of brick-and-mortar banks by implementing digital banking across the country. To this end, the Central Bank introduced the “Sand Dollar” in December 2019, the first central bank-backed digital currency in the world. The introduction of the new currency aims to provide individuals with efficient and non-discriminatory access to financial services. Since its launch, domestic financial and political elites have welcomed the financial inclusion of unbanked and underbanked residents. To date, nine firms (including clearing banks, money transfer services, credit unions and payment service providers) have successfully completed the cybersecurity assessment and been authorized to distribute Sand Dollars within their proprietary mobile wallets.

Although Sand Dollar accounts and transactions are theoretically subject to the same stringent anti-money laundering and Know Your Customer (KYC) safeguards as traditional commercial banks, the Central Bank’s capacity to enforce these safeguards, as well as account audit capabilities, may be limited. Additional information on the Sand Dollar can be accessed via www.sanddollar.bs/ .

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

The Bahamas maintains a fixed exchange rate policy, which pegs the Bahamian dollar one-to-one with the U.S. dollar. The legal basis for the policy is the Exchange Control Act of 1974 and Exchange Control Regulations. The controls ensure adequate foreign exchange flows are always available to support the fixed parity of the Bahamian dollar against the U.S. dollar. The peg removes issues of rate conversions and allows for unified pricing of goods and services for tourists and residents. To maintain this structure, individuals and corporations resident in The Bahamas are subject to restrictions on foreign exchange transactions, including currency purchases, payments, and investments. Similarly, Bahamians cannot make payments or investments in foreign currencies without Central Bank approval.

Exchange controls are not an impediment to foreign investment in the country. The government requires all non-resident investors in The Bahamas to register with the Central Bank, and the government allows non-resident investors who finance their projects substantially from foreign currency transferred into The Bahamas to convert and repatriate profits and capital gains freely. They do this with minimal bureaucratic formalities and without limitations on the inflows or outflows of funds.

In the administration of exchange controls, the Central Bank does not withhold or delay approval for legitimate foreign exchange purchases for currency transactions and, in the interest of facilitating international trade, it delegates this authority to major commercial banks and selected trust companies. International and local commercial banks, which are registered by the Central Bank as ‘Authorized Dealers,’ may administer and conduct foreign currency transactions with residents of The Bahamas. Similarly, private banks and trust companies which are designated as ‘Authorized Agents’ are permitted to act as depositories for foreign securities of residents and to conduct securities transactions for non-resident companies under their management.

The Central Bank directly approves foreign exchange transactions that fall outside of the delegated authority, including loans, dividends, issues and transfer of shares, travel facilities, and investment currency. The government has continued gradual liberalization of exchange controls over the years with the most recent measure implemented in April 2016. The most recent measures delegated increased authority to commercial banks for exchange control and seek to regularize nationals holding accounts in the United States by allowing nationals to open U.S. dollar denominated accounts within the jurisdiction.

Remittance Policies

There are no restrictions on investment remittances. Foreign investors who receive a Central Bank designation as a non-resident may open foreign currency-denominated bank accounts and repatriate those funds freely. In addition, with Central Bank approval, a foreign investor may open an account denominated in Bahamian currency to pay local expenses. As mentioned, increased authority has been delegated to commercial banks and money transfer businesses.

The Bahamas is one of 25 member countries that make up the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), an organization dedicated to address the problem of money laundering. The organization’s most recent peer review evaluation and follow-up reports can be found at ( https://www.cfatf-gafic.org/index.php/member-countries/the-bahamas ).

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Bahamian government passed omnibus legislation for the effective management of the oil and gas sector in 2017, which included the creation of a sovereign wealth fund, but has not yet promulgated supporting regulations. Discussions of a possible sovereign wealth fund were reignited when the Bahamas Petroleum Company, an Isle of Man-registered company, began exploratory oil drilling in Bahamian waters. The company confirmed in February 2021 that its exploratory drilling did not produce commercially viable quantities of oil.

The government nevertheless announced plans in January 2021 to accelerate the establishment of a Sovereign Wealth Fund and an accompanying National Infrastructure Fund. The government stressed the funds would derive income from royalty payments from all the country’s natural resources (such as salt, sand, rock and aragonite exports), not just potential earnings from oil exploration. The government suggested both funds would mobilize public assets and private capital to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure investments across the country. The government committed to embrace international best practices designed to address issues of transparency, accountability and the governance structure of such funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) are active in the utilities and services sectors of the Bahamian economy. A list of the 25 SOEs available on www.bahamas.gov.bs  includes key SOEs, such as Bahamasair Holdings Ltd. (the national airline); Public Hospitals Authority; Civil Aviation Authority; Nassau Airport Development Authority; University of The Bahamas; Health Insurance Authority; Bank of The Bahamas; Bahamas Power and Light (BPL); Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC); Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas (ZNS); Nassau Flight Services; and the Hotel Corporation of The Bahamas.

In April 2019, the government announced plans to introduce a State-Owned Enterprises Bill to impose proper corporate governance and address the risk inefficient SOEs pose to its financial health. The Embassy is unaware of efforts to advance this Bill in 2020, though a suite of legislation passed in March 2021 aimed at improving the country’s fiscal governance may also improve the performance and accountability of SOEs.

Within the past decade, no SOE has returned profits or paid dividends, although SOEs account for significant government expenditure, with approximately $408 million budgeted for fiscal year 2020-2021. The latest budget also reveals that on average, nearly 16 percent of the government’s recurrent spending goes to SOE subventions, noting several SOEs required increased funding given the financial stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the government has maintained SOE reforms are integral to its fiscal consolidation plans and announced plans to reduce subsidies by $100 million annually over the next four years. Cost-recovery measures are to begin in mid-2021 for Bahamasair and the Water & Sewerage Cooperation in particular. The savings from SOE reform are expected to assist with meeting additional debt servicing obligations.

The government has permitted foreign investment in sectors where SOEs operate and has approved licenses to private suppliers of electrical and water and sewerage services. These licenses have been issued for private real estate developments or where there is limited government capacity to provide services. An exception is the city of Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama, which has its own licensing authority and maintains monopolies for the provision of electricity, water, and sanitation services.

Privatization Program

The Bahamian government has not taken definitive steps to privatize SOEs but has held up public-private partnerships as the preferred model going forward. The government divested 49 percent of the Bahamas Telecommunication Company in 2011 but issued a second license for cellular services and retained 51 percent equity in the new company. In his February 2018 speech, the then-Deputy Prime Minister announced the government’s intention to divest additional equity in the Bahamian telecommunications sector. In February 2019, the government accepted UK-based Global Ports Holding’s $250 million proposal to redevelop the Nassau Cruise Port, entering a 25-year lease agreement with the company. In early 2019, the company announced a bond offering to raise $130 million for the new port.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Local and foreign companies operating in The Bahamas have recently become more committed to the tenets of responsible business conduct (RBC). Local and foreign companies have led RBC-related initiatives, including educational programs directed at capacity building for specific industries, the maintenance of public spaces, and financial and technical assistance to charitable organizations.

The government encourages RBC through legislation, but enforcement has been slow. The government has also enacted laws protecting individuals with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace, but again, enforcement is limited. There have been no high-profile or controversial instances of corporate violations of human rights, but civil society remains active in bringing attention to social issues.

Recent steps in support of RBC also include a requirement for local gaming houses to allocate three percent of net profits to community-based social development programs. Several have established foundations that support issues ranging from the environment to education. The Bahamas has strong trade unions, and labor laws prohibit discrimination in employment based on race, creed, sex, marital status, political opinion, age, HIV status, or disability.

The Bahamas is not an adhering government to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprise.

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

The government has laws to combat corruption among public officials, but they have been inconsistently applied. The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. However, there was limited enforcement of conflicts of interest related to government contracts and isolated reports of officials engaged in corrupt practices, including by accepting small-scale “bribes of convenience”. The political system is plagued by reports of corruption, including allegations of widespread patronage, the routine directing of contracts to political supporters, and favorable treatment for wealthy or politically connected individuals. In The Bahamas, bribery of a government official is a criminal act carrying a fine of up to $10,000, a prison term of up to four years, or both.

In May 2017, the current government won the election on a platform to end corruption. Early in the administration, the government charged a number of former officials with various crimes including extortion and bribery, theft by reason of employment, and defrauding the government. These cases were either dismissed, ended in acquittals, or are ongoing. The government reported no new cases of corruption in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches during 2020. Nevertheless, three Cabinet Ministers resigned in the first three years of the current administration under allegations of corruption, including the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of Financial Services, and the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture.

The Public Disclosure Act requires senior public officials, including senators and members of Parliament, to declare their assets, income, and liabilities annually. For the 2020 deadlines, the government gave extensions to all who were late to comply. The government did not publish a summary of the individual declarations, and there was no independent verification of the information submitted.

The campaign finance system remains largely unregulated, with few safeguards against quid pro quo donations, creating a vulnerability to corruption and foreign influence. The procurement process also remains susceptible to corruption, as it contains no requirement to engage in open public tenders, although the government routinely did so. In February 2021, the government passed the Public Procurement Bill (2020), which reportedly overhauls current governance arrangements for government contracts to improve transparency and accountability.

According to Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, The Bahamas ranked 30 out of 180 countries with a score of 63 out of 100. There are no protections for NGOs involved in investigating corruption. U.S firms have identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI and have reported perceived corruption in government procurement and in the FDI approvals process.

The government does not, as a matter of government policy, encourage or facilitate illicit drug production or distribution, nor is it involved in laundering the proceeds of the sale of illicit drugs.  No charges of drug-related corruption were filed against government officials in 2020.

The Bahamas ratified major international corruption instruments, including the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (signed in 1998, ratified in 2000), and has been a party to the Mechanism for Follow-Up on the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (MESICIC) since 2001. The Bahamas is not party to the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency or agencies responsible for combating corruption:

Royal Bahamas Police Force
Anti- Corruption Unit
P.O. Box N-458
(242) 322-4444
Email: info@rbpf.bs 

Contacts at “watchdog” organizations:

Citizens for a Better Bahamas
Transparency International (Bahamas Chapter)
(242) 322-4195
Website: www.abetterbahamas.org 
Email: info@abetterbahamas.org 

Organization for Responsible Governance (ORG)
Bay Street Business Center, Bethell Estates
East Bay Street (at Deveaux St.)
Website: www.orgbahamas.com 
Phone: 1-242-828-4459
Email:  info@orgbahamas.com 

10. Political and Security Environment

The Bahamas has no history of politically motivated violence and, barring a few incidents leading up to general elections in 2019, the political process is violence-free and transparent. These incidents were minor and included damage to political party installations, signage, billboards, harassing social media posts and a few reported altercations between opposing party members.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The Bahamian labor force is considered well-educated by international literacy and numeracy standards. Although a formal Labor Force Survey has not been completed since December 2019 when the unemployment rate was 10.7 percent, government and international agencies estimate the unemployment rate at 25 to 40 percent in 2020 because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under normal conditions, wage rates are slightly lower than in the United States but higher than most countries in the region. The minimum wage is $5.25 per hour ($210 per week). There are significant numbers of foreign workers, both documented and undocumented. There are 40,000 registered work permit holders in The Bahamas, and the majority are designated as unskilled or semi-skilled. The majority of this group is comprised of Haitian nationals working in a range of services.

The Bahamian government has granted special permission to resort developments to bring in foreign construction workers. These numbers have ranged from a few hundred at the Pointe Development in Nassau to several thousand during the construction of the Baha Mar mega resort. These concessions were negotiated as part of the Heads of Agreement for specific, large-scale investments, but in most other cases, the employment of foreigners requires applying for individual work permits. Bahamian labor law governs all workers, both foreign and domestic.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires at least one 24-hour rest period per week, paid annual vacations, and employer contributions to National Insurance (Social Security). The Act also requires overtime pay (time and a half) for working more than 40 hours a week or on public holidays. A 1988 law provides for maternity leave and the right to re-employment after childbirth. The Minimum Labor Standards Act, including the Employment Act, Health and Safety at Work Act, Industrial Tribunal and Trade Disputes Act, and the Trade Union and Labor Relations Act were passed in 2001 and in early 2002. Foreign workers also have the right to social security benefits after five consecutive years of contributions.

Bahamian law grants labor unions the right to free assembly and association and to bargain collectively. The unions and associations exercise these rights extensively, particularly in state-owned industries. The Industrial Relations Act governs the right to strike, which requires a simple majority of union members to vote in favor of a strike before it can commence. The Ministry of Labor oversees strike votes and manages overall industrial relations. Although government officials have downplayed perceptions of strained labor relations, industrial unrest has grown throughout 2020 due to longstanding issues and the effects of the pandemic. In 2020, demonstrations were organized by the Bahamas Public Services Union, the Union of Public Officers, the Nurses Union, the Doctors Union, the Consultant Physicians Staff Association, the Bahamas Educators and Managerial Union, Customs, Immigration and Allied Workers Union, the Union of Tertiary Educators, and the Union of Teachers.

In 2016, the government amended legislation to require employers to inform the Minister of Labor in instances where more than ten persons were being laid off. This legislation has been useful to the Bahamian public, as many employers laid off or furloughed workers due to the pandemic throughout 2020.

The Bahamas ratified most International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions and domestic law recognizes international labor rights. The Bahamian government lacks fiscal and human resources to adequately investigate occupational safety and health issues, but has announced steps to improve this including strengthening the Department of Labor’s Inspection Section to conduct inspections randomly and on request. The country is committed to eliminating the worst forms of child labor, and the Ministry of Labor has periodically inspected grocery stores and other establishments to ensure the enforcement of laws governing child labor.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance and Development Finance Programs

The Bahamas is a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency of the World Bank (MIGA), which insures investors against currency transfer restrictions, expropriation, war, civil disturbances, and breach of contract by member countries. Because the World Bank designates The Bahamas as a high-income country, it generally does not qualify for development assistance.

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 N/A 2019 13,579 https://data.worldbank.org/
country/bahamas 
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 N/A 2019 17,609 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/factsheet.cfm 
Host country’s FDI in the United States (M USD, stock positions) 2020 N/A 2019 1,100 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/factsheet.cfm 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 N/A 2019 197% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/topic/investment/
world-investment-report

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

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Political-Economic Section
U.S. Embassy Nassau
New Providence, The Bahamas
P.O. Box N-8197
Telephone: (242) 322-1181
Email: NassauPolEconDL@state.gov 

Costa Rica

Executive Summary

Costa Rica is the oldest continuous democracy in Latin America with moderate but falling economic growth rates even before the Covid-19 pandemic with 3.5 percent average yearly GDP growth 2016 to 2018, 2.2% in 2019 (-4.5% in 2020) and moderate inflation. The country’s well-educated labor force, relatively low levels of corruption, physical location, living conditions, dynamic investment promotion board, and attractive free trade zone incentives offer strong appeal to investors. Costa Rica’s continued popularity as an investment destination is well illustrated even in the pandemic year 2020 with inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI) as recorded by the Costa Rican Central Bank at an estimated USD 1.7 billion down from 2.75 billion in 2019 (2.8 percent of GDP down from 4.3 percent).

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 has been booming while the overall economy has been slowing for 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 ongoing Covid-19 world recession has decimated the Costa Rican tourism industry. 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 finalize a 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 as it faces Covid-19 driven turmoil and an ever increasing demand for improved government-provided infrastructure and services.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 42 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 74 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 56 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 1.5bill https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 11,700 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Costa Rica actively courts FDI, placing a high priority on attracting and retaining high-quality foreign investment. There are some limitations to both private and foreign participation in specific sectors, as detailed in the following section.

PROCOMER and CINDE lead Costa Rica’s investment promotion efforts. CINDE has had great success over the last several decades in attracting and retaining investment in specific areas, currently services, advanced manufacturing, life sciences, light manufacturing, and the food industry. In addition, the Tourism Institute (ICT) attends to potential investors in the tourism sector. CINDE, PROCOMER, and ICT are strong and effective guides and advocates for their client companies, prioritizing investment retention and maintaining an ongoing dialogue with investors.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Costa Rica recognizes and encourages the right of foreign and domestic private entities to establish and own business enterprises and engage in most forms of remunerative activity. The exceptions are in sectors that are reserved for the state (legal monopolies – see #7 below “State Owned Enterprises, first paragraph) or that require participation of at least a certain percentage of Costa Rican citizens or residents (electrical power generation, transport services, professional services, and aspects of broadcasting). Properties in the Maritime Zone (from 50 to 200 meters above the mean high-tide mark) may only be leased from the state and with residency requirements. In the areas of medical services, telecommunications, finance and insurance, state-owned entities dominate, but that does not preclude private sector competition. Costa Rica does not have an investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment, beyond those applied under anti-money laundering procedures. U.S. investors are not disadvantaged or singled out by any control mechanism or sector restrictions; to the contrary, U.S. investors figure prominently among the various major categories of FDI.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The OECD accession process for Costa Rica, which began in 2015, resulted in a wide swath of legal and technical changes across the economy that should help the economy function in a more just and competitive manner. Toward that goal, the OECD will continue to monitor Costa Rican progress in a number of areas and will publish periodic progress updates and sector analysis that may be useful to prospective investors. A comprehensive review of the Costa Rican economy was published by the OECD at the conclusion of the accession process, which offered valuable insights into challenges faced by the economy, “OECD Economic Surveys Costa Rica 2020: https://www.oecd.org/countries/costarica/oecd-economic-surveys-costa-rica-2020-2e0fea6c-en.htm  . In the same context, the OECD offers a review of international investment in Costa Rica: https://www.oecd.org/countries/costarica/OECD-Review-of-international-investment-in-Costa-Rica.pdf .

Additionally, in recent years the OECD has published a number of reports focused on specific aspects of economic growth and investment policy – several of these reports are referenced elsewhere in this report. For the index of OECD reports on Costa Rica, go to https://www.oecd.org/countries/costarica/3/ .

The World Trade Organization (WTO) conducted its 2019 “Trade Policy Review” of Costa Rica in September of that year. Trade Policy Reviews are an exercise, mandated in the WTO agreements, in which member countries’ trade and related policies are examined and evaluated at regular intervals: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp492_e.htm  .

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) produced in 2019 the report Overview of Economic and Trade Aspects of Fisheries and Seafood Sectors in Costa Rica: https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=2583  .

https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=2583  .

Business Facilitation

Costa Rica’s single-window business registration website, crearempresa.go.cr  , brings together the various entities – municipalities and central government agencies – which must be consulted in the process of registering a business in Costa Rica. A new company in Costa Rica must typically register with the National Registry (company and capital registry), Internal Revenue Directorate of the Finance Ministry (taxpayer registration), National Insurance Institute (INS) (basic workers’ comp), Ministry of Health (sanitary permit), Social Security Administration (CCSS) (registry as employer), and the local Municipality (business permit). Legal fees are the biggest single business start-up cost, as all firms registered to individuals must hire a lawyer for a portion of the necessary paperwork. Crearempresa is rated 17th of 33 national business registration sites evaluated by “Global Enterprise Registration” ( www.GER.co ), which awards Costa Rica a relatively lackluster rating because Crearempresa has little payment facility and provides only some of the possible online certificates.

Traditionally, the Costa Rican government’s small business promotion efforts have tended to focus on participation by women and underserved communities.  The National Institute for Women (INAMU), National Training Institute (INA), the Ministry of Economy (MEIC), and PROCOMER through its supply chain initiative have all collaborated extensively to promote small and medium enterprise with an emphasis on women’s entrepreneurship. In 2020, INA launched a network of centers to support small and medium-sized enterprises based upon the U.S. Small Business Development Center (SBDC) model.

Within the World Bank’s “Doing Business” evaluation for 2020, http://www.doingbusiness.org , Costa Rica is ranked 144/190 for “starting a business”, with the process taking 10 days.

Outward Investment

The Costa Rican government does not promote or incentivize outward investment. Neither does the government discourage or restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Costa Rican laws, regulations, and practices are generally transparent and meant to foster competition in a manner consistent with international norms, except in the sectors controlled by a state monopoly, where competition is explicitly excluded. Rule-making and regulatory authority is housed in any number of agencies specialized by function (telecom, financial, health, environmental) or location (municipalities, port authorities). Tax, labor, health, and safety laws, though highly bureaucratic, are not seen as unfairly interfering with foreign investment. It is common to have Professional Associations that play a regulatory role. For example, the Coffee Institute of Costa Rica (ICAFE), a private sector organization, promotes standardization of production models among national producers, roasters and exporters, as well as setting minimum market prices.

Costa Rica is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures ( http://www.businessfacilitation.org ). Within that context, the Ministry of Economy compiled the various procedures needed to do business in Costa Rica: https://tramitescr.meic.go.cr/ . Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms. The stock and bond market regulator SUGEVAL requires International Accounting Standards Board for public companies, while the Costa Rican College of Public Accountants (Colegio de Contadores Publicos de Costa Rica -CCPA) has adopted full International Financial Reporting Standards for non-regulated companies in Costa Rica; for more, see the international federation of accountants IFAC: https://www.ifac.org/about-ifac/membership/country/costa-rica .

Regulations must go through a public hearing process when being drafted. Draft bills and regulations are made available for public comment through public consultation processes that will vary in their details according to the public entity and procedure in question, generally giving interested parties sufficient time to respond. The standard period for public comment on technical regulations is 10 days. As appropriate, this process is underpinned by scientific or data-driven assessments. A similarly transparent process applies to proposed laws. The Legislative Assembly generally provides sufficient opportunity for supporters and opponents of a law to understand and comment on proposals. To become law, a proposal must be approved by the Assembly by two plenary votes. The signature of 10 legislators (out of 57) is sufficient after the first vote to send the bill to the Supreme Court for constitutional review within one month, although the court may take longer.

Regulations and laws, both proposed and final, for all branches of government are published digitally in the government registry “La Gaceta”: https://www.imprentanacional.go.cr/gaceta/ . The Costa Rican American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham – http://amcham.co.cr  ) and other business chambers closely monitor these processes and often coordinate responses as needed.

The government has mechanisms to ensure laws and regulations are followed. The Comptroller General’s Office conducts operational as well as financial audits and as such provides the primary oversight and enforcement mechanism within the Costa Rican government to ensure that government bodies follow administrative processes. Each government body’s internal audit office and, in many cases, the customer-service comptroller (Contraloria de Servicios) provide additional support.

There are several independent avenues for appealing regulatory decisions, and these are frequently pursued by persons or organizations opposed to a public sector contract or regulatory decision. The avenues include the Comptroller General (Contraloria General de la Republica), the Ombudsman (Defensor de los Habitantes), the public services regulatory agency (ARESEP), and the constitutional review chamber of the Supreme Court. The State Litigator’s office (Procuraduria General) is frequently a participant in its role as the government’s attorney.

Costa Rica is transparent in reporting its public finances and debt obligations, including explicit and contingent liabilities. The Ministry of Finance provides updates on public debt through the year, with the debt categorized as Central Government, Central Government and Non-Financial Sector, and Central Bank of Costa Rica: https://www.hacienda.go.cr/contenido/12519-informacion-de-la-deuda-publica 

https://www.hacienda.go.cr/contenido/12519-informacion-de-la-deuda-publica 

The following chart covers contingent debt as of December 31, 2020: https://www.hacienda.go.cr/docs/60088ea554e11_12-2020%20Resumen%20Deuda%20Contingente%20publicar.xlsx

https://www.hacienda.go.cr/docs/60088ea554e11_12-2020%20Resumen%20Deuda%20Contingente%20publicar.xlsx

The General Controller’s Office produced the following 2019 report on unregistered debt, summing to 1.27 percent of GDP: https://cgrfiles.cgr.go.cr/publico/docs_cgr/2019/SIGYD_D_2019015487.pdf

https://cgrfiles.cgr.go.cr/publico/docs_cgr/2019/SIGYD_D_2019015487.pdf

The review and enforcement mechanisms described above have kept Costa Rica’s regulatory system relatively transparent and free of abuse, but have also rendered the system for public sector contract approval exceptionally slow and litigious. There have been several cases in which these review bodies have overturned already-executed contracts, thereby interjecting uncertainty into the process. Bureaucratic procedures are frequently long, involved and can be discouraging to new investors.

Furthermore, Costa Rica’s product market regulations are more stringent than in any other OECD country, according to the OECD’s 2020 Product Market Regulations Indicator, leading to market inefficiencies. Find this explanation as well as a detailed review of the regulatory challenges Costa Rica faces in the September 2020 OECD report on regulatory reform: https://www.oecd.org/countries/costarica/enhancing-business-dynamism-and-consumer-welfare-in-costa-rica-with-regulatory-reform-53250d35-en.htm 

https://www.oecd.org/countries/costarica/enhancing-business-dynamism-and-consumer-welfare-in-costa-rica-with-regulatory-reform-53250d35-en.htm 

International Regulatory Considerations

While Costa Rica does consult with its neighbors on some regulations through participation in the Central American Integration System (SICA) ( http://www.sica.int/sica/sica_breve.aspx ), Costa Rica’s lawmakers and regulatory bodies habitually refer to sample regulations or legislation from OECD members and others. Costa Rica’s commitment to OECD standards and practices through the ongoing OECD accession process has accentuated this traditional use of best-practices and model legislation. Costa Rica regularly notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers in Trade (TBT).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Costa Rica uses the civil law system. The fundamental law is the country’s political constitution of 1949, which grants the unicameral legislature a particularly strong role. Jurisprudence or case law does not constitute legal precedent but can be persuasive if used in legal proceedings. For example, the Chambers of the Supreme Court regularly cite their own precedents. The civil and commercial codes govern commercial transactions. The courts are independent, and their authority is respected. The roles of public prosecutor and government attorney are distinct: the Chief Prosecuting Attorney or Attorney General (Fiscal General) operates a semi-autonomous department within the judicial branch while the government attorney or State Litigator (Procuraduria General) works within the Ministry of Justice and Peace in the Executive branch. The primary criminal investigative body “Organismo de Investigacion Judicial” OIJ, is a semi-autonomous department within the Judicial Branch. Judgments and awards of foreign courts and arbitration panels may be accepted and enforced in Costa Rica through the exequatur process. The Constitution specifically prohibits discriminatory treatment of foreign nationals. The Costa Rican Judicial System addresses the full range of civil, administrative, and criminal cases with a number of specialized courts.  The judicial system generally upholds contracts, but caution should be exercised when making investments in sectors reserved or protected by the Constitution or by laws for public operation. Regulations and enforcement actions may be, and often are, appealed to the courts.

Costa Rica’s commercial code details all business requirements necessary to operate in Costa Rica. The laws of public administration and public finance contain most requirements for contracting with the state.

The legal process to resolve cases involving squatting on land can be especially cumbersome. Land registries are at times incomplete or even contradictory. Buyers should retain experienced legal counsel to help them determine the necessary due diligence regarding the purchase of property.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Costa Rican websites are useful to help navigate laws, rules and procedures including that of the investment promotion agency CINDE, http://www.cinde.org/en  (“essential info”), the export promotion authority PROCOMER, http://www.procomer.com/ (incentive packages), and the Health Ministry, https://www.ministeriodesalud.go.cr/  (product registration and import/export). In addition, the State Litigator’s office ( www.pgr.go.cr ) the “SCIJ” tab compiles relevant laws.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Two public institutions are responsible for consumer protection as it relates to monopolistic and anti-competitive practices. The “Commission for the Promotion of Competition” (COPROCOM), an autonomous agency housed in the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Commerce, is charged with investigating and correcting anti-competitive behavior across the economy. The Telecommunications Superintendence (SUTEL) shares that responsibility with COPROCOM in the Telecommunications sector. Both agencies are charged with defense of competition, deregulation of economic activity, and consumer protection. COPROCOM has traditionally been underfunded and weak, although a law passed in 2019 is designed to change that by giving COPROCOM greater regulatory independence and sufficient operating budget.

For an analysis of opportunities for improvement in Costa Rica’s regulatory environment, including in competition and antitrust, see: https://www.oecd.org/countries/costarica/enhancing-business-dynamism-and-consumer-welfare-in-costa-rica-with-regulatory-reform-53250d35-en.htm . For the OECD assessment of competition law and policy in Costa Rica, see: https://www.oecd.org/countries/costarica/costarica-competition.htm .

Expropriation and Compensation

The three principal expropriating government agencies in recent years have been the Ministry of Public Works – MOPT (highway rights-of-way), the state-owned Costa Rican Electrical Institute – ICE (energy infrastructure), and the Ministry of Environment and Energy – MINAE (National Parks and protected areas). Expropriations generally conform to Costa Rica’s laws and treaty obligations, but there are allegations of expropriations of private land without prompt or adequate compensation.

Article 45 of Costa Rica’s Constitution stipulates that private property can be expropriated without proof that it is done for public interest. The 1995 Law 7495 on expropriations further stipulates that expropriations require full and prior payment. The law makes no distinction between foreigners and nationals. Provisions include: (a) return of the property to the original owner if it is not used for the intended purpose within ten years or, if the owner was compensated, right of first refusal to repurchase the property back at its current value; (b) detailed provisions for determination of a fair price and appeal of that determination on the part of the former owner; (c) provision that upon full deposit of the calculated amount the government may take possession of land despite the former owner’s dispute of the price; and (d) provisions providing for both local and international arbitration in the event of a dispute. The expropriations law was amended in 1998, 2006, and 2015 to clarify and expedite some procedures, including those necessary to expropriate land for the construction of new roads. (For full detail go to https://PGRweb.go.cr/SCIJ  . When reviewing the articles of the law go to the most recent version of each article.)

There is no discernible bias against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives during the expropriations process. Costa Rican public institutions follow the law as outlined above and generally act in a way acceptable to the affected landowners. However, when landowners and government differ significantly in their appraisal of the expropriated lands’ value, the resultant judicial processes generally take years to resolve. In addition, landowners have, on occasion, been prevented from developing land which has not yet been formally expropriated for parks or protected areas; the courts will eventually order the government to proceed with the expropriations but the process can be long.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In 1993, Costa Rica became a member state to the convention on International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention). Costa Rica paid the awards resulting from unfavorable ICSID rulings, most recently in 2012 regarding private property belonging to a German national within National Park boundaries.

Costa Rica is a signatory of the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention). Consequently, within the Costa Rican legal hierarchy the Convention ranks higher than local laws although still subordinate to the Constitution. Costa Rican courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards. Judgments of foreign courts are recognized and enforceable under the local courts and the Supreme Court.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Disputes between investors and the government grounded in the government’s alleged actions or failure to act – termed investment disputes ‒ may be resolved administratively or through the legal system.

Under Chapter 10 of the CAFTA-DR agreement, Costa Rica legally obligated itself to answer investor arbitration claims submitted under ICSID or the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), and accept the arbitration verdict. To date there have been two claims by U.S. citizen investors under the provisions of CAFTA-DR. Extensive documentation for both cases is filed on the Foreign Trade Ministry (COMEX) website: http://www.comex.go.cr/tratados/cafta-dr/ , under “documentos relevantes”. No local court denies or fails to enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government.

In some coastal areas of Costa Rica, there is a history of invasion and occupation of private property by squatters who are often organized and sometimes violent. It is not uncommon for squatters to return to the parcels of land from which they were evicted, requiring expensive and potentially dangerous vigilance over the land. Nevertheless, in recent years the Supreme Court has refused title to squatters on land already titled, thus removing some incentive for persistent squatters.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The right to solve disputes through arbitration is guaranteed in the Costa Rican Constitution. For years, the practical application was regulated by the Civil Procedural Code, which made it ineffective with no arbitration cases until 1998, the year the local arbitration law #7727 was enacted. A 2011 law on International Commercial Arbitration (Law 8937), drafted from the UNCITRAL model law (version 2006), brought Costa Rica to a dual arbitration system, with two valid laws, one law for local arbitration and one for international arbitration. Under the local act, arbitration has to be conducted in Spanish and only attorneys admitted to the local Bar Association may be named as arbitrators.  All cases brought before an arbitration panel, under the rules of local arbitration centers, will normally be resolved within two months of the closing arguments hearing.  Parties can withdraw their case or reach an out-of-court settlement before the arbitral tribunal delivers an award.  If the award meets the review criteria, the losing party has the option to request that the Costa Rican Supreme Court examine the award, but only on procedural matters and never on the merits. Under the local Law for International Arbitration, proceedings may be held in English and foreign attorneys are authorized to serve as arbitrators. The following arbitration centers are in operation in Costa Rica:

Centro de Conciliacion y Arbitraje. Costa Rican Chamber of Commerce (CCA)

Centro de Resolución de Controversias. Costa Rican Association of Engineers and Architects (CFIA)

Centro Internacional de Conciliacion y Arbitraje (CICA). Costa Rican American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM)

Centro de Arbitraje y Mediacion/Centro Iberoamericano de Arbitraje (CAM). Costa Rican Bar Association.

Beyond such arbitration options, law #7727 also facilitates courts’ enforcement of conciliation agreements reached under the law. Some universities and municipalities operate “Casas de Justicia” (Justice Houses) open to the public and offering mediation and conciliation at no cost. Law #8937 empowered local arbitration centers, beginning with that pertaining to the Engineers and Architects’ Association, to implement Dispute Board regulations, as a method to address construction disputes. Dispute Boards have acquired importance lately in construction contracts; with CFIA implementing new by-laws favoring the use of Dispute Boards in such contracts.

Outcomes in local courts do not appear to favor state-owned enterprises (SOEs) any more or less than other actors.  SOEs can sign arbitral agreements, but must follow strict public laws to obtain the permissions necessary and follow correct procedures, otherwise the agreement could be voided. Once SOEs find themselves in arbitration, they are subject to the same standards and treatment as any other actor.

U.S. companies cite the unpredictability of outcomes as a source of rising judicial insecurity in Costa Rica. The legal system is significantly backlogged, and civil suits may take several years from start to finish. In the tax arena, several U.S. businesses have objected to the Ministry of Finance’s aggressive stance in interpreting transfer pricing principles, compounded by what the businesses perceive as a lack of specialized judges to competently address such cases. Some U.S. firms and citizens satisfactorily resolved their cases through the courts, while others see proceedings drawn out over a decade without a final resolution. Commercial arbitration has become an increasingly common dispute resolution mechanism.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Costa Rican bankruptcy law, addressed in both the commercial code and the civil procedures code, has long been similar to corresponding U.S. law. In February 2021, Costa Rica’s National Assembly approved a comprehensive bankruptcy law reform #21.436 “LEY CONCURSAL”. As of late March 2021, the bill was waiting to be signed by the President and published in the official Gazette. It will come into effect six months after publication.

The new law will ease bankruptcy processes and help companies in financial distress to move through the “administrative intervention” intended to save the companies. The previous law too often ended with otherwise viable companies ceasing operations, rather than allowing them to recover, due to a bias towards dissolution of companies in distress. The new law simplifies processes in court, reduces time and costs, and allows judges to act fast, with a system that is clear and expeditious.

As in the United States, penal law will also apply to criminal malfeasance in some bankruptcy cases. In the World Bank’s “resolving insolvency” ranking within the 2020 “Doing Business” report, Costa Rica ranked #137 of 190 (http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings ).

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Four investment incentive programs operate in Costa Rica: the free trade zone system, an inward-processing regime, a duty drawback procedure, and the tourism development incentives regime. These incentives are available equally to foreign and domestic investors, and include tax holidays, training of specialized labor force, and facilitation of bureaucratic procedures. PROCOMER is in charge of the first three programs and companies may choose only one of the three. As of early 2021, 522 companies are in the free trade zone regime, 90 in the inward processing regime, and 10 in duty drawback.

ICT administers the tourism incentives; through 2020 over 1,126 tourism firms are declared as such with access to incentives of various types depending on the firm’s operations (hotels, rent-a-car, travel agencies, airlines and aquatic transport). The free trade zone regime is based on the 1990 law #7210, updated in 2010 by law #8794 and attendant regulations, while inward processing and duty drawback derive from the General Customs Law #7557. Tourism incentives are based on the 1985 law #6990, most recently amended in 2001.

The inward-processing regime suspends duties on imported raw materials of qualifying companies and then exempts the inputs from those taxes when the finished goods are exported. The goods must be re-exported within a non-renewable period of one year. Companies within this regime may sell to the domestic market if they have registered to do so and pay applicable local taxes. The drawback procedure provides for rebates of duties or other taxes that were paid by an importer for goods subsequently incorporated into an exported good. Finally, the tourism development incentives regime provides a set of advantages, including duty exemption – local and customs taxes – for construction and equipment to tourism companies, especially hotels and marinas, which sign a tourism agreement with ICT.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Individual companies are able to create industrial parks that qualify for free trade zone (FTZ) status by meeting specific criteria and applying for such status with PROCOMER. Companies in FTZs receive exemption from virtually all taxes for eight years and at a reduced rate for some years to follow. Established companies may be able to renew this exemption through additional investment. In addition to the tax benefits, companies operating in FTZs enjoy simplified investment, trade, and customs procedures, which provide a convenient way to avoid Costa Rica’s burdensome business licensing process. Call centers, logistics providers, and software developers are among the companies that may benefit from FTZ status but do not physically export goods. Such service providers have become increasingly important participants in the free trade zone regime. PROCOMER and CINDE are traditionally proactive in working with FTZ companies to streamline and improve law, regulation and procedures touching upon the FTZ regime. See their most recent study of the benefits of FTZ regime for the broader economy on PROCOMER’s website.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Costa Rica does not impose requirements that foreign investors transfer technology or proprietary business information or purchase a certain percentage of inputs from local sources. However, the Costa Rican agencies involved in investment and export promotion do explicitly focus on categories of foreign investor who are likely to encourage technology transfer, local supply chain development, employment of local residents, and cooperation with local universities. The export promotion agency PROCOMER operates an export linkages department focused on increasing the percentage of local content inputs used by large multinational enterprises.

Costa Rica does not have excessively onerous visa, residence, work permit, or similar requirements designed to inhibit the mobility of foreign investors and their employees, although the procedures necessary to obtain residency in Costa Rica are often perceived to be long and bureaucratic. Existing immigration measures do not appear to have inhibited foreign investors’ and their employees’ mobility to the extent that they affect foreign direct investment in the country. The government is responsible for monitoring so that foreign nationals do not displace local employees in employment, and the Immigration Law and Labor Ministry regulations establish a mechanism to determine in which cases the national labor force would need protection. However, investors in the country do not generally perceive Costa Rica as unfairly mandating local employment. The Labor Ministry prepares a list of recommended and not recommended jobs to be filled by foreign nationals. Costa Rica does not have government/authority-imposed conditions on any permission to invest.

Costa Rica does not require Costa Rican data to be stored on Costa Rican soil. Under law #8968 ‒ Personal Data Protection Law – and its corresponding regulation, companies must notify the Data Protection Agency (PRODHAB) of all existing databases from which personal information is sold or traded. Databases pay an annual registration fee.

Costa Rica does not require any IT providers to turn over source code or provide access to encryption. Costa Rica does not impose measurements that prevent or unduly impede companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the economy/country’s territory. The measures that do apply under the data privacy law and regulation are equally applicable to data managed within the country.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The laws governing investments in land, buildings, and mortgages are generally transparent. Secured interests in both chattel and real property are recognized and enforced. Mortgage and title recording are mandatory and the vast majority of land in Costa Rica has clear title. However, the National Registry, the government entity that records property titles, has been successfully targeted on occasion with fraudulent filing, which has led in some cases to overlapping title to real property. Costa Rican law allows long-time occupants of a property belonging to someone else (i.e. squatters) to eventually take legal possession of that property if unopposed by the property owner. Potential investors in Costa Rican real estate should also be aware that the right to use traditional paths is enshrined in law and can be used to obtain court-ordered easements on land bearing private title; disputes over easements are particularly common when access to a beach is an issue. Costa Rica is ranked 49th of 190 for ease of “registering property” within the World Bank 2020 Doing Business Report.

Foreigners are subject to the same land lease and acquisition laws and regulations as Costa Ricans with the exception of concessions within the Maritime Zone (Zona Maritima Terrestre – ZMT). Almost all beachfront is public property for a distance of 200 meters from the mean high tide line, with an exception for long-established port cities and a few beaches such as Jaco. The first 50 meters from the mean high tide line cannot be used for any reason by private parties. The next 150 meters, also owned by the state, is the Maritime Zone and can only be leased from the local municipalities or the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) for specified periods and particular uses, such as tourism installation or vacation homes. Concessions in this zone cannot be given to foreigners or foreign-owned companies.

Intellectual Property Rights

Costa Rica’s legal structure for protecting intellectual property rights (IPR) is quite strong, but enforcement is sporadic and does not always get the attention and resources required to be effective. In the 2019 United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report, USTR noted the substantial progress made by Costa Rica in protecting IPR. As a result, USTR did not include Costa Rica in the 2020 or 2021 Special 301 reports. Costa Rica was not listed in USTR’s 2020 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy.

Costa Rica is a signatory of many major international agreements and conventions regarding intellectual property.  Building on the existent regulatory and legal framework, the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) required Costa Rica to strengthen and clarify its IPR regime further, with several new IPR laws added to the books in 2008.  Prior to that, the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) took effect in Costa Rica on January 1, 2000.  In 2002, Costa Rica ratified the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Performances and Phonograms Treaty and the WIPO Copyright Treaty.

The IP Registry presented two bills to the General Directorate of the National Registry on January 12, 2021 for approval before sending to the National Assembly for final approval. In 2020, the IP Registry drafted a bill that will include the new proposed reform of the Law on Invention Patents, Industrial Designs, and Utility Models.  This bill will adjust the current law to international standards to make it a more useful tool for the promotion of innovation in the country. Additionally, the National Registry merged the Law on Copyrights and Related Rights and the Law on Procedures for the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights into a single draft bill, with the aim of incorporating the provisions of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled and the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances.

On June 22, 2020, the General Directorate of the National Registry merged the Registry of Industrial Property and the Registry of Copyright and Related Rights into a single Registry of Intellectual Property, improving the National Registry’s efficiency and fulfilling a reform called for in the National Registry Law from 2010.

While online piracy remains a concern for the country, in February 2019, Costa Rica modified the existing regulation on internet service providers (ISPs) to shorten significantly the 45 days previously allowed for notice and takedown of pirated online content, creating an expeditious safe harbor system for ISPs in Costa Rica. To meet a longstanding CAFTA-DR requirement mandating government use of legal software, in March 2020, the National Registry launched LegalSoft, a new software program to track software licenses and renewal dates across 95 government institutions, with all agencies set to report by July 2020, followed by external audits to verify implementation. With the tracking program now in place, Costa Rica has a systematic solution for monitoring and ensuring the purchase and use of legal software.

In August 2020, Costa Rica’s Intellectual Property Registry launched a WIPO online platform that will allow interested parties to submit online applications to register trademarks.  The online service has improved efficiency and encouraged registrations from small-to-medium-sized companies across the country. During 2019, the National Registry of Industrial Property announced implementation of TMview and DesignView, search tools that allow users to consult trademarks and industrial design data.

The Costa Rican government does not release official statistics on the seizure of counterfeit goods, but the Chamber of Commerce compiles statistics from Costa Rican government sources: http://observatorio.co.cr/  In 2020, Costa Rica’s Economic Crimes Prosecutor investigated 14 IPR cases, down from the totals in the last four years. As in years past, prosecutors ultimately dismissed several cases due to lack of interest, collaboration, and follow-up by the representatives of trademark rights holders.  Government authorities complained that the lack of response by trademark representatives is a recurring behavior dating back to at least 2016 and may explain the drop in IPR cases.  In 2020, the Prosecutor’s Office established a specialized cybercrime unit with the purpose of improving the country’s response toward computer-oriented crimes, including copyrights infringements. The Costa Rican government publishes statistics on IPR criminal enforcement at http://www.comex.go.cr/estad percentC3 percentADsticas-y-estudios/otras-estad percentC3 percentADsticas/ .

On September 4, 2019, Costa Rican Customs issued an executive decree titled “Contact of the Representatives of Intellectual Property Rights for Enforcement Issues” establishing a formal customs recordation system for trademarks that allows customs officers to make full use of their ex officio authority to inspect and detain goods. Under the decree, customs offices have the power to include new trademark rights holders in a formal database for use by customs officials in the field. As of 2020, 150 trademarks are included in this database.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ . Resources for Rights Holders

Resources for Rights Holders

Contact at the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica:

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Costa Rican government’s general attitude towards foreign portfolio investment is cautiously welcoming, seeking to facilitate the free flow of financial resources into the economy while minimizing the instability that might be caused by the sudden entry or exit of funds. The securities exchange (Bolsa Nacional de Valores) is small and is dominated by trading in bonds. Stock trading is of limited significance and involves less than 10 of the country’s larger companies, resulting in an illiquid secondary market. There is a small secondary market in commercial paper and repurchase agreements. The Costa Rican government has in recent years explicitly welcomed foreign institutional investors purchasing significant volumes of Costa Rican dollar-denominated government debt in the local market. The securities exchange regulator (SUGEVAL) is generally perceived to be effective.

Costa Rica accepted the obligations of IMF Article VIII, agreeing not to impose restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions or engage in discriminatory currency arrangements, except with IMF approval. There are no controls on capital flows in or out of Costa Rica or on portfolio investment in publicly traded companies. Some capital flows are subject to a withholding tax (see section on Foreign Exchange and Remittances). Within Costa Rica, credit is largely allocated on market terms, although long-term capital is scarce. Favorable lending terms for USD-denominated loans compared to colon-denominated loans have made USD-denominated mortgage financing popular and common. Foreign investors are able to borrow in the local market; they are also free to borrow from abroad, although withholding tax may apply.

Money and Banking System

Costa Rica’s financial system boasts a relatively high financial inclusion rate, estimated by the Central Bank by August 2020 at 81.5 percent (the percentage of adults over the age of 15 holding a bank account). Non-resident foreigners may open what are termed “simplified accounts” in Costa Rican financial institutions, while resident foreigners have full access to all banking services.

The banking sector is healthy, although the 2020 non-performing loan ratio of 2.46 percent of total loans as of December 2020 would be significantly higher if not for Covid-19 temporary regulatory measures allowing banks to readjust loans. The state-owned commercial banks had a higher 3.24 percent average. The country hosts a large number of smaller private banks, credit unions, and factoring houses, although the four state-owned banks are still dominant, accounting for just under 50 percent of the country’s financial system assets. Consolidated total assets of those state-owned banks were approximately USD 29.5 billion in December 2020, while consolidated total assets of the eleven private commercial and cooperative banks were about USD 21.5 billion. Combined assets of all bank groups (public banks, private banks and others) were approximately USD 63.1 billion as of December 2020. As of February 2020, Costa Rica adopted a deposit guarantee fund and bank resolution regime for the financial system, ending the previous much-criticized situation in which only publicly owned banks benefitted from de-facto state guarantees.

Costa Rica’s Central Bank performs the functions of a central bank while also providing support to the four autonomous financial superintendencies (Banking, Securities, Pensions and Insurance) under the supervision of the national council for the supervision of the financial system (CONASSIF). The Central Bank developed and operates the financial system’s transaction settlement and direct transfer mechanism “SINPE” through which clients transfer money to and from accounts with any other account in the financial system. The Central Bank’s governance structure is strong, having benefitted in 2019 from reforms that increase the Bank’s autonomy from the Executive Branch.

Foreign banks may establish both full operations and branch operations in the country under the supervision of the banking regulator SUGEF. The Central Bank has a good reputation and has had no problem maintaining sufficient correspondent relationships. Costa Rica is steadily improving its ability to ensure the efficacy of anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism finance. The Costa Rican financial sector in broad terms appears to be satisfied to date with the available correspondent banking services.

The OECD 2020 report “review of the financial system” for Costa Rica is an excellent resource for those seeking more detail on the current state of Costa Rica’s financial system: https://www.oecd.org/countries/costarica/Costa-Rica-Review-of-Financial-System-2020.pdf .

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

No restrictions are imposed on expatriation of royalties or capital except when these rights are otherwise stipulated in contractual agreements with the government of Costa Rica. However, Costa Rican sourced rents and benefits remitted overseas, including royalties, are subject to a withholding tax (see below). When such remittances are paid to a parent company or related legal entity, transfer pricing rules and certain limitations apply.

There are no restrictions on receiving, holding, or transferring foreign exchange. There are no delays for foreign exchange, which is readily available at market clearing rates and readily transferable through the banking system. Dollar bonds and other dollar instruments may be traded legally. Euros are increasingly available in the market. Costa Rica has a floating exchange rate regime in which the Central Bank is ready to intervene, if necessary, to smooth any exchange rate volatility.

Remittance Policies

Costa Rica does not have restrictions on remittances of funds to any foreign country; however, all funds remitted are subject to applicable withholding taxes that are paid to the country’s tax administration.  The default level of withholding tax is 30 percent with royalties capped at 25 percent, dividends at 15 percent, professional services at 25 percent, transportation and communication services at 8.5 percent, and reinsurance at 5.5 percent (different withholding taxes also apply for other types of services).  By Costa Rican law, in order to pay dividends, procedures need to be followed that include being in business in the corresponding fiscal year and paying all applicable local taxes.  Those procedures for declaring dividends in effect put a timing restriction on them.  Withholding tax does not apply to payment of interest to multilateral and bilateral banks that promote economic and social growth, and companies located in free trade zones pay no dividend withholding tax.  Spain, Germany, and Mexico have double-taxation tax treaties with Costa Rica, lowering the withholding tax on dividends paid by companies from those countries.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Costa Rica does not have a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

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.

No Costa Rican state-owned enterprise currently requires continuous and substantial state subsidy to survive. Many SOEs turn a profit, which is 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 privatelyowned 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 privatesector telecom companies. The Information and Telecommunications Business Chamber (CAMTIC) has been advocating for years 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 $72.5 million in 2018, USD 27.5 million in 2019, and USD 7.1 million in 2020, the number of purchases has actually increased from 56 purchases in both 2017 and 2018 to 86 in 2019 and 83 in 2020.
  • The stateowned insurance provider National Insurance Institute (INS) has been adjusting to private sector competition since 2009 but in 2020 still registered 70 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  .

Privatization Program

Costa Rica does not have a privatization program and the markets that have been opened to competition in recent decades – banking, telecommunications, insurance and Atlantic Coast container port operations – were opened without privatizing the corresponding state-owned enterprise(s). However, in response to the growing fiscal deficit, the current administration has signaled willingness to privatize two relatively minor state owned enterprises: the state liquor company (Fanal), and the International Bank of Costa Rica (Bicsa).

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. 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.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

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 penalizes 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 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 

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact within government Anti-Corruption Agency:

Name: Armando López Baltodano
Title: Procurador Director de la Area de la Etica Publica, PGR
Organization: Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR)
Address: Avenida 2 y 6, Calle 13. San Jose, Costa Rica.
Telephone Number: 2243-8330, 2243-8321
Email Address: evelynhk@pgr.go.cr 

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Evelyn Villarreal F.
Asociación Costa Rica Íntegra
Tel:. (506) 8355 3762
Email 1: evelyn.villarreal@cr.transparency.org 
Email 2: crintegra.vice@gmail.com 

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

In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic affected employment significantly by decreasing the number of employed persons. In general, the loss of employment affected women the most, as shown by a lower participation in the labor market compared to 2019. The National Statistics Institute (INEC) reported that during the last quarter of 2020, the labor force reached 60.8 percent, 2.1 percentage points below the same period in 2019. The unemployment rate remained high at 20 percent (16.4 percent among males and 25.2 percent among females), 7.6 percentage points higher than the same period in 2019 (the unemployment rate peaked at 24.4 percent during the second quarter of 2020). During the last quarter of 2020, 43.3 percent of the non-agricultural workforce was in the informal economy. In 2020, informal employment decreased to 44.1 percent (compared to 46.3 percent in in 2019) because of the loss of nearly 237,000 jobs, mainly affecting women and independent workers. From November 2020 to January 2021, the unemployment rate maintained a downward trend, reaching 19.1 percent.

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. In 2020, the U.S. Embassy provided support for English language education during the Covid-19 crisis, including virtual programs to improve English language learning and teaching.

The March 2020 border closure due to the pandemic caused a shortage of foreign labor in the agricultural sector throughout 2020, seriously affecting the coffee harvest, which depends almost entirely on foreign labor from Panama and Nicaragua. Initially, the government implemented a temporary program for undocumented migrants who were already in the country. Later, the government allowed a controlled entry of foreign migrant workers through the northern border under strict sanitary measures. The government also allowed entry of indigenous migrant workers through the southern border.

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 (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.

The National Assembly approved a new law 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’ working hours and salaries 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.

The National Assembly authorized the 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 2020 statistics, 98.8 percent of government employees are union members as compared to 3.6 percent in the private sector. In 2020, the Labor Ministry reported 118 collective bargaining agreements, 84 with public sector entities and 34 within the private sector, covering 11.8 percent of the working population. The Ministry reported a total of 119 “direct agreements” mainly in the agriculture sector during 2020, as compared to 149 in 2019.

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. It also began to implement a pilot project for the prevention of child labor in two at-risk cantons in the province of Limón.

Chapter 16 of the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement obliges Costa Rica to enforce its 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 government enacted the following labor-related laws: on March 23, 2020, the reduction of working hours in the private sector during the national emergency (Law No. 9832) and its amendment (dated January 13, 2021) extending the reduction of working hours during the national emergency (Law No. 9937); on April 3, 2020, authorization to withdraw the FCL funds by employees affected by the economic crisis (Law No, 9839); and on July 18, 2020, moving national holidays to Mondays to boost domestic tourism from 2020 to 2024 (Law No. 9875).

The National Assembly has been discussing 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 would reduce the fiscal deficit.

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 $61,801 2019 $61,801 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $25,682 2019 $1,521 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $124 2019 $-199 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound FDI as % host GDP 2019 4.3% 2019 4.1% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html
* Source for Host Country Data: Costa Rica’s Central Bank BCCR is the source for GDP and FDI statistics. Year-end data is published March 31 of the following year.
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 43,564 100% Total Outward 3,446 100%
United States 24,543 56.3% Nicaragua 1,039 30.2%
Spain 2,709 6.2% Guatemala
Mexico 2,124 4.9% Panama 812 23.6%
The Netherlands 1,724 4.0% United States 128 3.7%
Colombia 1,606 3.7% Colombia 79 2.3%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Costa Rica’s open and globally integrated economy receives FDI principally from the United States followed by Europe and Latin America. Costa Rica’s outward FDI is more regionally focused on its neighbors Nicaragua, Guatemala and Panama, with the United States and Colombia following. The source of this information on direct investment positions is the IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS) site (http://data.imf.org/CDIS).
Table 4: Destination of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 3,026 100% All Countries 1,776 100% All Countries 1,249 100%
United States 1,729 57% United States 871 49% United States 859 69%
Luxembourg 386 13% Luxembourg 381 21% UK 102 8%
Ireland 367 12% Ireland 365 21% Australia 44 4%
Germany 168 6% Germany 140 8% Germany 27 2%
U.K. 102 3% Cayman Islands 8 0% Honduras 22 2%
The source of this information is the IMF Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS), June 2020. https://data.imf.org/?sk=B981B4E3-4E58-467E-9B90-9DE0C3367363&sId=1481577785817 

14. Contact for More Information

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

Dominica

Executive Summary

The Commonwealth of Dominica (Dominica) is a member of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU).  The Government of Dominica strongly encourages foreign direct investment, particularly in industries that create jobs, earn foreign currency, and have a positive impact on local citizens.  Dominica remains vulnerable to external shocks such as climate change impacts, natural hazards, and global economic downturns.  According to Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) figures, the economy of Dominica had an estimated gross domestic product (GDP) of $357.6 million (966.4 million Eastern Caribbean dollars) in 2020, which signified a contraction of 15.4 percent mainly due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting stagnation of the tourism sector.  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts real GDP growth of 3.3 percent in 2021.

The economy also continues to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017.  Losses from Hurricane Maria are estimated at $1.37 billion or 226 percent of GDP.  Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government was primarily focused on reconstruction efforts, with support from the international community.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Dominica has received financial support from the IMF and the World Bank to provide fiscal assistance, macro-economic stability and support in health-related expenditure, loss of household income, food security and the agricultural sector.

Dominica’s ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report remains at the 2020 ranking of 111th out of 190 countries, as the report was not updated during the reporting year.

Through its economic policies, the government is seeking to stimulate sustainable and climate-resilient economic growth through a revised macroeconomic framework that includes strengthening the nation’s fiscal framework.  The government states it is committed to creating a vibrant business climate to attract more foreign investment.

Dominica remains a small emerging market in the Eastern Caribbean (EC), with investment opportunities mainly within the service sector, particularly in eco-tourism; information and communication technologies; and education.  Other opportunities exist in alternative energy, including geothermal energy, and capital works due to reconstruction and new tourism projects.

Recently, the government instituted a number of investment incentives.  Foreign investors in Dominica can repatriate all profits and dividends and can import capital.

Dominica’s legal system is based on British common law.  It does not have a bilateral investment treaty with the United States but has bilateral investment treaties with the UK and Germany.

In 2018, the Government of Dominica signed an Intergovernmental Agreement to implement the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), making it mandatory for banks in Dominica to report the banking information of U.S. citizens.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 48 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 111 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 N/A http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita ($ M USD) 2019 7, 920 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Government of Dominica strongly encourages foreign direct investment, particularly in industries that create jobs, earn foreign currency, and have a positive impact on local citizens.

Through the Invest Dominica Authority (IDA), the government instituted a number of investment incentives for businesses considering locating in Dominica.  Government policies provide liberal tax holidays, duty-free import of equipment and materials, exemption from value added tax on some capital investments, and withholding tax exemptions on dividends, interest payments, and some external payments and income.  The IDA additionally provides support to approved citizenship by investment (CBI) projects.

In late December 2020, the IDA announced plans to launch a new Investment Promotion Strategy in 2021.  The new strategy will focus on four broad areas: agriculture and agri-business, renewable energy, tourism and knowledge services such as business processing operations.  Other sectors include film, music, and video production, manufacturing, bulk water export and bottled water operations, medical and nursing schools, and English language training services.  The government continuously reviews these sectors and has signaled that it is also willing to consider additional sectors.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are no limits on foreign control in Dominica.  Foreign investment in Dominica is not subject to any restrictions, and foreign investors are entitled to receive the same treatment as nationals of Dominica.  Foreign investors are entitled to hold up to 100 percent of their investment.  The only restriction is the requirement to obtain an Alien Landholders License for foreign investors seeking to purchase property for residential or commercial purposes.  Local enterprises generally welcome joint ventures with foreign investors in order to access technology, expertise, markets, and capital.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The OECS, of which Dominica is a member, has not conducted a World Trade Organization (WTO) trade policy review since 2014.

Business Facilitation

The IDA is Dominica’s main business facilitation unit.  It facilitates foreign direct investment into priority sectors and advises the government on the formation and implementation of policies and programs to attract investment in Dominica.  The IDA provides business support services and market intelligence to all investors.  It offers an online tool useful for navigating laws, rules, procedures, and registration requirements for foreign investors.  Its website is http://investdominica.com.

All potential investors applying for government incentives must submit their proposals for review by the IDA to ensure the project is consistent with the national interest and provides economic benefits to the country.

The Companies and Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) maintains an e-filing portal for most of its services, including company registration on its website.  However, this only allows for the preliminary processing of applications prior to the investor physically making a payment at the Supreme Court office.  Investors are advised to seek the advice of a local attorney prior to starting the process.  Further information is available at http://www.cipo.gov.dm.

The World Bank’s Doing Business Report for 2020 ranks Dominica 71st out of 190 countries in the ease of starting a business.  It takes five procedures and about 12 days to complete the process.  The general practice is to retain an attorney who prepares all the relevant incorporation documents.  A business must register with CIPO, the Tax Authority, and the Social Services Institute.

Outward Investment

There is no restriction on domestic investors seeking to do business abroad.  Local companies in Dominica are actively encouraged to take advantage of export opportunities specifically related to the country’s membership in the OECS Economic Union and the Caribbean Community Single Market and Economy (CSME), which enhance the competitiveness of the local and regional private sectors across traditional and emerging high-potential markets.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Dominica has not signed a bilateral investment treaty with the United States.  Dominica has bilateral investment treaties with the UK and Germany.  Dominica has bilateral tax treaties with the United States and the UK.  Dominica is also party to the following agreements:

Caribbean Community (CARICOM)

The Treaty of Chaguaramas established CARICOM in 1973 to promote economic integration among its 15 member states.  Investors operating in Dominica have preferential access to the entire CARICOM market.  The Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas established the CSME, which permits the free movement of goods, capital, and labor within CARICOM member states.

Organization of Eastern Caribbean States

The Revised Treaty of Basseterre established the OECS.  The OECS consists of seven full members: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and four associate members: Anguilla, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and the British Virgin Islands.  The OECS aims to promote harmonization among member states concerning foreign policy, defense and security, and economic affairs.  The six independent countries of the OECS ratified the Revised Treaty of Basseterre, establishing the OECS Economic Union in 2011.  The Economic Union established a single financial and economic space within which all factors of production, including goods, services, and people, move without hindrance.

Economic Partnership Agreement

The European Community and the CARICOM states signed an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) in 2008.  The overarching objectives of the EPA are to alleviate poverty in CARIFORUM states, to promote regional integration and economic cooperation, and to foster the gradual integration of the CARIFORUM states into the world economy by improving their trade capacity and creating an investment-conducive environment.  The EPA promotes trade-related developments in areas such as competition, intellectual property, public procurement, the environment, and protection of personal data.

CARIFORUM-UK Economic Partnership Agreement

The UK and the CARIFORUM states signed an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) in 2019, committing to trade continuity after Britain’s departure from the European Union.  The CARIFORUM-UK EPA eliminates all tariffs on all goods imported from CARIFORUM states into the UK, while those Caribbean states will continue to gradually cut import tariffs on most of the region’s imports from the UK.

Caribbean Basin Initiative

The objective of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) is to promote economic development through private sector initiatives in Central America and the Caribbean by expanding foreign and domestic investment in non-traditional sectors, diversifying economies, and expanding exports.  It permits duty-free entry of products manufactured or assembled in Dominica into the United States.

Caribbean/Canada Trade Agreement

The Caribbean/Canada Trade Agreement (CARIBCAN) is an economic and trade development assistance program for Commonwealth Caribbean countries.  Through CARIBCAN, Canada provides duty-free access to its national market for the majority of its products originating in Commonwealth Caribbean countries.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Government of Dominica provides a legal framework to foster competition and establish clear rules for foreign and domestic investors in the areas of tax, labor, environment, health, and safety.  The Ministry of Finance and the IDA provide oversight of the transparency of the system as it relates to investment.

Rule-making and regulatory authority lies within the unicameral parliament.  The parliament has 21 members elected for a five-year term in single-seat constituencies, nine appointed members, one Speaker, and one clerk.

Relevant ministries develop laws which are drafted by the Ministry of National Security and Home Affairs.  FDI is governed principally through the laws that oversee the IDA and CBI.  Laws are available online at http://www.dominica.gov.dm/laws-of-dominica.

Although some draft bills are not subject to public consultation, the government generally solicits input from various stakeholder groups in the formulation of laws.  In some instances, the government convenes a special committee to make recommendations on provisions outlined in the law.  The government uses public awareness campaigns to sensitize the general population on legislative reforms.  Copies of proposed regulations are published in the official gazette just before the bills are taken to parliament.  Although Dominica does not have legislation guaranteeing access to information or freedom of expression, access to information is generally available in practice.  The government maintains a website and an information service on which it posts information such as directories of officials and a summary of laws and press releases.

Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are generally transparent and consistent with international norms.  The International Financial Accounting Standards, which stem from the General Accepted Accounting Principles, govern the accounting profession in Dominica.

The Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner or Ombudsman guards against excesses by government officers in the performance of their duties.  The Ombudsman is responsible for investigating any complaint relating to any decision or act of any government officer or body in any case in which a member of the public claims to be aggrieved or appears to the Ombudsman to be the victim of injustice as a result of the exercise of the administrative function of that officer or body.

Dominica’s membership in regional organizations, particularly the OECS and its Economic Union, commits it to implement all appropriate measures to ensure the fulfillment of its various treaty obligations.  For example, the Banking Act, which establishes a single banking space and the harmonization of banking regulations in the Economic Union, is uniformly in force in the eight member territories of the ECCU, although there are some minor differences in implementation from country to country.

The enforcement mechanisms of these regulations include penalties or legal sanctions.  The IDA can revoke an issued Investment Certificate if the holder fails to comply with certain stipulations detailed in the Act and its regulations.

International Regulatory Considerations

As a member of the OECS and the ECCU, Dominica subscribes to a set of principles and policies outlined in the Revised Treaty of Basseterre.  The relationship between national and regional systems is such that each participating member state is expected to coordinate and adopt, where possible, common national policies aimed at the progressive harmonization of relevant policies and systems across the region.  Thus, Dominica is obligated to implement regionally developed regulations, such as legislation passed under OECS authority, unless specific concessions are sought.

The Dominica Bureau of Standards develops, maintains, and promotes standards for improving industrial development, industrial efficiency, promoting the health and safety of consumers, protecting the environment, and facilitating trade.  It also conducts national training and consultations in international standards practices.  As a signatory to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on the Technical Barriers to Trade, Dominica, through the Dominica Bureau of Standards, is obligated to harmonize all national standards to international norms to avoid creating technical barriers to trade.

Dominica ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in 2016.  Ratification of the Agreement is an important signal to investors of the country’s commitment to improving its business environment for trade.  The TFA aims to improve the speed and efficiency of border procedures, facilitate trade costs reduction, and enhance participation in the global value chain.  Dominica has already implemented a number of TFA requirements.  A full list is available at https://tfadatabase.org/members/dominica/measure-breakdown.

As a member of CARICOM, Dominica utilizes the Advanced Cargo Information System which is a computer-based system developed by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to harmonize and standardize electronic cargo information to improve the capability to track cargo efficiently and to support regional and international trade. The Advance Cargo Information System forms a critical part of the World Customs Organization SAFE Framework of Standards. Dominica has also fully implemented the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Dominica bases its legal system on British common law.  The Attorney General, the Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, junior judges, and magistrates administer justice in the country.  The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court Act establishes the Supreme Court of Judicature, which consists of the High Court and the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal.  The High Court hears criminal and civil matters and makes determinations on the interpretation of the Constitution.  Parties may appeal to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, an itinerant court that hears appeals from all OECS members.

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is the regional judicial tribunal.  The CCJ has original jurisdiction to interpret and apply the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.  In 2015, Dominica acceded to the CCJ, making the CCJ its final court of appeal.

The United States and Dominica are both parties to the WTO.  The WTO Dispute Settlement Panel and Appellate Body resolve disputes over WTO agreements, while courts of appropriate jurisdiction in both countries resolve private disputes.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The main laws concerning investment in Dominica are the Invest Dominica Authority Act (2007), the Tourism Act (2005), and the Fiscal Incentives Act.  Regulatory amendments have been made to the Income Tax Act, the Value Added Tax Act, the Title by Registration Act, the Alien Landholding Regulation Act, and the Residential Levy Act. The IDA provides a full list of the relevant legislation on their website.

The IDA reviews all proposals for investment concessions and incentives to ensure the project is consistent with the national interest and provides economic benefits to the country.  The Cabinet makes the final decision on investment proposals.

Under Dominica’s CBI program, qualified foreign investors may obtain citizenship without voting rights.  Applicants can contribute a minimum of $100,000 to the Economic Diversification Fund for a single person or invest in designated real estate with a value of at least $200,000.  Applicants must also provide a full medical certificate, undergo a background check, and provide evidence of the source of funds before proceeding to the final stage of an interview.  The government introduced a Citizen by Investment Certificate in order to minimize the risk of unlawful duplication.  Further information is available at http://cbiu.gov.dm.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Chapter 8 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas outlines the competition policy applicable to CARICOM States.  Member states are required to establish and maintain a national competition authority for implementing the rules of competition.  CARICOM established a Caribbean Competition Commission to apply rules of competition regarding anti-competitive cross-border business conduct.  CARICOM competition policy addresses anti-competitive business conduct such as agreements between enterprises, decisions by associations of enterprises, and concerted practices by enterprises that have as their object or effect the prevention, restriction, or distortion of competition within CARICOM, and actions by which an enterprise abuses its dominant position within CARICOM.  Dominica does not have domestic legislation to regulate competition.

Expropriation and Compensation

There are no known pending expropriation cases involving American citizens.  In such an event, Dominica would employ a system of eminent domain to pay compensation when property must be acquired in the public interest.  There were no reported tendencies of the government to discriminate against U.S. investments, companies, or landholdings.  There are no laws mandating local ownership in specified sectors.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Dominica is not a party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes.  However, it is a member of the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, also known as the New York Arbitration Convention.  The Arbitration Act of 1988 is the main legislation that governs arbitration in Dominica.  It adheres to the New York Arbitration Convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Investors are permitted to use national or international arbitration for contracts entered into with the state.  Dominica does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty or a Free Trade Agreement with an investment chapter within the United States.

The country ranks 95th out of 190 countries in resolving contract disputes in the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report, twelve spots lower than the previous year.  Dispute resolution in Dominica takes an average of 741 days.  The slow court system and bureaucracy are widely seen as the main hindrances to timely resolution of commercial disputes.  Through the Arbitration Act of 1988, the local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government.  Dominica does not have a recent history of investment disputes involving a U.S. person or other foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court is the domestic arbitration body.  Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards.  The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court’s Court of Appeal also provides mediation.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Under the Bankruptcy Act (1990), Dominica has a bankruptcy framework that grants certain rights to debtor and creditor.  The 2020 Doing Business Report ranks Dominica 136th out of 190 countries in resolving insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Government of Dominica implemented a series of investment incentives codified in the Fiscal Incentives Act.  These include tax holidays for up to 20 years for approved hotel and resort development projects, duty-free concessions on the purchase of machinery and equipment, and various tax exemptions.  While there is no requirement for enterprises to purchase a fixed percentage of goods from local sources, the government encourages local sourcing.  There are no requirements for participation by nationals or the government in foreign investment projects.

Under the Fiscal Incentives Act, four types of enterprise qualify for tax holidays.  The length of the tax holiday for the first three depends on the amount of value added in Dominica.  The fourth type, known as an enclave industry, must produce goods exclusively for export outside of the CARICOM region.

Enterprise Value Added Maximum Tax Holiday
Group I 50 percent or more 15 years
Group II 25 percent to 50 percent 12 years
Group III 10 percent to 25 percent 10 years
Enclave Enclave 15 years

Companies that qualify for tax holidays are allowed to import into Dominica duty-free all equipment, machinery, spare parts, and raw materials used in production.

The Hotel Aid Act provides relief from customs duties on items brought into the country for use in construction, extension, and equipping of a hotel of not less than five bedrooms.  In addition, the Income Tax Act provides special tax relief benefits for approved hotels and villa development.  A tax holiday for up to 20 years is available for approved hotel and resort developments and up to 10 years for income accrued from the rental of villas in approved villa developments.  The Cabinet must approve these developments.

The standard corporate income tax rate is 25 percent.  There is no capital gains tax.  International businesses are exempt from tax.  Corporate tax does not apply to exempt companies or to enterprises that have been granted tax concession.

Dominica provides companies with a further tax concession effective at the end of the tax holiday period.  In effect, it is a rebate of a portion of the income tax paid based on export profits as a percentage of total profits.  Full exemption from import duties on parts, raw materials, and production machinery is also available.

The Government of Dominica does not have a practice of issuing guarantees or jointly financing foreign direct investment projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

There are no foreign trade zones or free ports in Dominica.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Dominica does not mandate use of local equipment.  The provisions of the Labor Code outline the requirements for acquiring a work permit and prohibit anyone who is not a citizen of Dominica or the OECS to engage in employment unless they have obtained a work permit.  When the government grants work permits to senior managers because no qualified nationals are available for the post, the government may recommend a counterparty trainee who is a Dominican citizen.  There are no excessively onerous visa, residency, or work permit requirements.

As a member of the WTO, Dominica is party to the Agreement to the Trade Related Investment Measures.  While there are no formal performance requirements, the government encourages investments that will create jobs, increase exports and foreign exchange earnings.  There are no requirements for participation by nationals or by the government in foreign investment projects.  There is no requirement that enterprises must purchase a fixed percentage of goods or technology from local sources, but the government encourages local sourcing.  Foreign investors receive national treatment.  There are no requirements for foreign information technology providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to surveillance.  There are no measures or draft measures that prevent or restrict companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the country.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Civil law protects physical property and mortgage claims.  There are some special license requirements for the acquisition of land, development of buildings, and expansion of existing construction, and special standards for various aspects of the tourism industry.  Individuals or corporate bodies who are not citizens and who are seeking to acquire land require an Alien Landholders License prior to the execution of transactions, depending upon the amount of land in question.  A foreign national may hold less than one acre of land for residential purposes or less than three acres for commercial purposes without obtaining an alien landholding license.

If more land is required then a license must be obtained, and the applicant must pay a fee of $2,220 (6,000 Eastern Caribbean dollars) to the Office of the Accountant-General.  Applicants must meet all the submission requirements before Cabinet can consider granting the license.  Failure to apply for the license will result in a penalty of $7,400 (20,000 Eastern Caribbean dollars).  Upon acquiring land under Section 5 for an approved development, foreign investors must apply for development permission under the Physical Planning Act within six months of acquiring the land and must start construction of the approved development within one year of receipt of development permission.

Dominica is ranked 179th of 190 countries for ease of registering property in the World Bank Doing Business Report 2020.  It takes about 125 days to complete the five necessary procedures and the cost is about 13.3 percent of the property value.  The report describes the procedure for purchasing and registering property in Dominica.

If property legally purchased is unoccupied for over twelve years, property ownership can revert to other owners, such as squatters.  This was affirmed by the CCJ in a 2019 ruling.

Intellectual Property Rights

Dominica has a legislative framework supporting its commitment to the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR).  While the legal structures governing IPR are generally adequate, enforcement could be strengthened.  The Attorney General is responsible for the administration of IPR laws.  The Companies & Intellectual Properties Office (CIPO) registers patents, trademarks, and service marks.

Dominica is signatory to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.  It is also a member of the UN World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Article 66 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (2001) establishing the CSME commits all 15 members to implement IPR protection and enforcement.  The CARIFORUM-EU EPA contains the most detailed obligations regarding IPR in any trade agreement to which Dominica is party.  The CARIFORUM-EU EPA recognizes the protection and enforcement of IPR.  Article 139 of the CARIFORUM-EU EPA requires parties to “ensure an adequate and effective implementation of the international treaties dealing with intellectual property to which they are parties, and of the [WTO] Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).”

The Comptroller of Customs of Dominica spearheads the enforcement of IPR, which includes the detention, seizure, and forfeiture of goods.  The Customs and Excise Department investigates customs offenses and administers fines and penalties.

Dominica is not included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) 2021 Special 301 Report or the 2020 USTR Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Dominica is a member of the ECCU.  As such, it is a member of the Eastern Caribbean Securities Exchange (ECSE) and the Regional Government Securities Market.  The ECSE is a regional securities market established by the ECCB and licensed under the Securities Act of 2001, a uniform regional body of legislation governing the buying and selling of financial products for the eight member territories.  In 2020, the ECSE listed 155 securities, comprising 135 sovereign debt instruments, 13 equities, and seven corporate debt securities.  Market capitalization stood at $1.8 billion. Dominica is open to portfolio investment.

Dominica has accepted the obligations of Article VIII of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Agreement, Sections 2, 3, and 4 and maintains an exchange system free of restrictions on making payments and transfers for current international transactions.  Dominica does not normally grant foreign tax credits except in the case of taxes paid in a British Commonwealth country that grants similar relief for Dominica taxes or where an applicable tax treaty provides a credit.  The private sector has access to credit on the local market through loans, purchases of non-equity securities, and trade credits and other accounts receivable that establish a claim for repayment.

Money and Banking System

The eight participating governments of the ECCU have passed the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank Agreement Act.  The Act provides for the establishment of the ECCB, its management and administration, its currency, relations with financial institutions, relations with the participating governments, foreign exchange operations, external reserves, and other related matters. Dominica is a signatory to this agreement and the ECCB controls Dominica’s currency and regulates its domestic banks.

The Banking Act is a harmonized piece of legislation across the ECCU.  The Minister of Finance usually acts in consultation with, and on the recommendation of, the ECCB with respect to those areas of responsibility within the Minister of Finance’s portfolio.

Domestic and foreign banks can establish operations in Dominica.  The Banking Act requires all commercial banks and other institutions to be licensed in order to conduct any banking business.  The ECCB regulates financial institutions.  As part of ongoing supervision, licensed financial institutions are required to submit monthly, quarterly, and annual performance reports to the ECCB.  In its latest annual report, the ECCB listed the commercial banking sector in Dominica as stable.  Assets of commercial banks totaled $781.8 million (2.1 billion Eastern Caribbean dollars) at the end of 2019. Dominica is well served by bank and non-financial institutions.  There are minimal alternative financial services.

The Caribbean region has witnessed a withdrawal of correspondent banking services by the U.S. and European banks.  CARICOM remains committed to engaging with key stakeholders on the issue and appointed a Committee of Ministers of Finance on Correspondent Banking to monitor the issue.

In 2019, the ECCB launched an 18-month financial technology pilot to launch a Digital Eastern Caribbean dollar (DXCD) with its partner, Barbados-based Bitt Inc.  An accompanying mobile application, DCash was officially launched on March 31, 2021 in four pilot countries.  The DCash pilot phase will run for 12 months.  The pilot program is expected to become operational in Dominica later in the year.  The digital Eastern Caribbean currency will operate alongside physical Eastern Caribbean currency.  Dominica does not have any specific legislation to regulate cryptocurrencies.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Dominica is a member of the ECCU and the ECCB.  The currency of exchange is the Eastern Caribbean dollar (denoted as XCD).  As a member of the OECS, Dominica has a fully liberalized foreign exchange system.  The XCD has been pegged to the United States dollar at a rate of 2.7 to $1.00 since 1976.  As a result, the XCD does not fluctuate, creating a stable currency environment for trade and investment in Dominica.

Remittance Policies

Companies registered in Dominica have the right to repatriate all capital, royalties, dividends, and profits free of all taxes or any other charges on foreign exchange transactions.  There are no restrictions on the repatriation of dividends for totally foreign-owned firms.  However, a mixed foreign-domestic company may repatriate profits to the extent of its foreign participation.

As a member of the OECS, there are no exchange controls in Dominica and the invoicing of foreign trade transactions are allowed in any currency.  Importers are not required to make prior deposits in local funds and export proceedings do not have to be surrendered to government authorities or to authorized banks.  There are no controls on transfers of funds.  Dominica is a member of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF).

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Neither the Government of Dominica, nor the ECCB, of which Dominica is a member, maintains a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) in Dominica work in partnership with ministries, or under their remit to carry out certain specific ministerial responsibilities.  There are currently 20 SOEs in Dominica operating in areas such as tourism, investment services, broadcasting and media, solid waste management, and agriculture.  There is no published list of these SOEs.  They are all wholly owned government entities.  Each is headed by a board of directors to which senior management reports.  The SOE sector is affected by financial sustainability challenges, with resources insufficient to cover capital replacement.

Privatization Program

Dominica does not currently have a targeted privatization program.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The private sector is involved in projects that benefit society, including support of environmental, social, and cultural causes.  The government encourages philanthropy, but does not have regulations in place to mandate such activities by private company.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government implemented the law inconsistently.  According to civil society representatives and members of the political opposition, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.  Local media and opposition leadership continued to raise allegations of corruption within the government, including in the Citizenship by Investment program.  Dominica acceded to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in 2010.  The country is party to the Inter-American Convention against Corruption.

The Integrity in Public Office Act, 2003 and the Integrity in Public Office (Amendment) Act 2015 require government officials to account annually for their income, assets, and gifts.  All offenses under the act, including the late filing of declarations, are criminalized.  The Integrity Commission was established and functions under this Act.  The Integrity Commission’s mandate and decisions can be found at http://www.integritycommission.gov.dm.  Generally, the Integrity Commission reports on late submissions and on inappropriately completed forms but does not share financial disclosures of officials with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Additionally, the Integrity Commission has not updated documents on its website since 2015.

The Director of Public Prosecutions is responsible for prosecuting corruption offenses, but it lacks adequate personnel and resources to handle complicated money laundering and public corruption cases.

Resources to Report Corruption

Steve Hyacinth
Chairman, Integrity Commission
Cross Street, Roseau, Dominica
Tel: 1-767-266-3436
Email: integritycommission@dominica.gov.dm

10. Political and Security Environment

Dominica held parliamentary elections in December 2019.  Voting was held under heightened security following weeks of protests and legal challenges seeking electoral reform.  The protests were led by the United Workers’ Party, which lost the election in a landslide to the ruling Dominica Labour Party.

Dominica’s economy has been strongly affected by the COVID-19 crisis.  The IMF has projected that Dominica’s GDP will grow -0.4 percent in 2021.  In May 2020, the government unveiled a disaster resilience strategy that was based on three key pillars: structural resilience, financial resilience and post-disaster resilience.  Both IMF and the World Bank have provided support to address the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The government last raised Dominica’s minimum wage in June 2008.  It varies according to the category of worker, with the lowest minimum wage set at about $1.50 an hour and the maximum set at around $2.06 an hour.  The standard workweek is 40 hours for five or six days of work.  The law provides overtime pay for work in excess of the standard workweek.  Dominica has a labor force of about 32,630, with a literacy rate of 95 percent.

The local state college largely meets the country’s technical and training needs.  There is also a small pool of professionals to draw from in fields such as law, medicine, engineering, business, information technology, and accounting.  Many of the professionals in Dominica trained in the United States, Canada, the UK, or the wider Caribbean, where many of them gained work experience before returning to the country.

The labor legislation in Dominica is applicable to all employees and employers.  There are no waivers or exceptions regarding the application of labor laws and standards in Dominica.

Employers usually advertise job vacancies in local newspapers.  The government recommends that the advertisement should be placed on three separate occasions to ensure transparency and equal opportunity for Dominican residents to apply.  The government does not interfere with the employer’s right to make hiring determinations.

The Labor Contract Act stipulates that the employees shall receive a contract within 14 days of engagement from his/her employer, which outlines the terms and conditions of employment.

The labor laws clearly regulate and define layoffs and the conditions under which layoffs can occur.  Severance by redundancy is also regulated by law.  People employed for three years or more qualify for severance pay.  Social security benefits are payable only when the employee reaches retirement age.

The Industrial Relations Act provides for and regulates trade unions in both public and private sectors.  Dominican law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, the right to strike, and the right of workers to bargain collectively with employers.  The government generally enforces laws governing worker rights effectively, and penalties generally were sufficient to deter violations.  Administrative and judicial procedures are not generally subject to lengthy delays or appeals.  Government mediation and arbitration are free of charge.  The law prohibits anti-union discrimination by providing that employers must reinstate workers who file a successful complaint of illegal dismissal, which can cover being fired for engaging in union activities or other grounds of wrongful dismissal.  Employers generally reinstated or paid compensation to employees who obtained favorable rulings by the ministry following a complaint of legal dismissal.

Collective bargaining is permitted in all firms (both public and private) where the employees are unionized.  A copy of the collective bargaining agreement must be filed at the Ministry of Labor.  There are no sectoral collective agreements.  All unionized firms are obliged by law to negotiate terms and conditions of employment of all workers, whether or not they are members of a trade union.  Dominica ratified all of the International Labor Organization (ILO)’s eight core conventions on human rights and labor administration.

The government deemed emergency, port, electricity, telecommunications, and prison services employees, as well as the banana, coconut, and citrus fruit cultivation workers “essential,” deterring workers in these sectors from going on the strike.  The International Labor Organization noted the list of essential services is broader than international standards.  Nonetheless, in practice essential workers conducted strikes and did not suffer reprisals.  The procedure for essential workers to strike is cumbersome, involving appropriate notice and submitting the grievance to the labor commissioner for possible mediation.  These actions are usually resolved through mediation by the Office of the Labor Commissioner, with the rest referred to the Industrial Relations Tribunal for binding arbitration.

The Industrial Relations Act also mandates the establishment of the Industrial Relations Board and the Industrial Relations Tribunals as dispute resolution mechanisms.  The Division of Labor acts as the first arbitrator with matters of investigation, mediation and conciliation.  Matters are referred only to the tribunals by the Minister when conciliation fails or by request of any of the disputing parties.

Enforcement is the responsibility of the Labor Commissioner within the Ministry of Justice, Immigration and National Security.  Labor laws provide that the labor commissioner may authorize the employment of a person with disabilities at a wage lower than the minimum rate to enable that person to work.  The Employment Safety Act provides occupational health and safety regulations that are consistent with international standards.  Workers have the right to remove themselves from unsafe work environments without jeopardizing their employment, and the authorities effectively enforced this right in practice.

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) ($M USD) 2020 357.6 2019 582.4 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2018 N/A BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2018 N/A BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as  percent host GDP N/A N/A 2019 54.1 percent UNCTAD data available at

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

 

* Source for Host Country Data: Eastern Caribbean Central Bank https://www.eccb-centralbank.org/statistics/dashboard-datas/.

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

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Political/Economic Section
U.S. Embassy to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States
246-227-4000
Email: BridgetownPolEcon@state.gov

Ecuador

Executive Summary

The government of Ecuador under President Moreno has focused on reducing the size of the public sector and its influence on the economy and sought private sector investment to drive economic growth. Facing serious budget deficits and the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Moreno Administration rationalized the size of government, merged ministries, and reduced the number of state-owned enterprises. Other cost-cutting measures include reducing fuel subsidies and reducing the number of public employees. Still, Ecuador is saddled with a very large public sector, and Moreno has committed to continue government spending on social welfare programs. In September 2020, the International Monetary Fund approved a $6.5 billion, 27-month Extended Fund Facility for Ecuador, and has already disbursed $4 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 economy will likely be slow to recover as the Central Bank estimates an 8.8 percent GDP contraction in 2020 and 3.1 percent projected growth in 2021. By the end of 2020, only 34 percent of the eligible working age population was fully employed.

To increase private sector engagement in the economy and attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), the Ecuadorian government passed a Productive Development Law containing tax incentives in 2018 to spur investment, changed tax and regulatory policies for mining, and issued new Public-Private Partnership regulations to increase private investment in infrastructure projects. Ecuador is a dollarized economy that has few limits on foreign investment or repatriation of profits, with the exception of a five percent currency exit tax, and is actively seeking foreign investors. It has a population that views the United States positively, and the Moreno Administration has expanded bilateral ties and significantly increased cooperation with the United States on a broad range of economic, security, political, and cultural issues.

Despite these efforts, FDI inflow to Ecuador has remained very low compared to other countries in the region, due to a number of problems, most notably corruption. Ecuador is ranked in the bottom third of countries surveyed for Transparency International’s Perceptions of Corruption Index. President Moreno declared the fight against corruption as a top priority. The independent judicial branch prosecuted government officials, including two of Moreno’s former vice presidents, as well as individuals involved in the Odebrecht and other corruption scandals. Ecuador’s highest court upheld convictions against former President Rafael Correa and 19 others in 2020 for a bribery scheme involving contributions by private companies to finance his political party illegally. Economic, commercial, and investment policies are subject to frequent changes and can increase the risks and costs of doing business in Ecuador.

Sectors of Interest to Foreign Investors

Petroleum: 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. To improve efficiencies, the government may offer concessions of its refineries and issue production-sharing contracts for oil exploration and exploitation. The government has gradually reduced its consumer fuel subsidies since May 2020 by aligning domestic fuel prices with international prices. The Ecuadorian government held a successful public tender for oil production-sharing contracts (Intracampos I) in 2019 and reportedly plans to move to production sharing contracts as the standard for future tenders.

Mining: The Ecuadorian government has reduced taxes in the mining sector to attract FDI. Presidential Decree 475, published in October 2014, reduced the windfall tax and sovereign adjustment calculations. The Organic Law for Production Incentives and Tax Fraud Prevention, passed in December 2014, included provisions to improve tax stability and lower the income tax rate in the mining sector. The previous Correa administration also developed mining sector incentives such as fiscal stability agreements, limited VAT reimbursements, remittance tax exceptions, and mechanisms for companies to recover their investments before certain taxes are applied.

Electricity: The government plans to offer concessions to develop wind, solar, hydro, biomass, biogas, geothermal, biofuel, combined cycle, and gas fired electrical generation plants to further diversify the energy matrix. It is also exploring possibilities to connect to the electrical grid the oil and shrimp sectors, which largely use independent generation capacity, and improve the cross-border electrical transmission connection with Peru. Non-hydro renewable energy projects in Ecuador are eligible for U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) financing.

Telecommunications: The government is finalizing the valuation model for 4G bands (700 and 2.5ghz) following consultations with the International Telecommunications Union and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. Ecuador’s telecommunications regulator Arcotel plans to publish the new valuation model as well as an updated fee schedule for telecommunications services by the end of April 2021. The spectrum auctions for the 4G bands will take place under the new administration as well as any 5G valuation model, deployment, and commercial rollout. The current government is considering a concession of the state-owned telecommunications company CNT, as well as diversification of its core network hardware away from Chinese vendors.

ECommerce: In 2020, ECommerce sales comprised approximately two percent of Ecuadorian GDP – one percentage point higher than in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic provoked an overnight digital transformation in the country changing consumer habits and business strategies. 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.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 92 of 198 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 129 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 99 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $619 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $6,090 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Ecuador is open to FDI in most sectors. The 2008 Constitution established that the state reserves the right to manage strategic sectors through state-owned or -controlled companies. The sectors identified are energy, telecommunications, non-renewable natural resources, transportation, hydrocarbon refining, water, biodiversity, and genetic patrimony (i.e. flora, fauna and ancestral knowledge). Although in recent years Ecuador took steps to attract FDI, its overall investment climate remains challenging as economic, commercial, and investment policies are subject to frequent change. From January to September 2020 (latest information available), FDI flows to Ecuador amounted to USD 897 million, 45 percent more than 2019 levels (USD 619 million) but still 36 percent lower than 2018 levels (USD 1.4 billion). FDI continues to be lower compared to other countries in the region.

There are no laws or practices that discriminate against foreign investors, but the legal complexity resulting from the inconsistent application and interpretation of existing laws and regulations increases the risks and costs of doing business in Ecuador. Under the prior Correa administration, disputes involving U.S. companies were politicized, especially in sensitive areas such as the energy sector. This resulted in several high-profile international investment dispute cases, with companies awarded damages in international arbitral rulings against Ecuador in the last few years. In addition, several cases are pending final arbitral rulings.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities are allowed to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity, with limitations in strategic sectors as enumerated in the Constitution. There are no investment screening mechanisms for inbound investment, and the Ecuadorian government actively seeks international investors. One hundred percent foreign equity ownership is allowed.

For license and franchise transactions, no limits exist on royalties that may be remitted, although financial outflows are subject to a five percent capital exit tax. All license and franchise agreements must be registered with the National Service for Intellectual Property Rights (SENADI). In addition to registering with the Superintendence of Companies, Securities, and Insurance, foreign investors must register investments with Ecuador’s Central Bank for statistical purposes.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Ecuador conducted a trade policy review with the World Trade Organization in March 2019; information can be found at https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp483_e.htm.

In the past three years, Ecuador has not conducted an investment policy review with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Business Facilitation

In 2018, Ecuador folded ProEcuador (https://www.proecuador.gob.ec/), the entity that is responsible for promoting economic development through exports, imports, and investment in Ecuador, into the Ministry of Production, Foreign Trade, Investments and Fisheries (MPCIEP). ProEcuador is now a Vice Ministry within MPCIEP and has 27 offices in 23 countries, including three in the United States. Ecuador is ranked 129th out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report for 2020, with particularly low rankings for Starting a Business (177), Resolving Insolvency (160), and Paying Taxes (147).

A newly created company will at a minimum be required to register with the Superintendence of Companies, Securities, and Insurance (http://www.supercias.gob.ec/), the municipal government, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Social Security Institute. The registry with the Superintendence of Companies is a completely online process as of April 2019. The incorporation of companies in Ecuador grew almost eight percent in 2020 (10,800 new companies), propelled by the introduction of the simplified joint-stock company (SAS). The SAS came into effect in May 2020 following the enactment of the Organic Law on Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Outward Investment

Ecuador does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. ProEcuador (see above) is responsible for promotion of outward investment from Ecuador. Foreign investments are subject to a currency exit tax of five percent.

In February 2017, voters passed a government-backed referendum prohibiting elected officials and public servants from having financial dealings in tax havens and other suspect jurisdictions. The list includes several U.S. states and territories that do not have state income taxes. The prohibition entered into force in September 2017.

The United States and Ecuador signed the Protocol on Trade Rules and Transparency in December 2020 under the Ecuador-U.S. Trade and Investment Council Agreement (TIC). The agreement updates the TIC with new annexes in four areas: Trade Facilitation and Customs Administration, Good Regulatory Practices, Anti-Corruption, and SMEs. The Protocol awaits legislative ratification (as of April 2021).

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

While there is a focus within the Moreno administration to improve transparency and government accountability, progress has been slow. Economic, commercial, and investment policies are subject to frequent changes and can increase the risks and costs of doing business in Ecuador. National and municipal level regulations can conflict with each other. Regulatory agencies are not required to publish proposed regulations before enactment, and rulemaking bodies are not required to solicit public comments on proposed regulations, although there has been some movement toward public consultative processes. Government ministries generally consult with relevant national actors when drafting regulations, but not always and not broadly.

The Government of Ecuador publishes regulatory actions in the Official Registry and posts them online at https://www.registroficial.gob.ec/ . Publicly listed companies generally adhere to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). While there are some transparency enforcement mechanisms within the government, they tend to be weak and rarely enforced.

There are no identified informal regulatory processes led by private sector associations or nongovernmental organizations.

International Regulatory Considerations

Ecuador is a member of the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) along with Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. Ecuador is an associate member of the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR). Ecuador is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and notifies draft regulations to the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee. Ecuador ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement on October 16, 2018.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Ecuador has a civil codified legal system. Systemic weakness in the judicial system and its susceptibility to political and economic pressures constitute challenges faced by U.S. companies investing in Ecuador. While Ecuador updated its Commercial Code in May 2019, enforcement of contract rights, equal treatment under the law, intellectual property protections, and unstable regulatory regimes continue to be concerns for foreign investors.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Ecuador does not have laws specifically on FDI, but several have effects on overall investment. The Organic Law for Production Incentives and Tax Fraud Prevention, passed in December 2014, includes provisions to improve tax stability and lower the income tax rate in the mining sector. The Organic Law of Incentives for Public-Private Associations and Foreign Investment from 2015 includes provisions to improve legal stability, reduce red tape, and exempt public private partnerships from paying income and capital exit taxes under certain conditions. The Productive Development Law of 2018 enumerates tax incentives for new investments and investments in rural or border areas. ProEcuador’s website https://www.proecuador.gob.ec/  provides a guide for investors in English and Spanish and highlights the procedures to register a company, types of incentives for investors, and relevant taxes related to investing in Ecuador.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Superintendence of Control of Market Power reviews transactions for competition-related concerns. Ecuador’s 2011 Organic Law for Regulation and Control of Market Power includes mechanisms to control and sanction market power abuses, restrictive market practices, market concentration, and unfair competition. The Superintendence of Control of Market Power can fine up to 12 percent of gross revenue companies found to be in violation of the law.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Constitution establishes that the state is responsible for managing the use and access to land, while recognizing and guaranteeing the right to private property. It also provides for the redistribution of land if it has not been in active use for more than two years.

The Article 101 of the 2015 Telecommunications Law grants permission for the occupation or expropriation of private property for telecommunication network installation provided there are no other economically viable alternatives. Service providers must assume costs associated with the property’s expropriation or occupation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Ecuador withdrew from the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) in 2010. Ecuador is a signatory to the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention). The 2018 Productive Development Law clarifies the permissibility of international investor-state arbitration under the 2008 constitution and includes provisions permitting arbitration at venues within Latin America.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Ecuador’s National Assembly voted on May 3, 2017 to terminate 12 of its bilateral investment treaties, including its agreement with the United States. The Government of Ecuador notified the U.S. government of its withdrawal from the BIT on May 18, 2017, with the effective date of May 18, 2018. The treaty further specifies that all U.S. investments in place at the date of termination enjoy the protections of the treaty for the subsequent 10 years. There have been numerous claims against Ecuador under the BIT that have gone to international arbitration. There are two active cases awaiting a final decision.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Several U.S. companies operating in Ecuador, most notably in the petroleum sector, have filed for international arbitration due to investment claims. The Government of Ecuador in the past treated these disputes as a political issue, speaking negatively about investors involved in these cases. Payment of arbitration awards generally takes longer than a year, although the Government of Ecuador has paid all final awards. Ecuador’s 2008 Constitution limited investor-state arbitration to regional arbitration entities and was the primary driver of the 2017 termination of BITs.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Ecuador is ranked 160 out of 190 in the category of Ease of Resolving Insolvency in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Report. With the goal of protecting consumers and preventing a real estate bubble, the National Assembly approved in June 2012 a law that allows homeowners to default on their first home and car loan without penalty if they forfeit the asset. The provisions do not apply to homes with a market value of more than 500 times the basic monthly salary (currently USD 200,000) or vehicles worth more than 100 times the basic monthly salary (currently USD 40,000).

In cases of foreclosure, the average time for banks to collect on debts is 5.3 years, usually taking 4.5 years for courts to approve the initiation of foreclosures. After the appointment and acceptance of an auctioneer, it takes about six months for the auction to take place. World Bank’s Doing Business Report estimates that foreclosure proceedings result in costs equal to about 18 percent of the value of the estate in question, and a recovery rate of 18.3 cents on the dollar.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

In August 2018, the National Assembly approved the Productive Development Law that provides income tax exemptions and VAT exemptions to attract investments, good for 12 years in all areas except the cities of Quito and Guayaquil, where it is 8 years, and border regions, where it is 20 years. In December 2015, Ecuador’s National Assembly approved a Public-Private Partnership law intended to attract investment. The law offers incentives, including the reduction of the income tax, value added tax, and capital exit tax, for investors in certain projects. It designates Latin American arbitration bodies as the dispute resolution mechanism. The law came into effect upon publication in the Official Registry on December 18, 2015. The Organic Law of Production Incentives and Tax Fraud Prevention, which took effect on December 30, 2014, provides tax incentives related to depreciation calculations and income tax rates, which could benefit some foreign investors. The Ecuadorian government is moving toward a Public-Private Partnership model to attract investments particularly in the energy and transportation sectors but does not yet offer sovereign guarantees or joint finance on those projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The 2010 Production Code authorized the creation of Special Economic Development Zones (ZEDEs) that are subject to reduced taxes and tariffs. The government considers the extent to which projects promote technology transfer, innovation, and industrial diversification when granting ZEDE status. Foreign-owned firms have the same investment opportunities as national firms.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

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.

There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption. Companies can currently transmit data freely into and out of Ecuador, and there are no requirements to store data within the country. The National Assembly is considering a draft data protection bill that may include high fines for data protection infractions, prior consent for cross-border data transfer, and parental consent requirements.

On October 11, 2016, Ecuador’s National Assembly passed the Code of the Social Economy of Knowledge, Creativity, and Innovation, covering a wide range of intellectual property matters. Article 148 of the Code establishes that agencies must give preference to open-source software with content developed in Ecuador when procuring software for government use. Executive Decree 1073 of June 2020 mandated an order of preference when procuring software for the government: 1) Open-Source; 2) Ecuadorian-Developed; 3) Software with Some Ecuadorian Content; and 4) Internationally-Developed.

Visa and residency requirements are relatively relaxed and do not inhibit foreign investment.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Ecuador ranks 73rd out of 190 in the 2019 World Bank’s Doing Business Report’s category for Ease of Registering Property. Foreign citizens are allowed to own land. Mortgages are available and the recording system is generally reliable.

Intellectual Property Rights

Enforcement against intellectual property infringement remains a problem in Ecuador.

In April 2016, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) moved Ecuador from Priority Watch List to Watch List in its annual Special 301 Report on intellectual property, and Ecuador has remained on the Watch List since then. In December 2020, SENADI issued implementing regulations for the Code of Knowledge, Creativity, and Innovation Social Economy (Ingenuity Code) – the legislation that covers intellectual property rights. Nonetheless, SENADI has limited enforcement capacity and remains hampered by a lack of funding and personnel due to budget cuts. The Ingenuity Code itself also requires reform to address several gaps limiting effective IP enforcement.

Piracy of computer software and counterfeit activity in brand name apparel is widespread, and enforcement is weak. Pirated CDs and DVDs are readily available on many streets and in shopping malls, and copyright enforcement remains a significant problem. The Bahia Market in Guayaquil is mentioned in USTR’s 2020 Review of Notorious Markets for Piracy and Counterfeiting. A lack of ex-officio authority for the Ecuadorian Customs Service limits its scope of action to seize IPR infringing products, and there have been few enforcement actions to protect IPR. SENADI was established in January 1999 to handle patent, trademark, and copyright registrations. SENADI reports information on its activities on its website at http://www.propiedadintelectual.gob.ec/ .

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The 2014 Law to Strengthen and Optimize Business Partnerships and Stock Markets created the Securities Market Regulation Board to oversee the stock markets. Investment options on the Quito and Guayaquil stock exchanges are very limited. Sufficient liquidity to enter and exit sizeable positions does not exist in the local markets. The five percent currency exit tax also inhibits free flow of financial resources into the product and factor markets. Foreigners are able to access credit on the local market, but interest rates are high and the number of credit instruments is limited.

Money and Banking System

Ecuador is a dollarized economy, and its banking sector is healthy. According to the Ecuadorian Central Bank’s Access to the Financial System Report, approximately 59 percent of the adult (over 15 years old) population (6.9 million people) has access to a bank account. Ecuador’s banks hold in total USD 47.9 billion in assets, with the largest banks being Banco Pichincha with about USD 12.2 billion in assets, Banco del Pacifico with about USD 6.9 billion, Banco de Guayaquil with about USD 5.7 billion, and Produbanco with about USD 5.4 billion. The Banking Association (ASOBANCA) estimates 2.7 percent of loans are non-performing. Foreigners require residency to open checking accounts in Ecuador.

Ecuador’s Superintendence of Banks regulates the financial sector. Between 2012 and 2013, the financial sector was the target of numerous new restrictions. By 2012, most banks had sold off their brokerage firms, mutual funds, and insurance companies to comply with Constitutional changes following a May 2010 referendum. The amendment to Article 312 of the Constitution required banks and their senior managers and shareholders with more than six percent equity in financial entities to divest entirely from any interest in all non-financial companies by July 2012. These provisions were incorporated into the Anti-Monopoly Law passed in September 2011.

The Organic Monetary and Financial Code, published in the Official Registry September 12, 2014, created a five-person Monetary and Financial Policy and Regulation Board of presidential appointees to regulate the banking sector. The law gives the Monetary and Financial Policy and Regulation Board the ability to prioritize certain sectors for lending from private banks. The Code also established that finance companies had to become banks, merge, or close their operations by 2017. Of the 10 finance companies in Ecuador, two became banks, six closed their operations or are in the process of closing, and two were absorbed by other financial institutions. There are 24 private banks in Ecuador as of December 2020.

Electronic currency appeared in 2014 with the approval of the Organic Monetary and Financial Code, which established the exclusive management of the system by Ecuador’s Central Bank. In 2017, with the approval of the Law for the Reactivation of the Economy, Strengthening of Dollarization and Modernization of Financial Management, electronic currency management was transferred to private banks. The Central Bank issued Regulation 29 in July 2012 requiring all financial transfers (inflows and outflows) to be channeled through the Central Bank’s accounts. In principle, the regulation increases monetary authorities’ oversight and prevents banks from netting their inflows and outflows to avoid paying the five percent currency exit tax.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Ecuador adopted the U.S. dollar as the official currency in 2000. Foreign investors may remit 100 percent of net profits and capital, subject to a five percent currency exit tax. There are no restrictions placed on foreign investors in transferring or repatriating funds associated with an investment.

Remittance Policies

Resolution 107-2015-F from Ecuador’s Monetary and Finance Board issued in July 2015 exempted some payments to foreign lenders from the capital exit tax. Among other requirements, the duration of the loan must be more than 360 days, the loan must be registered with the Central Bank, and the resources must be destined for specific purposes, such as to fund small businesses or social housing.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) announced October 23, 2015 that it had removed Ecuador from the list of countries with strategic deficiencies in anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regimes. Ecuador will undergo its next FATF mutual evaluation in 2021.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Government of Ecuador does not maintain a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF). Approved in July 2020, Ecuador’s Public Finance Law (COPLAFIP) established a Fiscal Stabilization Fund to invest excess revenues from extractive industries and hedge against oil and metal price fluctuations.

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. NGOs 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. The Energy Ministry announced Ecuador’s adherence to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in October 2020 and set up a multi-stakeholder group to develop an EITI work plan.

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 the authority that enforces the law. Ecuador currently has four products included on the Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs list of goods which 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 include the exploitation of child labor in the production of bananas, bricks, flowers, and gold.

Ecuador’s flower production consortium, in coordination with the International Labor Organization and the Ministry of Labor (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 Free Child Labor Ecuador and are committed to the elimination of child labor. In contrast, Ecuadorian media in 2020 covered child labor violations at abaca fiber (Manila hemp) plantations run by a Japanese subsidiary company. According to media reports, the Ombudsman’s office and MoL carried out inspections from 2017 to 2020 at the company’s 32 plantations and fined the company over $150,000 including for child labor violations. The MoL said in a 2019 report that it had found child labor, inhumane working conditions, labor risks, and work accidents at the company plantations.

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Corruption is a serious problem in Ecuador, and one that the Moreno administration is confronting. Numerous cases of corruption have recently been tried, resulting in convictions of high-level officials, including former President Correa, former Vice President Jorge Glas, 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 92 out of 180 countries surveyed for Transparency International’s 2020 Perceptions of Corruption Index and received a score of 39 out of 100. High-profile cases of alleged official corruption involving an Equadorian state-owned petroleum company and a Brazilian construction firm 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 Commission for Citizen Participation and Social Control (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.

Resources to Report Corruption

Alleged acts of corruption can be reported by dialing 159 within Ecuador. The CPCCS also maintains a web portal for reporting alleged acts of corruption: http://www.cpccs.gob.ec . The Attorney General’s Office actively pursues corruption cases and receives reports of corruption as well.

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 and 2021, particularly in Ecuador’s port cities.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

While Ecuador’s Statistics Institute shows 66 percent workforce participation, and an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent, the official underemployment rate is 22.3 percent, and it is estimated that 47.3 percent of workers are in the informal sector. 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 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 now Venezuelan migrants have added to the informal labor pool. The National Wages Council and Ministry of Labor Relations set minimum compensation levels for private sector employees annually. The minimum basic monthly salary for 2020 is USD 400 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. Ecuador’s Statistics Institute (INEC) determines the cost and the products that are considered basic necessities. In February 2021, the monthly cost of basic necessities was USD 712.07, while the official family wage level is at USD 746.67. As of January 2021, INEC estimated 34.0 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 IESS. The law also mandates that employees’ thirteenth and fourteenth 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 sanctions 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.

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) 2019 $107.4 2018 $107.6 https://data.worldbank.org/ 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international
Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat;
UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $619 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/
international/
direct-investment-and-
multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $48 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/
international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 18.3% 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 $897.2 100% Total Outward Amount 100%
Canada $275.5 31% N/A N/A
Spain $239.8 27% N/A N/A
UK $95.5 11% N/A N/A
United States $83.9 9% N/A N/A
China $41.8 5% N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Source: Central Bank of Ecuador – September 2020 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

Post contact for this report at Embassy Quito is Georgina Scarlata at scarlatagm@state.gov .

Mexico

Executive Summary

In 2020, Mexico became the United States’ third largest trading partner in goods and services and second largest in goods only.  It remains one of our most important investment partners.  Bilateral trade grew 482.2 percent from 1993-2020, and Mexico is the United States’ second largest export market.  The United States is Mexico’s top source of foreign direct investment (FDI) with USD 100.9 billion (2019 total per the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis), or 39.1 percent of all inflows (stock) to Mexico, according to Mexico’s Secretariat of Economy.

The Mexican economy averaged 2 percent GDP growth from 1994-2020, but contracted 8.5 percent in 2020.  The economic downturn due to the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic was the major reason behind the contraction, with FDI decreasing 11.7 percent.  The austere fiscal policy in Mexico resulted in primary surplus of 0.1 percent in 2020.  The government has upheld the central bank’s (Bank of Mexico) independence.  Inflation remained at 3.4 percent in 2020, within the Bank of Mexico’s target of 3 percent ± 1 percent.  The administration maintained its commitment to reducing bureaucratic spending in order to fund an ambitious social spending agenda and priority infrastructure projects, including the Dos Bocas Refinery and Maya Train.  President Lopez Obrador leaned on these initiatives as it devised a government response to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.

Mexico approved the amended United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) protocol in December 2019, the United States in December 2019, and Canada in March 2020, providing a boost in confidence to investors hoping for continued and deepening regional economic integration.  The USMCA entered into force July 1, 2020.  President Lopez Obrador has expressed optimism it will buoy the Mexican economy.

Still, investors report sudden regulatory changes and policy reversals, the shaky financial health of the state oil company Pemex, and a perceived weak fiscal response to the COVID-19 economic crisis have contributed to ongoing uncertainties.  In the first and second quarters of 2020, the three major ratings agencies (Fitch, Moody’s, and Standard and Poor’s) downgraded both Mexico’s sovereign credit rating (by one notch to BBB-, Baa1, and BBB, respectively) and Pemex’s credit rating (to junk status).  The Bank of Mexico revised upward Mexico’s GDP growth expectations for 2021, from 3.3 to 4.8 percent, as did the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to 5 percent from the previous 4.3 percent estimate in January.  Still, IMF analysts anticipate an economic recovery to pre-pandemic levels could take five years.  Moreover, uncertainty about contract enforcement, insecurity, informality, and corruption continue to hinder sustained Mexican economic growth.  Recent efforts to reverse the 2014 energy reforms, including the March 2021 electricity reform law prioritizing generation from the state-owned electric utility CFE, further increase uncertainty.  These factors raise the cost of doing business in Mexico.

Table 1:  Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 124 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi#
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 60 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 55 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $100,888 https://apps.bea.gov/international/di1usdbal
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $9,480 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

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

Historically, the United States has been one of the largest sources of FDI in Mexico.  According to Mexico’s Secretariat of Economy, FDI flows for 2020 totaled USD 29.1 billion, a decrease of 11.7 percent compared to the preliminary information for 2019 (USD 32.9 billion), and a 14.7 percent decline compared to revised numbers.  The Secretariat cited COVID’s impact on global economic activity as the main reason for the decline.  From January to December 2020, 22 percent of FDI came from new investment.  New investment in 2020 (USD 6.4 billion) was only approximately half of the new investments received in 2019 (USD 12.8 billion), and 55.4 percent came from capital reinvestment while 24.9 percent from parent company accounts.  The automotive, aerospace, telecommunications, financial services, and electronics sectors typically receive large amounts of FDI.

Most foreign investment flows to northern states near the U.S. border, where most maquiladoras (export-oriented manufacturing and assembly plants) are located, or to Mexico City and the nearby “El Bajio” (e.g. Guanajuato, Queretaro, etc.) region.  In the past, foreign investors have overlooked Mexico’s southern states, although the administration is focused on attracting investment to the region, including through large infrastructure projects such as the Maya Train, the Dos Bocas refinery, and the trans-isthmus rail project.

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

The administration has integrated components of the government’s investment agency into other ministries and offices.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Investment Policy Reviews

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

Business Facilitation

According to the World Bank, on average registering a foreign-owned company in Mexico requires 11 procedures and 31 days.  Mexico ranked 60 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s ease of doing business report in 2020.  In 2016, then-President Pena Nieto signed a law creating a new category of simplified businesses called Sociedad for Acciones Simplificadas (SAS).  Owners of SASs are supposed to be able to register a new company online in 24 hours.  Still, it can take between 66 and 90 days to start a new business in Mexico, according to the World Bank.  The Government of Mexico maintains a business registration website:  www.tuempresa.gob.mx.  Companies operating in Mexico must register with the tax authority (Servicio de Administration y Tributaria or SAT), the Secretariat of the Economy, and the Public Registry.  Additionally, companies engaging in international trade must register with the Registry of Importers, while foreign-owned companies must register with the National Registry of Foreign Investments.

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

Changes to ten-digit tariff lines conducted by the Secretariat of Economy in 2020 created trade disruptions with many shipments held at the border, stemming from lack of clear communication between government agencies that resulted in different interpretation by SAT.

Outward Investment

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

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Bilateral Investment Treaties

The USMCA entered into force on July 1, 2020, containing an investment chapter.

Mexico has signed 13 FTAs covering 50 countries and 32 Reciprocal Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements covering 33 countries.  Mexico is a member of Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which entered into force December 30, 2018.  Mexico currently has 29 Bilateral Investment Treaties in force.  Mexico and the European Union finalized a FTA in May 2020, but it still must undergo legal scrub and translation.  Mexico and the United Kingdom (UK) also signed an agreement to continue trading under existing terms following the UK’s exit from the European Union in December 2020.

Bilateral Taxation Treaties

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

In 2019, the administration approved a value-added tax (VAT) on digital services.  Since June 30, 2020, foreign digital companies are required to register with SAT and to collect VAT on the majority of goods and services customers purchase online and remit the VAT and sales reports to SAT.  SAT is authorized to block a foreign digital company’s internet protocol (IP) address in Mexico for non-compliance with tax requirements until the company complies.  The administration also introduced a series of fiscal measures in 2019 to combat tax evasion and fraud.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The National Commission on Regulatory Improvement (CONAMER), within the Secretariat of Economy, is the agency responsible for streamlining federal and sub-national regulation and reducing the regulatory burden on business.  Mexican law requires secretariats and regulatory agencies to conduct impact assessments of proposed regulations.  Assessments are made available for public comment via CONAMER’s website:  https://www.gob.mx/conamer.  The official gazette of state and federal laws currently in force in Mexico is publicly available via:  http://www.ordenjuridico.gob.mx/.  Mexican law provides for a 20-day public consultation period for most proposed regulations.  Any interested stakeholder has the opportunity to comment on draft regulations and the supporting justification, including regulatory impact assessments.  Certain measures are not subject to a mandatory public consultation period.  These include measures concerning taxation, responsibilities of public servants, the public prosecutor’s office executing its constitutional functions, and the Secretariats of National Defense (SEDENA) and the Navy (SEMAR).

The National Quality Infrastructure Program (PNIC) is the official document used to plan, inform, and coordinate standardization activities, both public and private.  The PNIC is published annually by the Secretariat of Economy in Mexico’s Official Gazette.  The PNIC describes Mexico’s plans for new voluntary standards (Normas Mexicanas; NMXs) and mandatory technical regulations (Normas Oficiales Mexicanas; NOMs) as well as proposed changes to existing standards and technical regulations.  Interested stakeholders have the opportunity to request the creation, modification, or cancelation of NMXs and NOMs as well as participate in the working groups that develop and modify these standards and technical regulations.  Mexico’s antitrust agency, the Federal Commission for Economic Competition (COFECE), plays a key role protecting, promoting, and ensuring a competitive free market in Mexico as well as protecting consumers.  COFECE is responsible for eliminating barriers both to competition and free market entry across the economy (except for the telecommunications sector, which is governed by its own competition authority) and for identifying and regulating access to essential production inputs.

In addition to COFECE, the Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) and National Hydrocarbon Commission (CNH) are both technical-oriented independent agencies that play important roles in regulating the energy and hydrocarbons sectors.  CRE regulates national electricity generation, coverage, distribution, and commercialization, as well as the transportation, distribution, and storage of oil, gas, and biofuels.  CNH supervises and regulates oil and gas exploration and production and issues oil and gas upstream (exploration/production) concessions.

Mexico has seen a shift in the public procurement process since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Government entities are increasingly awarding contracts either as direct awards or by invitation-only procurements.  In addition, there have been recent tenders that favor European standards over North American standards.

International Regulatory Considerations

Generally speaking, the Mexican government has established legal, regulatory, and accounting  systems that are transparent and consistent with international norms.  Still, the Lopez Obrador administration has eroded the autonomy and publicly questioned the value of specific antitrust and energy regulators and has proposed dissolving some of them in order to cut costs.  Furthermore, corruption continues to affect equal enforcement of some regulations.  The Lopez Obrador administration rolled out an ambitious plan to centralize government procurement in an effort to root out corruption and generate efficiencies.  The administration estimated it could save up to USD 25 billion annually by consolidating government purchases in the Secretariat of Finance.  Still, the expedited rollout and lack of planning for supply chain contingencies led to several sole-source purchases.  The Mexican government’s budget is published online and readily available.  The Bank of Mexico also publishes and maintains data about the country’s finances and debt obligations.

Investors are increasingly concerned the administration is undermining confidence in the “rules of the game,” particularly in the energy sector, by weakening the political autonomy of COFECE, CNH, and CRE.  Still, COFECE has successfully challenged regulatory changes in the electricity sector that favor state-owned enterprises over maintaining competitive prices for the consumer.  The administration has appointed five of seven CRE commissioners over the Senate’s objections, which voted twice to reject the nominees in part due to concerns their appointments would erode the CRE’s autonomy.  The administration’s budget cuts resulted in significant layoffs, which has reportedly hampered agencies’ ability to carry out their work, a key factor in investment decisions.  The independence of the CRE and CNH was further undermined by a memo from the government to both bodies instructing them to use their regulatory powers to favor state-owned Pemex and CFE.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Since the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, Mexico has had an inquisitorial system adopted from Europe in which proceedings were largely carried out in writing and sealed from public view.  Mexico amended its Constitution in 2008 to facilitate change to an oral accusatorial criminal justice system to better combat corruption, encourage transparency and efficiency, while ensuring respect for the fundamental rights of both the victim and the accused.  An ensuing National Code of Criminal Procedure passed in 2014 and is applicable to all 32 states.  The national procedural code is coupled with each state’s criminal code to provide the legal framework for the new accusatorial system, which allows for oral, public trials with the right of the defendant to face his/her accuser and challenge evidence presented against him/her, right to counsel, due process, and other guarantees.  Mexico fully adopted the new accusatorial criminal justice system at the state and federal levels in June 2016.

Mexico’s Commercial Code, which dates back to 1889, was most recently updated in 2014.  All commercial activities must abide by this code and other applicable mercantile laws, including commercial contracts and commercial dispute settlement measures.  Mexico has multiple specialized courts regarding fiscal, labor, economic competition, broadcasting, telecommunications, and agrarian law.

The judicial branch and Prosecutor General’s office (FGR) are constitutionally independent from each other and the executive.  The Prosecutor General is nominated by the president and approved by a two-thirds majority in the Senate for a nine-year term, effectively de-coupling the Prosecutor General from the political cycle of elections every six years.  With the historic 2019 labor reform, Mexico also created an independent labor court system run by the judicial branch (formerly this was an executive branch function).  The labor courts are being brought on line in a phased process by state with the final phase completed on May 1, 2022.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Mexico’s Foreign Investment Law sets the rules governing foreign investment into the country.  The National Commission for Foreign Investments, formed by several cabinet-level ministries including Interior (SEGOB), Foreign Relations (SRE), Finance (Hacienda), and Economy (SE) establishes the criteria for administering investment rules.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Mexico has two constitutionally autonomous regulators to govern matters of competition – the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) and the Federal Commission for Economic Competition (COFECE).  IFT governs broadcasting and telecommunications, while COFECE regulates all other sectors.  For more information on competition issues in Mexico, please visit COFECE’s bilingual website at: www.cofece.mx.  As mentioned above, Lopez Obrador has publicly questioned the value of COFECE and his party unsucessfully introduced a proposal last year which would have dramatically reduced its resources and merged COFECE and other regulators into a less-independent structure.  COFECE requires a quorum of at least three commissioners in order to act and currently has four out of seven commissioner seats filled.  The current chairwoman of the agency’s term as chair will expire in September, which raises questions about whether leadership will change and whether, given the hostility to the agency, the president will nominate new commissioners.

Expropriation and Compensation

USMCA (and NAFTA) contain clauses stating Mexico may not directly nor indirectly expropriate property, except for public purpose and on a non-discriminatory basis.  Expropriations are governed by international law and require rapid fair market value compensation, including accrued interest.  Investors have the right to international arbitration. The USMCA contains an annex regarding U.S.-Mexico investment disputes and those related to covered government contracts.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Mexico ratified the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention) in 1971 and has codified this into domestic law.  Mexico is also a signatory to the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (1975 Panama Convention) and the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States.  Mexico is not a member of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of other States (ICSID Convention), even though many of the investment agreements signed by Mexico include ICSID arbitration as a dispute settlement option.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The USMCA covers investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) between the United States and Mexico in chapter 31.  Canada is not party to USMCA ISDS provisions as access to dispute resolution will be possible under the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (the “CPTPP”).  U.S. and Mexican investors will have access to a very similar regime under the USMCA available under NAFTA.  Foreign investors who are “part[ies] to a covered government contract” and belong to five “covered sectors”: (i) oil and gas; (ii) power generation; (iii) telecommunications; (iv) transportation; and (v) infrastructure will have access to ISDS per USMCA provisions but only after first defending their claims in local courts before initiating arbitration. A less favorable regime will apply to all other foreign investors under the USMCA, who can only access the USMCA’s ISDS system to enforce a limited number of claims and must first defend their claims in local courts before initiating arbitration.  Investors will be able to file new NAFTA claims before July 1, 2023, provided that the dispute arises out of investments made when NAFTA was still in force and remained “in existence” on July 1, 2020.

Since NAFTA’s inception, there have been 13 cases filed against Mexico by U.S. and Canadian investors who allege expropriation and/or other violations of Mexico’s NAFTA obligations.  For more details on the cases, please visit: https://icsid.worldbank.org/en/Pages/cases/searchcases.aspx

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Arbitration Center of Mexico (CAM) is a specialized, private institution administering commercial arbitration as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism.  The average duration of a CAM-conducted arbitration process conducted is 14 months.  The Commercial Code dictates an arbitral award, regardless of the country where it originated, must be recognized as binding.  The award must be enforced after presenting a formal written petition to a judge.

The internal laws of both Pemex and CFE state all national disputes of any nature will have to be resolved by federal courts.  State-owned Enterprises (SOEs) and their productive subsidiaries may opt for alternative dispute settlement mechanisms under applicable commercial legislation and international treaties of which Mexico is a signatory.  When contracts are executed in a foreign country, Pemex and CFE have the option to follow procedures governed by non-Mexican law, to use foreign courts, or to participate in arbitration.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Mexico’s Reorganization and Bankruptcy Law (Ley de Concursos Mercantiles) governs bankruptcy and insolvency.  Congress approved modifications in 2014 to shorten procedural filing times and convey greater juridical certainty to all parties, including creditors.  Declaring bankruptcy is legal in Mexico and it may be granted to a private citizen, a business, or an individual business partner.  Debtors, creditors, or the Attorney General can file a bankruptcy claim.  Mexico ranked 33 out of 190 countries for resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report.  The average bankruptcy filing takes 1.8 years to be resolved and recovers 63.9 cents per USD, which compares favorably to average recovery in Latin America and the Caribbean of just 31.2 cents per USD.  The “Buró de Crédito” is Mexico’s main credit bureau.  More information on credit reports and ratings can be found at:  http://www.burodecredito.com.mx/ .

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

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

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

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

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

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Mexican labor law requires at least 90 percent of a company’s employees be Mexican nationals.  Employers can hire foreign workers in specialized positions as long as foreigners do not exceed 10 percent of all workers in that specialized category.  Mexico does not follow a “forced localization” policy—foreign investors are not required by law to use domestic content in goods or technology.  However, investors intending to produce goods in Mexico for export to the United States should take note of the rules of origin prescriptions contained within USMCA if they wish to benefit from USMCA treatment.  Chapter four of the USMCA introduce new rules of origin and labor content rules, which entered into force on July 1, 2020.

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

Other Industrial Policy Aspects

Mexico’s government is increasingly choosing its military for the construction and management of economic infrastructure.  In the past two years, the government entrusted the Army (SEDENA) with building the new airport in Mexico City, and sections 6, 7, and part of section 5 of the Maya Train railway project in Yucatan state.  The government announced plans to give to the Navy (SEMAR) the rights for construction, management, and operations of the Trans-Isthmic Train project to connect the ports of Coatzacoalcos in Veracruz state with the Salina Cruz port in Oaxaca state.  The government is also in the process of transferring responsibilities for managing land and sea ports from the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (SCT) to SEDENA and SEMAR respectively.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Mexico ranked 105 out of 190 countries for ease of registering property in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report, falling two places from its 2019 report.  Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution guarantees the inviolable right to private property.  Expropriation can only occur for public use and with due compensation.  Mexico has four categories of land tenure:  private ownership, communal tenure (ejido), publicly owned, and ineligible for sale or transfer.

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

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

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

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

Intellectual Property Rights

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

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

To improve efficiency, in 2020 IMPI partnered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to launch the Parallel Patent Grant (PPG) initiative.  Under this new work-sharing arrangement, IMPI will expedite the grant of a Mexican patent for businesses and individuals already granted a corresponding U.S. patent.  This arrangement allows for the efficient reutilization of USPTO work by IMPI.  The USPTO also has a Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) agreement with IMPI.  Under the PPH, an applicant receiving a ruling from either IMPI or the USPTO that at least one claim in an application is patentable may request that the other office expedite examination of the corresponding application.  The PPH leverages fast-track patent examination procedures already available in both offices to allow applicants in both countries to obtain corresponding patents faster and more efficiently.

Mexico has undertaken significant legislative reform over the past year to comply with the USMCA.  The Mexican Federal Law for Protection of Industrial Property (Ley Federal de Protección a la Propiedad Industrial) went into effect November 5, 2020.  The decree issuing this law was published in the Official Gazette on July 1, 2020, in response to the USMCA and the CPTPP.  This new law replaced the Mexican Industrial Property Law (Ley de la Propiedad Industrial), substantially strengthening IPR across a variety of disciplines.  Mexico amended its Federal Copyright Law and its Federal Criminal Code to comply with the USMCA.  The amendments went into effect July 2, 2020.  These amendments should significantly strengthen copyright law in Mexico.  Still, there are concerns that constitutional challenges filed against notice and takedown provisions as well as TPMs in the amendments may weaken these. provisions.

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

Mexico remained on the Watch List in the 2021 Special 301 report published by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).  Obstacles to U.S. trade include the wide availability of pirated and counterfeit goods in both physical and virtual notorious markets.  The  for Piracy and Counterfeiting listed several Mexican markets:  Tepito in Mexico City, La Pulga Rio in Monterrey, and Mercado San Juan de Dios in Guadalajara.  Mexico is a signatory to numerous international IP treaties, including the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, and the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

Resources for Rights Holders

Intellectual Property Rights Attaché for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean
U.S. Trade Center Liverpool No. 31 Col. Juárez
C.P. 06600 Mexico City
Tel: (52) 55 5080 2189

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

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

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

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

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

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

Money and Banking System

Financial sector reforms signed into law in 2014 have improved regulation and supervision of financial intermediaries and have fostered greater competition between financial services providers.  While access to financial services – particularly personal credit for formal sector workers – has expanded in the past four years, bank and credit penetration in Mexico remains low compared to OECD and emerging market peers.  Coupled with sound macroeconomic fundamentals, reforms have created a positive environment for the financial sector and capital markets.  According to the National Banking and Stock Commission (CNBV), the banking system remains healthy and well capitalized.  Non-performing loans have fallen 60 percent since 2001 and now account for 2.1 percent of all loans.

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

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

Mexico’s Financial Technology (FinTech) law came into effect in March 2018 and administration released secondary regulations in 2019, creating a broad rubric for the development and regulation of innovative financial technologies.  The law covers both cryptocurrencies and a regulatory “sandbox” for start-ups to test the viability of products, placing Mexico among the FinTech policy vanguard.  The reforms have already attracted significant investment to lending fintech companies and mobile payment companies.  Six fintechs have been authorized to operate in the Mexican market and CNBV is reviewing other applications.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

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

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

Remittance Policies

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

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Mexican Petroleum Fund for Stability and Development (FMP) was created as part of 2013 budgetary reforms.  Housed in Banxico, the fund distributes oil revenues to the national budget and a long-term savings account.  The FMP incorporates the Santiago Principles for transparency, placing it among the most transparent Sovereign Wealth Funds in the world.  Both Banxico and Mexico’s Supreme Federal Auditor regularly audit the fund.  Mexico is also a member of the International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds.  The Fund received  MXN 197.3 billion (approximately USD 9.9 billion) in income in 2020.  The FMP is required to publish quarterly and annual reports, which can be found at www.fmped.org.mx .

7. State-Owned Enterprises

There are two main SOEs in Mexico, both in the energy sector.  Pemex operates the hydrocarbons (oil and gas) sector, which includes upstream, mid-stream, and downstream operations.  Pemex historically contributed one-third of the Mexican government’s budget but falling output and global oil prices alongside improved revenue collection from other sources have diminished this amount over the past decade to about 8 percent.  The Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) operates the electricity sector.  While the Mexican government maintains state ownership, the latest constitutional reforms granted Pemex and CFE management and budget autonomy and greater flexibility to engage in private contracting.

Pemex

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

CFE

Changes to the Mexican constitution in 2013 and 2014 opened power generation and commercial supply to the private sector, allowing companies to compete with CFE.  Mexico has held three long-term power auctions since the reforms, in which over 40 contracts were awarded for 7,451 megawatts of energy supply and clean energy certificates.  CFE will remain the sole provider of distribution services and will own all distribution assets.  The 2014 energy reform separated CFE from the National Energy Control Center (CENACE), which now controls the national wholesale electricity market and ensures non-discriminatory access to the grid for competitors.  Still, legal and regulatory changes adopted by the Mexican government attempt to modify the rules governing the electricity dispatch order to favor CFE.  Dozens of private companies and non-governmental organizations have successfully sought injunctions against the measures, which they argue discriminate against private participants in the electricity sector.  Independent power generators were authorized to operate in 1992 but were required to sell their output to CFE or use it to self-supply.  Those legacy self-supply contracts have recently come under criticism with an electricity reform law giving the government the ability to cancel contracts it deems fraudulent.  Under the reform, private power generators may now install and manage interconnections with CFE’s existing state-owned distribution infrastructure.  The reform also requires the government to implement a National Program for the Sustainable Use of Energy as a transition strategy to encourage clean technology and fuel development and reduce pollutant emissions.  The administration has identified increasing CFE-owned power generation as its top priority for the utility, breaking from the firm’s recent practice of contracting private firms to build, own, and operate generation facilities.  CFE forced several foreign and domestic companies to renegotiate previously executed gas supply contracts, which raised significant concerns among investors about contract sanctity.

The main non-market-based advantage CFE and Pemex receive vis-a-vis private businesses in Mexico is related to access to capital.  In addition to receiving direct budget support from the Secretariat of Finance, both entities also receive implicit credit guarantees from the federal government.  As such, both are able to borrow funds on public markets at below the market rate their corporate risk profiles would normally suggest.  In addition to budgetary support, the CRE and SENER have delayed or halted necessary permits for new private sector gas stations, fuel terminals, and power plants, providing an additional non-market-based advantage to CFE and Pemex.

Privatization Program

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

8. Responsible Business Conduct

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

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

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

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Corruption exists in many forms in Mexican government and society, including corruption in the public sector (e.g., demand for bribes or kickbacks by government officials) and private sector (e.g., fraud, falsifying claims, etc.), as well as conflict of interest issues, which are not well defined in the Mexican legal framework.

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

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

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

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

Mexico is a member of the Open Government Partnership and enacted a Transparency and Access to Public Information Act in 2015, which revised the existing legal framework to expand national access to information.  Transparency in public administration at the federal level improved noticeably but expanding access to information at the state and local level has been slow.  According to Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index, Mexico ranked 124 of 180 nations.  Civil society organizations focused on fighting corruption are increasingly influential at the federal level but are few in number and less powerful at the state and local levels.

Business representatives, including from U.S. firms, believe public funds are often diverted to private companies and individuals due to corruption and perceive favoritism to be widespread among government procurement officials.  The GAN Business Anti-Corruption Portal states compliance with procurement regulations by state bodies in Mexico is unreliable and that corruption is extensive, despite laws covering conflicts of interest, competitive bidding, and company blacklisting procedures.

The U.S. Embassy has engaged in a broad-based effort to work with Mexican agencies and civil society organizations in developing mechanisms to fight corruption and increase transparency and fair play in government procurement.  Efforts with specific business impact include government procurement best practices training and technical assistance under the U.S. Trade and Development Agency’s Global Procurement Initiative.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

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

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency:

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

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

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

10. Political and Security Environment

Mass demonstrations are common in the larger metropolitan areas and in the southern Mexican states of Guerrero and Oaxaca.  While political violence is rare, drug and organized crime-related violence has increased significantly in recent years.  Political violence is also likely to accelerate in the run-up to the June 2021 elections as criminal actors seek to promote election of their preferred candidates.  The national homicide rate remained stable at 29 homicides per 100,000 residents, although the number of homicides fell slightly from 35,618 to 35,498.  For complete security information, please see the Safety and Security section in the Consular Country Information page at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Mexico.html.  Conditions vary widely by state.  For a state-by-state assessment please see the Consular Travel Advisory at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/mexico-travel-advisory.html.

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

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Mexico’s 54.1. percent rate of informality remains higher than countries with similar GDP per capita levels.  High informality, defined as those working in unregistered firms or without social security protection, distorts labor market dynamics, contributes to persistent wage depression, drags overall productivity, and slows economic growth.  In the formal economy, there exist large labor shortages due to a system that incentivizes informality.  Manufacturing companies, particularly along the U.S.-Mexico border and in the states of Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Querétaro, report labor shortages and an inability to retain staff due to wages sometimes being less that what can be earned in the informal economy.  These shortages are particularly acute for skilled workers and engineers.

On May 1, 2019, Lopez Obrador signed into law a sweeping reform of Mexico’s labor law, implementing a constitutional change and focusing on the labor justice system.  The reform replaces tripartite dispute resolution entities (Conciliation and Arbitration Boards) with independent judicial bodies and conciliation centers.  In terms of labor dispute resolution mechanisms, the Conciliation and Arbitration Boards (CABs) previously adjudicated all individual and collective labor conflicts.  Under the reform, collective bargaining agreements will now be adjudicated by federal labor conciliation centers and federal labor courts.

Labor experts predict the labor reform will result in a greater level of labor action stemming from more inter-union and intra-union competition.  The Secretariat of Labor, working closely with Mexico’s federal judiciary, as well as state governments and courts, created an ambitious state-by-state implementation agenda for the reforms, which started November 18, 2020, and will end May 1, 2022.  On November 18, 2020 the first phase of the labor reform implementation began in eight states:  Durango, State of Mexico, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas, Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco, and Hidalgo.  On December 11, 2020 the Secretariat of Labor commenced preparations for the second phase in 14 additional states beginning in October 2021.  Further details on labor reform implementation can be found at: www.reformalaboral.stps.gob.mx

Mexico’s labor relations system has been widely criticized as skewed to represent the interests of employers and the government at the expense of workers.  Mexico’s legal framework governing collective bargaining created the possibility of negotiation and registration of initial collective bargaining agreements without the support or knowledge of the covered workers.  These agreements are commonly known as protection contracts and constitute a gap in practice with international labor standards regarding freedom of association.  The percentage of the economy covered by collective bargaining agreements is between five and 10 percent, of which more than half are believed to be protection contracts.  As of March 23, 2021, 600 collective bargaining contracts have been legitimized, according to the Secretariat of Labor.

The reform requires all collective bargaining agreements must now be submitted to a free, fair, and secret vote every two years with the objective of getting existing protectionist contracts voted out.  The increasingly permissive political and legal environment for independent unions is already changing the way established unions manage disputes with employers, prompting more authentic collective bargaining.  As independent unions compete with corporatist unions to represent worker interests, workers are likely to be further emboldened in demanding higher wages.

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

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) ($M USD) 2020 MXN 23,122 billion 2019 USD 18,465 billion https://www.inegi.org.mx/
https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($billion USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 USD 100.9 billion BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 USD 21.5 billion BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 2.7% 2019 2.6% https://www.inegi.org.mx/
UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html
Table 3:  Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data* 2019
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 567,747 100% Total Outward 172,419 100%
United States 190,505 34% United States 74,854 43%
Netherlands 115,224 20% Netherlands 25,219 15%
Spain 96,146 17% Spain 13,171 8%
Canada 39,025 7% United Kingdom 12,729 7%
United Kingdom 23,648 4% Brazil 8,064 5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

* data from the IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey

Table 4:  Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets, as of June 2020*
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 61,361 100% All Countries 42,877 100% All Countries 18,484 100%
United States 19,356 32% Ireland 8,256 19% United States 12,829 69%
Ireland 8,263 13% United States 6,528 15 Brazil 1,506 8%
Brazil 1,514 2% Luxembourg 781 2% Chile 65 0.4%
Luxembourg 793 0.5% Spain 266 0.6% Netherlands 62 0.3%
United Kingdom 109 0.2% China 91 0.2% United Kingdom 55 0.3%

* data from the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS)

14. Contact for More Information

William Ayala
Economic Officer
AyalaWM@State.gov
U.S. Embassy Mexico City

Panama

Executive Summary

Given its dollarized economy, a stable democratic government, the Panama Canal, the world’s second largest free trade zone, a network of free trade agreements, and a strategic geographical location, Panama attracts high levels of foreign direct investment from around the world and has solid potential as a foreign direct investment (FDI) magnet and regional hub for a number of sectors. Panama attracts more U.S. FDI than any other country in Central America, closing 2019 with $5.27 billion, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Over the last decade, Panama had been one of the Western Hemisphere’s fastest growing economies. However, 2020 was a difficult year for Panama, which saw a GDP contraction of 17.9 percent, 18.5 percent unemployment, government revenues down by a third, and downgrades in its investment grade sovereign bond rating. Analysts forecast 4-5 percent GDP gains for 2022-2025. The global crisis hit many of Panama’s key industries, including tourism, construction, real estate, aviation, and services ancillary to trade. However, key industries such as banking, mining, the maritime sector, and Canal operations have remained stable throughout the crisis.

Panama faces structural challenges even beyond those caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including corruption, an inefficient judicial system, an under-educated workforce, and an inflexible labor code, which often discourage additional foreign investments or complicate existing ones. With a population of just over four million, Panama’s small market size is not worth the perceived risk of investment for many companies. The World Bank classified Panama in July 2018 as a “high-income” jurisdiction in its annual country classifications, after its Gross National Income per capita moved past the threshold for high-income classification. Nevertheless, Panama is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with the 17th highest Gini Coefficient and a national poverty rate of 18 percent, with pockets of 90 percent poverty in indigenous regions.

The Cortizo administration has addressed investment challenges by prioritizing key economic reforms required to improve the investment climate and passing a new investment incentives measure for the manufacturing industry. It also created a new Minister Counselor for Investment position that reports directly to the President, with the aim of attracting new investors and dislodging barriers that confront current ones. Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused the government to pivot to crisis management and basic economic recovery, although efforts to attract investment continue. Panama also remains on the Financial Action Task Force’s grey list for systemic deficiencies that impede progress in combatting money laundering and terrorist financing.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 111 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 86 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 73 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $5,272 million https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $14,950 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Panama depends heavily on foreign investment and has worked to make the investment process attractive and simple.  With few exceptions, the Government of Panama makes no distinction between domestic and foreign companies for investment purposes.  Panama benefits from stable and consistent economic policies, a dollarized economy, and a government that consistently supports trade and open markets and encourages foreign direct investment.

Prior to the pandemic, Panama had the highest level of Foreign Direct investment (FDI) in Central America.  Through the Multinational Headquarters Law (SEM), the Multinational Manufacturing Services Law (EMMA), and a Private Public Partnership framework, Panama offers tax breaks and other incentives to attract investment.  The Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MICI) is responsible for overseeing foreign investment, prepares an annual foreign investment promotion strategy, and provides services required by investors to expedite investments and project development.  MICI, in cooperation with the Minister Counselor for Investment, facilitates the initial investment process and provides integration assistance once a company is established in Panama.

Panama’s Attraction of Investment and Promotion of Exports (PROPANAMÁ) program, which operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), provides investors with information, expedites specific projects, leads investment-seeking missions abroad, and supports foreign investment missions to Panama.  In some cases, other government offices work with investors to ensure that regulations and requirements for land use, employment, special investment incentives, business licensing, and other conditions are met.  The Government of Panama (GoP) proposed a bill in February 2021 to make PROPANAMÁ an independent agency with its own budget (http://propanama.mire.gob.pa/sobre-propanama).

In 2020, the United States ran a $5.1 billion trade surplus in goods with Panama.  Both countries have signed a Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) that entered into force in October 2012.  The U.S.-Panama TPA has significantly liberalized trade in goods and services, including financial services.  The TPA also includes sections on customs administration and trade facilitation, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical barriers to trade, government procurement, investment, telecommunications, electronic commerce, intellectual property rights, and labor and environmental protections.

Panama is one of the few economies in Latin American that is predominantly services-based. Services represent nearly 80 percent of Panama’s GDP.  The TPA has improved U.S. firms’ access to Panama’s services sector and gives U.S. investors better access than other WTO members under the General Agreement on Trade in Services.  All services sectors are covered under the TPA, except where Panama has made specific exceptions.  Under the agreement, Panama has provided improved access to sectors like express delivery and granted new access in certain areas that had previously been reserved for Panamanian nationals. In addition, Panama is a full participant in the WTO Information Technology Agreement.

Panama passed a Private Public Partnership (PPP) law in 2019 and published regulations for the program in 2020, as an incentive for private investment, social development, and job creation. The law is a first-level legal framework that orders and formalizes how the private sector can invest in public projects, thereby expanding the State’s options to meet social needs.  Panama’s 2021 budget included funding to implement PPP projects.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The Panamanian government imposes some limitations on foreign ownership in the retail and media sectors, in which, in most cases, owners must be Panamanian. However, foreign investors can continue to use franchise arrangements to own retail within the confines of Panamanian law (under the TPA, direct U.S. ownership of consumer retail is allowed in limited circumstances). There are also limits on the number of foreign workers in some foreign investment structures.

In addition to limitations on ownership, more than 200 professions are reserved for Panamanian nationals. Medical practitioners, lawyers, engineers, accountants, and customs brokers must be Panamanian citizens. Furthermore, the Panamanian government instituted a regulation that ride share platforms must use drivers who possess commercial licenses, which are available only to Panamanians.

With the exceptions of retail trade, the media, and many professions, foreign and domestic entities have the right to establish, own, and dispose of business interests in virtually all forms of remunerative activity, and the Panamanian government does not screen inbound investment. Foreigners do not need to be legally resident or physically present in Panama to establish corporations or obtain local operating licenses for a foreign corporation. Business visas (and even citizenship) are readily obtainable for significant investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Panama has not undergone any third-party investment policy reviews (IPRs) through a multilateral organization in the past three years. Panama does not have a formal investment screening mechanism, but the government monitors large foreign investments, especially in the energy sector.

Business Facilitation

Procedures regarding how to register foreign and domestic businesses, as well as how to obtain a notice of operation, can be found on the Ministry of Commerce and Industry’s website (https://www.panamaemprende.gob.pa/), where one may register a foreign company, create a branch of a registered business, or register as an individual trader from any part of the world. Corporate applicants must submit notarized documents to the Mercantile Division of the Public Registry, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and the Social Security Institute. Panamanian government statistics show that applications from foreign businesses typically take between one to six days to process.

The process for online business registration is clear and available to foreign companies. Panama is ranked 51 out of 190 countries for ease of starting a business and 88 out of 190 for protecting minority investors, according to the 2019 World Bank’s Doing Business Report: https://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/exploretopics/starting-a-business#close

Other agencies where companies typically register are:

Tax administration: https://dgi.mef.gob.pa/
Corporations, property, mortgage: https://www.rp.gob.pa
Social security: http://www.css.gob.pa|
Municipalities: https://mupa.gob.pa

Outward Investment

Panama does not promote or incentivize outward investment, but neither does it restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

In 2012, Panama modified its securities law to regulate brokers, fund managers, and matters related to the securities industry. The Superintendency of the Securities Market is generally considered a transparent, competent, and effective regulator. Panama is a full signatory to the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO).

Panama has five regulatory agencies, four that supervise the activities of financial entities (banking, securities, insurance, and “designated non-financial businesses and professions (DNFBPs)” and a fifth that oversees credit unions. Each of the regulators regularly publishes on their websites detailed policies, laws, and sector reports, as well as information regarding fines and sanctions. Panama’s banking regulator began publishing fines and sanctions in late 2016. The securities and insurance regulators have published fines and sanctions since 2010. Law 23 of 2015 created the regulator for DNFBPs, which began publishing fines and sanctions in 2018. In January 2020, the regulator for DNFBPs was granted independence and superintendency status similar to that of the banking regulator. Post is not aware of any informal regulatory processes managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations.

Relevant ministries or regulators oversee and enforce administrative and regulatory processes. Any administrative errors or omissions committed by public servants can be challenged and taken to the Supreme Court for a final ruling. Regulatory bodies can impose sanctions and fines which are made public and can be appealed.

Laws are developed in the National Assembly. A proposed bill is discussed in three rounds, edited as needed, and approved or rejected. The President then has 30 days to approve or veto a bill the Assembly has passed. If the President vetoes the bill, it can be returned to the National Assembly for changes or sent to the Supreme Court to rule on its constitutionality. If the bill was vetoed for reasons of unconstitutionality, and the Supreme Court finds it constitutional, the President must sign the bill. Regulations are created by agencies and other governmental bodies but they can be modified or overridden by higher authorities.

In general, draft bills, including those for laws and regulations on investment, are made available on the National Assembly’s website and can be introduced for discussion at the bill’s first hearing. All bills and approved legislation are published in the Official Gazette in full and summary form and can also be found on the National Assembly’s website: https://www.asamblea.gob.pa/buscador-de-gacetas.

Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures in Panama are based on standards set by the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) Foundation, including financial reporting standards for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Panama is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures. Foreign and national investors can find detailed information on administrative procedures applicable to investment and income generating operations, including the number of steps, the names and contact details of the entities and persons in charge of procedures, required documents and conditions, costs, processing times, and legal bases justifying the procedures.

Information on public finances and debt is published on the Ministry of Economy and Finance’s website under the directorate of public finance, but it is not consistently updated: https://fpublico.mef.gob.pa/en.

International Regulatory Considerations

Panama is part of the Central American Customs Union (CACU), the regional economic block for Central American countries. Panama has adopted many of the Central American Technical Regulations (RTCA) for intra-regional trade in goods. Panama applies the RTCA to goods imported from any CACU member and updates Panama’s regulations to be consistent with RTCA. However, Panama has not yet adopted some important RTCA regulations, such as for processed food labeling.

The United States and Panama signed an agreement regarding “Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and Technical Standards Affecting Trade in Agricultural Products,” which entered into force on December 20, 2006. The application of this agreement supersedes the RTCA for U.S. food and feed products imported into Panama.

A 2006 law established the Panamanian Food Safety Authority (AUPSA) to issue science-based sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) import policies for food and feed products entering Panama. Since 2019, AUPSA and other government entities have implemented or proposed measures that restrict market access. These measures have also increased AUPSA’s ability to limit the import of certain agricultural goods. The Panamanian Government, for example, has issued regulations on onions and withheld approval of genetically-modified foods, limiting market access and resulting in the loss of millions in potential investment. In March 2021, President Cortizo signed a new bill that eliminated AUPSA and replaced it with the Panamanian Food Agency (APA). The APA intends to improve efficiency for agro-exports and industrial food processes, as well as increase market access.

Historically, Panama has referenced or incorporated international norms and standards into its regulatory system, including the Agreements of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Codex Alimentarius, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the International Plant Protection Convention, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Customs Organization, and others. Also, Panama has incorporated into its national regulations many U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations, such as the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance.

Panama, as a member of the WTO, notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). However, in the last four years it has ignored comments on its regulations offered by other WTO members, including but not limited to the United States.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

When ruling on cases, judges rely on the Constitution and direct sources of law such as codes, regulations, and statutes. In 2016, Panama transitioned from an inquisitorial to an accusatory justice system, with the goal of simplifying and expediting criminal cases. Fundamental procedural rights in civil cases are broadly similar to those available in U.S. civil courts, although some notice and discovery rights, particularly in administrative matters, may be less extensive than in the United States. Judicial pleadings are not always a matter of public record, nor are processes always transparent.

Panama has a legal framework governing commercial and contractual issues and has specialized commercial courts. Contractual disputes are normally handled in civil court or through arbitration, unless criminal activity is involved. Some U.S. firms have reported inconsistent, unfair, and/or biased treatment from Panamanian courts. The judicial system’s capacity to resolve contractual and property disputes is often weak, hampered by a lack of technological tools and susceptibility to corruption. The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Report rated Panama’s judicial independence at 129 of 137 countries.

The Panamanian judicial system suffers from significant budget shortfalls that continue to affect all areas of the system. The transition to the accusatory system faces challenges in funding for personnel, infrastructure, and operational requirements, while addressing a significant backlog of cases initiated under the previous inquisitorial system. The judiciary still struggles with lack of independence, a legacy of an often-politicized system for appointing judges, prosecutors, and other officials. Under Panamanian law, only the National Assembly may initiate corruption investigations against Supreme Court judges, and only the Supreme Court may initiate investigations against members of the National Assembly, which has led to charges of a de facto “non-aggression pact” between the two branches.

Regulations and enforcement actions can be appealed through the legal system from Municipal Judges, to Circuit Judges, to Superior Judges, and ultimately to the Supreme Court.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Panama has different laws governing investment incentives, depending on the activity, including its newest law intended to draw manufacturing investment, the 2020 Multinational Manufacturing Services Law (EMMA). In addition, it has a Multinational Headquarters Law (SEM), a Tourism Law, an Investment Stability Law, and miscellaneous laws associated with particular sectors, including the film industry, call centers, certain industrial activities, and agricultural exports. In addition, laws may differ in special economic zones, including the Colon Free Zone, the Panama Pacifico Special Economic Area, and the City of Knowledge.

Government policy and law treat Panamanian and foreign investors equally with respect to access to credit. Panamanian interest rates closely follow international rates (i.e., the U.S. federal funds rate, the London Interbank Offered Rate, etc.), plus a country-risk premium.

The Ministries of Tourism, Public Works, and Commerce and Industry, as well as the Minister Counselor for Investment, promote foreign investment. However, some U.S. companies have reported difficulty navigating the Panamanian business environment, especially in the tourism, branding, imports, and infrastructure development sectors. Although individual ministers have been responsive to U.S. companies, fundamental problems such as judicial uncertainty are more difficult to address. U.S. companies have complained about several ministries’ failure to make timely payments for services rendered, without official explanation for the delays. U.S. Embassy Panama is aware of tens of millions of dollars in overdue payments that the Panamanian government owes to U.S. companies.

Some private companies, including multinational corporations, have issued bonds in the local securities market. Companies rarely issue stock on the local market and, when they do, often issue shares without voting rights. Investor demand is generally limited because of the small pool of qualified investors. While some Panamanians may hold overlapping interests in various businesses, there is no established practice of cross-shareholding or stable shareholder arrangements designed to restrict foreign investment through mergers and acquisitions.

The Ministry of Commerce and Industry’s website lists information about laws, transparency, legal frameworks, and regulatory bodies.

https://www.mici.gob.pa/direccion-general-de-servicios-al-inversionista/marco-legal-direccion-general-de-servicios-al-inversionista

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Panama’s Consumer Protection and Anti-Trust Agency, established by Law 45 on October 31, 2007, and modified by Law 29 of June 2008, reviews transactions for competition-related concerns and serves as a consumer protection agency.

Expropriation and Compensation

Panamanian law recognizes the concept of eminent domain, but it is exercised only occasionally, for example, to build infrastructure projects such as highways and the metro commuter train. In general, compensation for affected parties is fair. However, in at least one instance a U.S. company has expressed concern about not being compensated at fair market value after the government revoked a concession. There have been no cases of claimants citing a lack of due process regarding eminent domain.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Panama is a party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention and the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Panama is a signatory to several agreements and Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) in which binding international arbitration of investment disputes is recognized. Panama has a total of 11 Free Trade Agreements (FTA), including with Singapore, Peru, Central America, Mexico, South Korea, and Israel, as well as the Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) with the United States. Panama also has more than 20 BITs with different countries around the world, such as Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Qatar, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, among others. Panama also has a BIT with the United States. There have been four claims by U.S. investors under these agreements under the ICSID.

Resolving commercial and investment disputes in Panama can be a lengthy and complex process. Despite protections built into the U.S.-Panamanian trade agreement, investors have struggled to resolve investment issues in court and have often reverted to arbitration. There are frequent claims of bias and favoritism in the judicial system and complaints about inadequate titling, inconsistent regulations, and a lack of trained officials outside the capital.

There have been allegations that politically connected businesses have received preferential treatment in court decisions and that judges have “slow-rolled” dockets for years without taking action. Panamanian law firms often suggest writing binding arbitration clauses into all commercial contracts. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitration awards issued against the government. Post is not aware of any extrajudicial actions against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Panamanian government accepts binding international arbitration of disputes with foreign investors. Private entities are increasingly reaching out for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in Panama, primarily due to a lack of confidence in the national judicial system and the attractiveness of a quick turnaround for the settlement of disputes. Two organizations handle most arbitration cases in Panama: the Chamber of Commerce of Panama and the International Chamber of Commerce, via their affiliations with the Panamanian Center for Conflict Resolution and Arbitration (Centro de Conciliación y Arbitraje de Panamá (CeCAP)).

Panama is a party to the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, as well as to the similar 1975 Panama OAS Convention. Panama became a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in 1996. Panama adopted the UNCITRAL model arbitration law as amended in 2006. Law 131 of 2013 regulates national and international commercial arbitrations in Panama.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The World Bank 2020 Doing Business Indicator currently ranks Panama 113 out of 190 jurisdictions for resolving insolvency because of a slow court system and the complexity of the bankruptcy process. Panama adopted a new insolvency law (similar to a bankruptcy law) in 2016, but the Doing Business Indicator ranking has not identified material improvement for this metric. The Panamanian Government has proposed a bill that would significantly improve bankruptcy proceedings. As of the writing of this report the bill was awaiting the President’s signature.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Panama provides Industrial Promotion Certificates (IPCs) to incentivize industrial development in high-value-added sectors. Targeted sectors include research and development, management and quality assurance systems, environmental management, utilities, and human resources. Approved IPC’s provide up to 35 percent in tax reimbursements and preferential import tariffs of 3 percent. Panama does not have a practice of issuing guarantees or jointly financing FDI projects.

Law 1 (2017) modified Law 28 (1995) by exempting exports from income tax, and exempting from import duty machinery for companies that export 100 percent of their products. Producers that sell any portion of their products in the domestic market pay only a three percent import tariff on machinery and supplies.

Law 41, the Special Regime for the Establishment and Operation of Multinational Company Headquarters (SEM), was enacted in 2007 to encourage multinational investment in Panama.  The law focuses on administrative back office operations, such as payroll, accounting, and other functions. Any company that is licensed under SEM will automatically qualify for MSM.

The GoP enacted Law 159 on Manufacturing Services for Multinational Companies (EMMA) in 2020 as a special incentive law to attract Foreign Direct Investment in manufacturing, remanufacturing, maintenance and product repair, assembly, logistics services, and refurbishing. The EMMA law is a complement to the SEM law and offers tax and employee incentives, reducing import duties and fees for equipment and supplies used in the manufacturing process, to companies that qualify.

In 2012, Panama introduced a tourism incentive law to promote foreign investment in tourism and the hospitality industry. The incentives are available outside the district of Panama to companies registered through the National Tourism Registry of the Panama Tourism Authority (ATP) and provide tax incentives and exemptions on real estate, imported good, construction materials, appliances, furniture, and equipment. Panama further modified the law in 2019 to provide additional tax credits for new projects and extensions on existing projects. These tax credits must be used within ten years from the start of a project.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Panama is home to the Colon Free Trade Zone, the Panama Pacifico Special Economic Zone, and 18 other “free zones,” 12 active and six in development. The Colon Free Trade Zone has more than 2,500 businesses, the Panama Pacifico Special Economic Zone has more than 345 businesses, and the remaining free zones host 126 companies in total. These zones provide special tax and other incentives for manufacturers, back office operations, and call centers. Additionally, the Colon Free Zone offers companies preferential tax and duty rates that are levied in exchange for basic user fees and a five percent dividend tax (or two percent of net profits if there are no dividends). Banks and individuals in Panama pay no tax on interest or other income earned outside Panama. No taxes are withheld on savings or fixed time deposits in Panama. Individual depositors do not pay taxes on time deposits. Free zones offer tax-free status, special immigration privileges, and license and customs exemptions to manufacturers who locate within them. Investment incentives offered by the Panamanian government apply equally to Panamanian and foreign investors.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

There are no legal performance requirements such as minimum export percentages, significant requirements of local equity interest, or mandatory technology transfers. There are no requirements that host country nationals be chosen to serve in roles of senior management or on boards of directors. There are no established general requirements that foreign investors invest in local companies, purchase goods or services from local vendors, or invest in research and development (R&D) or other facilities. Depending on the sector, companies may be required to have 85-90 percent Panamanian employees. There are exceptions to this policy, but the government must approve these on a case-by-case basis. Fields dominated by strong unions, such as construction, have opposed issuing work permits to foreign laborers and some investors have struggled to fully staff large projects. Visas are available and the procedures to obtain work permits are generally not considered onerous.

As part of its effort to become a hub for finance, logistics, and communications, Panama has endeavored to become a data storage center. According to the Panamanian Authority for Government Innovation (AIG, http://www.innovacion.gob.pa/noticia/2834), most of these firms offer services to banking and telephone companies in Central America and the Caribbean. Panama boasts exceptional international connectivity, with seven undersea fiber optic cables and an eighth currently under construction.

Panama’s data protection law (Law 81, March 26, 2019) established the principles, rights, obligations, and procedures that regulate the protection of personal data. The National Authority for Transparency and Access to Information oversees the law’s enforcement, which began in March 2021. The National Authority for Government Innovation is working closely with large private sector companies to draft specific data protection regulations. The personal privacy of communications and documents is provided for in the Panamanian Constitution as a fundamental right (Political Constitution, article 29). The Constitution also provides for a right to keep personal data confidential (article 44). The Criminal Code imposes an obligation on businesses to maintain the confidentiality of information stored in databases or elsewhere and establishes several crimes for the misuse of such information (Criminal Code, articles 164, 283, 284, 285, 286). Panama’s electronic commerce legislation also states that providers of electronic document storage must guarantee the protection, reliability, and proper use of information and data stored on behalf of their customers (Law 51, July 22, 2008, article 55).

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Mortgages and liens are widely used in both rural and urban areas and the recording system is reliable. There are no specific regulations regarding land leasing or acquisition by foreign and/or non-resident investors.

A large portion of land in Panama, especially outside of Panama City, is not titled. A system of rights of possession exists, but there are multiple instances where such rights have been successfully challenged. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report (http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/panama) notes that Panama is ranked 87 out of 190 countries on the Registering Property indicator and ranks 141st in enforcing contracts. Panama enacted Law 80 (2009) to address the lack of titled land in certain parts of the country; however, the law does not address deficiencies in government administration or the judicial system. In 2010, the National Assembly approved the creation of the National Land Management Authority (ANATI) to administer land titling; however, investors have complained about ANATI’s capabilities and lengthy adjudication timelines. ANATI has attempted to clean up some titling issues and sought international assistance to modernize.

The judicial system’s capacity to resolve contractual and property disputes is generally considered weak and susceptible to corruption, as illustrated by the most recent World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2019 (http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_TheGlobalCompetitivenessReport2019.pdf), which ranks Panama’s judicial independence as 129 out of 141 countries. Americans should exercise greater due diligence in purchasing Panamanian real estate than they would in purchasing real estate in the United States. Engaging a reputable attorney and a licensed real estate broker is strongly recommended.

If legally purchased property is unoccupied, property ownership can revert to other owners (squatters) after 15 years of living on or working the land, although the parties must go to court to resolve ownership.

Intellectual Property Rights

Panama has an adequate and effective domestic legal framework to protect and enforce intellectual property rights (IPR). The legal structure is strong, enforcement is generally good, and infringement on rights and theft is uncommon. There were no new laws or regulations proposed or enacted in the past year, although Customs is in the process of modifying its contraband legislation. The U.S.-Panama TPA improved standards for the protection and enforcement of a broad range of IPR, including patents; trademarks; undisclosed tests and data required to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical products; and digital copyright products such as software, music, books, and videos. To implement the requirements of the TPA, Panama passed Law 62 of 2012  on industrial property and Law 64 of 2012  on copyrights. Law 64 also extended copyright protection to the life of the author plus 70 years, mandates the use of legal software in government agencies, and protects against the theft of encrypted satellite signals and the manufacturing or sale of tools to steal signals.

Panama is a member of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property. Panama’s Industrial Property Law (Law 35 of 1996) provides 20 years of patent protection from the date of filing, or 15 years from the filing of pharmaceutical patents. Panama has expressed interest in participating in the Patent Protection Highway with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Law 35, amended by Law 61 of 2012, also provides trademark protection, simplified the registration of trademarks, and allows for renewals for 10-year periods. The law grants ex-officio authority to government agencies to conduct investigations and seize suspected counterfeit materials. Decree 123 of 1996 and Decree 79 of 1997 specify the procedures that National Customs Authority (ANA) and Colon Free Zone officials must follow to investigate and confiscate merchandise. In 1997, ANA created a special office for IPR enforcement; in 1998, the Colon Free Zone followed suit.

The Government of Panama is making efforts to strengthen the enforcement of IPR. A Committee for Intellectual Property (CIPI), comprising representatives from five government agencies (the Colon Free Zone, the Offices of Industrial Property and Copyright under the

Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MICI), the Customs Administration (ANA), and the Attorney General), under the leadership of the MICI, is responsible for the development of intellectual property policy. Since 1997, two district courts and one superior tribunal have exclusive jurisdiction of antitrust, patent, trademark, and copyright cases. Since January 2003, a specific prosecutor with national authority over IPR cases has consolidated and simplified the prosecution of such cases. Law 1 of 2004 added crimes against IPR as a predicate offense for money laundering, and Law 14 establishes a 5 to 12-year prison term.

Various Panamanian entities track and report on seizures of counterfeit goods, but there is no single repository or website that consolidates this information. Panama’s Public Ministry has a Specialized Prosecutors Office dedicated to IPR violations, but there have so far been no criminal prosecutions for IPR violations. Panama executes search warrants on businesses that trade in counterfeit goods, but such items are usually seized administratively without criminal prosecutions.

Panama is not included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) 2021 Special 301 Report. According to USTR’s 2020 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy, a hosting provider reportedly operating from Panama supports sites offering IPR-infringing content.

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

Resources for Rights Holders

Embassy point of contact:

Colombia Primola
Economic Specialist
PrimolaCE@state.gov

Local lawyers list: https://pa.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/attorneys/

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Panama has a stock market with an effective regulatory system developed to support foreign investment. Article 44 of the constitution guarantees the protection of private ownership of real property and private investments. Some private companies, including multinational corporations, have issued bonds in the local securities market. Companies rarely issue stock on the local market and, when they do, often issue shares without voting rights. Investor demand is generally limited because of the small pool of qualified investors. While some Panamanians may hold overlapping interests in various businesses, there is no established practice of cross-shareholding or stable shareholder arrangements designed to restrict foreign investment through mergers and acquisitions. Panama has agreed to IMF Article VIII and pledged not to impose restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.

In 2012, Panama modified its securities law to regulate brokers, fund managers, and matters related to the securities industry. The Commission structure was modified to follow the successful Banking Law model and now consists of a superintendent and a board of directors. The Superintendency of the Securities Market is generally considered a competent and effective regulator. Panama is a full signatory to the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO).

Government policy and law with respect to access to credit treat Panamanian and foreign investors equally. Panamanian interest rates closely follow international rates (i.e., the U.S. federal funds rate, the London Interbank Offered Rate, etc.), plus a country-risk premium.

Money and Banking System

Panama’s banking sector is developed and highly regulated and there are no restrictions on a foreigner’s ability to establish a bank account. Foreigners are required to present a passport and taxpayer identification number and an affidavit indicating that the inflow and outflow of money meets the tax obligations of the beneficiary’s tax residence. The adoption of financial technology in Panama is nascent, but there are several initiatives underway to modernize processes.

Some U.S. citizens and entities have had difficulty meeting the high documentary threshold for establishing the legitimacy of their activities both inside and outside Panama. Banking officials counter such complaints by citing the need to comply with international financial transparency standards. Several of Panama’s largest banks have gone so far as to refuse to establish banking relationships with whole sectors of the economy, such as casinos and e-commerce, in order to avoid all possible associated risks. Regulatory issues have made it difficult for some private U.S. citizens to open bank accounts in Panama, leaving some legitimate businesses without access to banking services in Panama. Panama has no central bank.

The banking sector is highly dependent on the operating environment in Panama, but it is generally well-positioned to withstand shocks. The banking sector could be impacted if Panama’s sovereign debt rating continues to fall. In early 2021, Fitch downgraded four private banks and one state-owned bank, based primarily on concerns about Panama’s pandemic-related weakening of public finances. As of this writing, three banks have been downgraded to non-investment grade. Approximately 4.7 percent of total banking sector assets are estimated to be non-performing. The four largest banks have total assets of $54.5 billion, which represents 47.07 percent of the National Banking System.

Panama’s 2008 Banking Law regulates the country’s financial sector. The law concentrates regulatory authority in the hands of a well-financed Banking Superintendent (https://www.superbancos.gob.pa/).

Traditional bank lending from the well-developed banking sector is relatively efficient and is the most common source of financing for both domestic and foreign investors, offering the private sector a variety of credit instruments. The free flow of capital is actively supported by the government and is viewed as essential to Panama’s 68 banks (2 official banks, 39 domestic banks, 17 international banks, and 10 bank representational offices).

Foreign banks can operate in Panama and are subject to the same regulatory regime as domestic banks. Panama has not lost any correspondent banking relationships in the last three years.

There are no restrictions on, nor practical measures to prevent, hostile foreign investor takeovers, nor are there regulatory provisions authorizing limitations on foreign participation or control, or other practices that restrict foreign participation. There are no government or private sector rules that prevent foreign participation in industry standards-setting consortia. Financing for consumers is relatively open for mortgages, credit cards, and personal loans, even to those earning modest incomes.

Panama’s strategic geographic location, dollarized economy, status as a regional financial, trade, and logistics hub, and favorable corporate and tax laws make it an attractive destination for money launderers. Money laundered in Panama is believed to come in large part from the proceeds of drug trafficking. Tax evasion, bank fraud, and corruption are also believed to be major sources of illicit funds in Panama. Criminals have been accused of laundering money through shell companies and via bulk cash smuggling and trade at airports and seaports, and in active free trade zones.

In 2015, Panama strengthened its legal framework, amended its criminal code, harmonized legislation with international standards, and passed a law on anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT). Panama also approved Law 18 (2015), which severely restricts the use of bearer shares; companies still using them must appoint a custodian and maintain strict controls over their use. In addition, Panama passed Law 70 (2019), which criminalizes tax evasion and defines it as a money laundering predicate offense.

In June 2019, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) added Panama to its grey list of jurisdictions subject to ongoing monitoring due to strategic AML/CFT deficiencies. FATF cited Panama’s lack of “positive, tangible progress” in measures of effectiveness. Panama agreed to an Action Plan in four major areas: 1) risk, policy, and coordination; 2) supervision; 3) legal persons and arrangements; and 4) money laundering investigation and prosecution. The Action Plan outlined concrete measures that were to be completed in stages by May and September 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, FATF granted Panama two extensions, pushing the deadline to January 2021. At its plenary in February 2021, FATF left Panama on the grey list and noted its progress so far, but also pointed to Action Plan items that still need to be addressed.

Panama is only beginning to accurately track criminal prosecutions and convictions related to money laundering and tax evasion. Law enforcement needs more tools and training to conduct long-term, complex financial investigations, including undercover operations. The criminal justice system remains at risk for corruption. However, Panama has made progress in assessing high-risk sectors, improving inter-ministerial cooperation, and passing (though not yet implementing) a law on beneficial ownership. Additionally, the GoP and the United States recently signed an MOU to provide training to combat money laundering and corruption, through judicial investigations, prosecutions, and convictions.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Panama’s official currency is the U.S. Dollar.

Remittance Policies

Panama has customer due diligence, bulk cash, and suspicious transaction reporting requirements for money service providers (MSB), including 18 remittance companies. Post is not aware of any time limits or waiting periods for remittances. In 2017, the Bank Superintendent assumed oversight of AML/CFT compliance for MSBs. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MICI) grants operating licenses for remittance companies under Law 48 (2003). There have not been any changes to the remittance policies in 2020.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Panama started a sovereign wealth fund, called the Panama Savings Fund (FAP), in 2012 with an initial capitalization of $1.3 billion. The fund follows the Santiago Principles and is a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds. The law mandates that from 2015 onward contributions to the National Treasury from the Panama Canal Authority in excess of 3.5 percent of GDP must be deposited into the Fund. In October 2018, the rule for accumulation of the savings was modified to require  that when contributions from the Canal exceed 2.5 percent of GDP, half the surplus must go to national savings. At the end of 2020 the fund had $1.38 billion in equity, compared to $1.39 billion at the end of 2019, with less than 3 percent invested domestically. Panama withdrew $105 million from the FAP in 2020 for pandemic relief.  The fund had a gross income of $96 million in 2020.

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/#.

Privatization Program

Panama’s privatization framework law does not distinguish between foreign and domestic investor participation in prospective privatizations. The law calls for pre-screening of potential investors or bidders in certain cases to establish technical capability, but nationality and Panamanian participation are not criteria. The Government of Panama undertook a series of privatizations in the mid-1990s, including most of the country’s electricity generation and distribution, its ports, and its telecommunications sector. There are presently no privatization plans for any major state-owned enterprise.

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 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 currently in Bocas del Toro. The government mediates in such cases to ensure that private companies are complying with the terms of resettlement agreements. An indigenous population in Bocas del Toro province is currently dissatisfied with the terms of a resettlement agreement and occasionally holds protests that close down the access road to a hydroelectric dam.

Despite human resource constraints, Panama enforces its labor and environmental laws effectively 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.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Corruption is among Panama’s most significant challenges. Panama ranked 111 out of 180 countries in the 2020 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), with its CPI Index score falling from 39 in 2015 to 35 in 2020. High-profile alleged procurement irregularities in 2020, including several related to pandemic response, contributed to public skepticism of government transparency. U.S. investors allege that corruption is present in the private sector and at all levels of the Panamanian government. Purchase managers and import/export businesses have been known to overbill or skim percentages off purchase orders, while judges, mayors, members of the National Assembly, and local representatives have reportedly accepted payments for facilitating land titling and favorable court rulings. The Foreign Corrupt Practice Act (FCPA) precludes U.S. companies from engaging in bribery or other similar activities, and U.S. companies look carefully at levels of corruption before investing or bidding on government contracts.

The process to apply for permits and titles can be opaque, and civil servants have been known to ask for payments at each step of the approval process. The land titling process has been troublesome for many U.S. companies, some of which have waited decades for cases to be resolved. U.S. investors in Panama also complain about a lack of transparency in government procurement. The parameters of government tenders often change during the bidding process, creating confusion and the perception that the government tailors tenders to specific companies. Panama passed legislation in 2019 to modernize its procurement system and address some of these concerns.

Panama’s government lacks strong systemic checks and balances that incentivize accountability. All citizens are bound by anti-corruption laws; however, under Panamanian law, only the National Assembly may initiate corruption investigations against Supreme Court judges, and only the Supreme Court may initiate investigations against members of the National Assembly, which has led to charges of a de facto “non-aggression pact” between the branches. Another key component of the judicial sector, the Public Ministry (Department of Justice), has struggled with a historical susceptibility to political influence.

In late 2016, Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht admitted to paying $59 million in bribes to win Panamanian contracts worth at least $175 million between 2010 and 2014. Odebrecht’s admission was confined to bribes paid during the Martinelli administration; however, former President Juan Carlos Varela (2014-2019) is also under investigation on charges of corruption related to Odebrecht. The scandal’s full reach  is still undetermined, and Odebrecht’s activities in Panama continue, including construction on a second metro line and an expansion of Tocumen airport.

Panama has anti-corruption mechanisms in place, including whistleblower and witness protection programs and conflict-of-interest rules. However, public perception is that anti-corruption laws are weak and not applied rigorously, and that government enforcement bodies and the courts are not effective in pursuing and prosecuting those accused of corruption. The lack of a strong professionalized career civil service in Panama’s public sector has also hindered systemic change. The fight against corruption is hampered by the government’s refusal to dismantle Panama’s dictatorship-era libel and contempt laws, which can be used to punish whistleblowers. Acts of corruption are seldom prosecuted and perpetrators are almost never jailed.

Under President Cortizo, Panama has taken some measures to improve the business climate and encourage transparency. These include a new public-private partnership (APP) law that covers construction, maintenance, and operations projects valued at more than $10 million. The law is designed to implement checks and balances and eliminate discretion in contracting, a positive

step that will increase transparency and create a level playing field for investors. In addition, the public procurement law that was approved in May 2020 is aimed at improving bidding processes so that no tenders can be “made to order”.

Panama ratified the UN’s Anti-Corruption Convention in 2005 and the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Convention Against Corruption in 1998. However, there is a perception that Panama should more effectively implement both conventions.

Resources to Report Corruption

ELSA FERNÁNDEZ AGUILAR
National Director
Autoridad Nacional de Transparencia y Acceso a la Informacion (ANTAI)
Ave. del Prado, Edificio 713, Balboa, Ancon, Panama, República de Panama
(507) 527-9270
efernandez@antai.gob.pa
www.antai.gob.pa

Olga de Obaldia
Executive Director
Fundacion Para el Desarrollo y Libertad Ciudadana (Panama’s TI Chapter)
Urbanización Nuevo Paitilla. Calle 59E. Dúplex Nº 25. Ciudad de Panamá. PANAMÁ
(507) 2234120
odeobaldia@libertadciudadana.org

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 expensive 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.

Strife between rival gangs and turf battles in the narcotraffic trade led to a rising homicide rate through the first seven months of 2020, although early indications suggest the wave of gang homicides is receding. The 2020 homicide rate of 11.62 per 100,000 people is still among the lowest in Central America. Crimes other than homicides and cattle rustling were significantly lower in 2020, most likely due to pandemic-related movement restrictions and increased police presence to enforce the restrictions.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

According to official surveys carried out in October 2020, Panama’s unemployment rate was 18.5 percent, a significant increase from 7 percent in 2019 and an obvious consequence of the 2020 COVID-19 economic crisis. Panama’s non-agricultural labor force is nearly 1.6 million people, and around 53 percent of workers are employed in the informal sector (an increase from 45 percent in 2019). The rate of informal labor is higher in indigenous communities, including the Comarcas of Kuna Yala, Embera, and Ngabe Bugle, where 83 percent of jobs are informal.

There is a shortage of skilled workers in accounting, information technology, and specialized construction, and also a dearth 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.

While most public-sector employees can strike and organize professional associations, they cannot organize unions. Private sector unions are required to register with the Ministry of Labor. If the Ministry does not respond to a private-sector union registration application within 15 calendar days, the union automatically gains legal recognition, provided the request was submitted directly, with all the documentation required by law. There are unions in many sectors, but less than 15 percent of the workforce is organized. The most politically active and influential union is in the construction industry.

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.

Severance payments to workers upon termination are significant in Panama. These take the place of unemployment insurance, which does not exist in Panama. During the COVID-19 pandemic, employers have been permitted to furlough workers for longer than normally permitted, without paying severance. Law 201 of February 2021 requires companies that have been permitted to re-open to begin reinstating employees’ contracts in phases over a period of eight months; according to the law, no extensions will be granted beyond November 2021. If an employer opts to terminate a contract instead, it can extend severance payments over a period of eight months. The law also requires businesses to pay maternity leave to workers on suspended contracts. These are temporary measures for 2021, after which time furloughs are expected to return to a maximum period of four months.

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 $43,061 2020 $54,843 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment 2018       $58,023                      million USG or international statistical source https://www.inec.gob.pa/publicaciones/Default3.aspx?ID_PUBLICACION=973&ID_CATEGORIA=4&ID_SUBCATEGORIA=25

 

U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $5,272 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $2,965 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 7.2% UNCTAD data available at

https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html   

* Source for Host Country Data: https://www.contraloria.gob.pa/assets/informe-del-contralor-2019.pdf
https://www.inec.gob.pa/archivos/P053342420201202152627Cuadro%2001.pdf

Panama reports its GDP numbers as compared to a benchmark of $21.296 million from 2007. The 2019 figures from the table are measured from this benchmark and correspond to a 3 percent increase from 2018.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Outward Direct Investment data is not available. No countries designated as tax havens are sources of inward 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 34,124 100% Total Outward N/A 100%
Colombia 9,609 28% Country #1 N/A X%
United States 9,132 27% Country #2 N/A X%
Canada 8,681 25% Country #3 N/A X%
Switzerland 3,695 11% Country #4 N/A X%
United Kingdom 3,007 9% Country #5 N/A X%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

 

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

The data is from June 2020.

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 13,553 100% All Countries 929 100% All Countries 12,624 100%
United States 10,013 74% United States 545 59% United States 9,467 75%
Colombia 686 5% Ireland 85 9% Colombia 683 5%
Guatemala 335 2% Cayman Islands 78 8% Guatemala 335 3%
Costa Rica 274 2% Luxembourg 71 8% Costa Rica 273 2%
Chile 233 2% El Salvador 19 2% Chile 231 2%

 

14. Contact for More Information

Kenneth Delvalle
Commercial Assistant
U.S. Embassy, Commercial Section
Building 783, Basilio Lakas Street, Clayton
507-317-5000
Kenneth.Delvalle@trade.gov
www.trade.gov

Trinidad and Tobago

Executive Summary

Trinidad and Tobago (TT) is a high-income developing country with a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of $17,397 and an annual GDP of $24.3 billion (2019). It has the largest economy in the English-speaking Caribbean and is the third most populous country in the region with 1.4 million inhabitants. The International Monetary Fund predicts GDP for 2021 will increase by 2.6 percent as the economy rebounds following the economic impact of coronavirus mitigation. TT’s investment climate is generally open and most investment barriers have been eliminated, but stifling bureaucracy and opaque procedures remain.

Energy exploration and production drive TT’s economy. This sector has historically attracted the most foreign direct investment. The energy sector usually accounts for approximately half of GDP and 80 percent of export earnings. Petrochemicals and steel are other sectors accounting for significant foreign investment. Since the economy is tethered to the energy sector, it is particularly vulnerable to fluctuating prices for hydrocarbons and petrochemicals.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 86 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 105 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 98 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $6,200 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $17,010 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The government of Trinidad and Tobago seeks foreign direct investment and has traditionally welcomed U.S. investors.

The U.S. Mission is not aware of laws or practices that discriminate against foreign investors but some have seen the decision-making process for tenders and the subsequent awarding of contracts turn opaque without warning, especially when their interests compete with those of well-connected local firms.

InvesTT is the country’s investment promotion agency that assists investors through the process of setting up a non-energy business and provides aftercare services once established. Specifically, it provides market information; offers advice on accessing investment incentives; and assists with regulatory and registry issues; property and location services; creation of business linkages; problem solving; and advocacy to the government. The Trinidad and Tobago International Financial Center is another investment promotion agency whose mission is to attract and facilitate foreign direct investment in the financial services sector.

While Trinidad and Tobago prioritizes investment retention, the U.S. Mission is not aware of a formal, ongoing dialogue with investors, either through an Ombudsman or formal business roundtable.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity.

There are no limits on foreign ownership. Under the Foreign Investment Act of 1990, a foreign investor is permitted to own 100 percent of the share capital in a private company. A license is required to own more than a 30 percent of a public company.

The U.S. Mission is not aware of any sector-specific restrictions or limitations applied to U.S. investors.

Trinidad and Tobago maintains an investment screening mechanism for foreign investment related to specific projects that have been submitted for the purpose of accessing sector-specific incentives, such as for those offered in the tourism industry.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization conducted a trade policy review for Trinidad and Tobago in 2019: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp488_e.htm 

Business Facilitation

The government’s business facilitation efforts focus primarily on investor services (helping deal with rules and procedures) through its investment promotion agency and trying to make the rules more transparent and predictable overall. However, more work needs to be done to achieve efficient administrative procedures and dispute resolution. Trinidad and Tobago ranks 158th of 190 countries for registering property, 174th for enforcing contracts, and 160th for payment of taxes in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report, representing a deterioration of indicators that reflect a difficulty of doing business.

The business registration website is: www.ttbizlink.gov.tt . The Global Enterprise Registration Network (GER) gives the TT business registration website a below-average score of 3 out of 10 for its single electronic window, and 4.5 out of 10 for providing information on how to register a business (TTconnect.gov.tt). While the process is clear, the inability to make online payments, and submit certificates online requests are the two main reasons for the low score. A feedback mechanism allowing users to communicate with authorities is a strength of the TT business registration website. Foreign companies can use the website and business registration requires completion of seven procedures over a period of 10 days. The agencies with which a company must typically register include:

  • Companies Registry, Ministry of Legal Affairs
  • Board of Inland Revenue
  • National Insurance Board; and
  • Value Added Tax (VAT Office, Board of Inland Revenue)

Outward Investment

The host government does not promote or incentivize outward investment.

The host government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Through the Trinidad and Tobago Fair Trading Commission, the government develops transparent policies and effective laws to foster market-based competition on a non-discriminatory basis and establishes “clear rules of the game.” Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are generally transparent and consistent with international norms

There are no informal regulatory processes managed by non-governmental organizations or private sector associations.

Rule-making and regulatory authority exist within the ministries and regulatory agencies at the national level. The government consults frequently, but not always, with international agencies and business associations in developing regulations. The government submits draft regulations to parliament for approval. The process is the same for each ministry.

Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms. International financial reporting standards are required for domestic public companies.

Proposed laws and regulations are often published in draft form electronically for public review at http://www.ttparliament.org/, though there is no legal obligation to do so. The government often solicits private sector and business community comments on proposed legislation, though there is no timeframe for the length of a consultation period when it happens, nor is reporting on the consultations mandatory.

All draft bills and regulations are printed in the official gazette and other websites: www.news.gov.tt/content/e-gazette# 

  • ;

The U.S. Mission is not aware of an oversight or enforcement mechanism that ensures that the government follows administrative processes.

There has not been any announcement regarding reforms to the regulatory system, including enforcement, since the last ICS report. Regulatory reform efforts announced in prior years, such as the mechanism to calculate and collect property tax and the establishment of the revenue authority, have not been fully implemented.

Establishment of the revenue authority is intended to increase collections and streamline the system for paying taxes.

At present, regulatory enforcement mechanisms are usually a combination of moral suasion and the use of applicable administrative, civil, or criminal sanctions. The enforcement process is not legally reviewable.

Regulation is usually reviewed based on scientific or data-driven assessments. Scientific studies or quantitative analyses are not made publicly available. Public comments received by regulators are generally not made public.

Public finances and debt obligations are transparent and publicly available on the central bank website: https://www.central-bank.org.tt

International Regulatory Considerations

Trinidad and Tobago is not a part of a regional economic block, though it is part of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), a regional trading bloc that gives duty-free access to member goods, free movement to some members and establishes common treatment of non-members on specific issues. The Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) is an initiative currently being explored by CARICOM that would eventually integrate its member-states into a single economic unit. When fully completed, the CSME would succeed CARICOM.

Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are generally consistent with United Kingdom standards.

The government has not consistently notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) of draft technical regulations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

TT’s legal system is based on English common law. Contracts are legally enforced through the court system.

The country has a written commercial law. There are few specialized courts, making the resolution of legal claims time consuming. An industrial court exclusively handles cases relating to labor practices but also suffers from severe backlogs and is widely seen to favor claimants.

Civil cases of less than $2,250 are heard by the Magistrate’s Court. Matters exceeding that amount are heard in the High Court of Justice, which can grant equitable relief. There is no court or division of a court dedicated solely to hearing commercial cases.

TT’s judicial system is independent of the executive, and the judicial process is competent, procedurally and substantively fair, and reliable, although very slow. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report, Trinidad and Tobago ranks 174 of 190 in ease of enforcing contracts, and its court system requires 1,340 days to resolve a contract claim, nearly double the Latin American and Caribbean regional average.

Decisions may be appealed to the Court of Appeal in the first instance. The United Kingdom Privy Council Judicial Committee is the final court of appeal.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

TT’s judicial system respects the sanctity of contracts and generally provides a level playing field for foreign investors involved in court matters. Due to the backlog of cases, however, there can be major delays in the process. It is imperative that foreign investors seek competent local legal counsel. Some U.S. companies are hesitant to pursue legal remedies, preferring to attempt good faith negotiations in order to avoid an acrimonious relationship that could harm their interests in the country’s small, tight-knit business community.

There is no “one-stop-shop” website for investment providing relevant laws, rules, and procedures. Useful websites to help navigate foreign investment laws, rules, and procedures include: http://www.legalaffairs.gov.tt 

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Trinidad and Tobago Fair Trading Commission is an independent statutory agency responsible for promoting and maintaining fair competition in the domestic market. It is tasked with investigating the various forms of anti-competitive business conduct set out in the Fair-Trading Act. Legislation operationalizing this agency in 2006 was not proclaimed by the president until February 2020, and in that time no cases that involve foreign investment have arisen.

Expropriation and Compensation

The government can legally expropriate property based on the needs of the country and only after due process including adequate compensation, generally based on market value. Various pieces of legislation make provisions for compulsory licensing in the interest of public health or intellectual property rights.

The U.S. Mission is not aware of any direct or indirect expropriation actions since the 1980s. All prior expropriations were compensated to the satisfaction of the parties involved. Energy sector contacts occasionally describe the tax regime as confiscatory, pointing to after-the-fact withdrawal or weakening of tax incentives offered to entice investment once investment occurs.

Claimants did not allege a lack of due process in prior expropriation cases.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

TT is a party to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York convention).

Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards according to chapter 20 of the Arbitration (Foreign Arbitral Awards) Act 1996.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The bilateral investment treaty between the United States and TT recognizes binding arbitration of investment disputes.

The U.S. Mission is not aware of any claims by U.S. investors under the bilateral investment treaty with the United States.

The U.S. Mission is unaware of any disputes involving U.S. or other foreign investors over the past 10 years. There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Some of the available types of alternative dispute resolution include mediation and arbitration. The Civil Proceedings Rules encourage parties to make reasonable attempts to resolve their disputes amicably with litigation as a last resort.  Mediation and arbitration are most commonly used.

There is a domestic dispute resolution center that offers arbitration services. Domestic legislation, the Arbitration Act of 1939, is based on early English arbitration legislation and is not modeled on internationally accepted regulations.

The U.S. Mission has no records of any investment disputes involving an state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

Bankruptcy Regulations

Creditors have the right to be notified within 10 days of the appointment of a receiver and to receive a final report, a statement of accounts, and an assessment of claim. Claims of secured creditors are prioritized under the Bankruptcy Act. No distinction is made between foreign and domestic creditors or contract holders. Bankruptcy is not criminalized.

The World Bank ranked TT 83rd out of 190 countries in resolving insolvency in its Doing Business 2020 report. This reflects TT’s recovery rate (cents on the dollar), which is worse than the regional average, and cost as a percentage of estate.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Investment incentives include the following: exemption from import duties and customs duties; tax credits and deferrals; cash refunds; carry-over of losses; and access to loans. These are available equally to foreign and domestic investors, but delays in cash refund payments are a frequent complaint of those due them. Additional information is available on the following websites: https://www.finance.gov.tt/mof-investment-incentives-in-trinidad-and-tobago/ 

The government sometimes jointly finances foreign direct investment projects, but it is not common.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Free Zones Act of 1988 (last amended in 1997) established the TT Free Zones Company (TTFZ) to promote export development and encourage both foreign and local investment projects in a relatively bureaucracy-free, duty-free, and tax-free environment. Foreign owned firms have the same investment opportunities as Trinidad and Tobago entities. There are currently 15 approved enterprises located in 12 free zones. Just three are located within a multiple-user site in north-central Trinidad. The minister of trade and industry can designate any suitable area in TT as a free zone.

Free zone enterprises are exempt from customs duties on capital goods, parts, and raw materials for use in the construction and equipping of premises and in connection with the approved activity; import and export licensing requirements; land and building taxes; work permit fees; foreign currency and property ownership restrictions; capital gains taxes; withholding taxes on distribution of profits and corporation taxes or levies on sales or profits; VAT on goods supplied to a free zone; and duty on vehicles for use only within the free zone.

A corporation tax exemption for entities that qualify for free zone status is also in force. Application to carry out an approved activity in an existing free zone area is made on specified forms to the TTFZ.

Free zone activities that qualify for approval include manufacturing for export, international trading in products, services for export, and development and management of free zones. Activities that may be carried on in a free zone but do not qualify as approved activities include exploration and production activities involving petroleum, natural gas, or petrochemicals. For more information, please review the following website: http://ttfzco.com/ 

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The government does not mandate – although it strongly encourages through negotiable incentives – projects that generate employment and foreign exchange; provide training and/or technology transfer; boost exports or reduce imports; have local content; and generally contribute to the welfare of the country.

The government does not mandate that locals be recruited to senior management and boards of directors.

Several foreign firms have encountered inconsistencies leading to long delays in the issuance of long-term work permits, but there are no explicit, onerous requirements.

There are no government/authority-imposed conditions on permission to invest.

There are no forced localization requirements.

There are no performance requirements, and thus no enforcement procedures. There is no indication of an intention to implement across-the-board performance requirements.

Investment incentives are uniform for domestic and foreign investors but offered on a case-by-case, vice across-the-board, basis.

There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption.

There are no measures that prevent or restrict companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the country.

There are no rules on local data storage within Trinidad and Tobago.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights and interests are enforced in court. Mortgages and liens exist. TT has a dual system of land titles, the old common law system and the registered land title system governed by the Real Property Act of 1946. Nearly 80 percent of land in TT remains under the more complicated common law system, which is not reliable for recording secured interests.

The Foreign Investment Act of 1990 governs the acquisition of any interest in land by foreign investors. It states that foreign investors wishing to acquire land larger than five acres must obtain a license from the Ministry of Finance. Licenses are generally granted in practice per the criteria provided here: https://www.finance.gov.tt/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/51.pdf .

It is not clear what proportion of land does not have clear title. The government does not make a defined effort to identify property owners and register land titles.

In the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report, Trinidad and Tobago ranked 158 out of 190 countries in ease of registering property. Reasons for the poor score include the number of procedures required (more than the regional average), the length of time required (more than the regional average) and the cost of registering property as a percentage of the property value.

Property ownership can revert to squatters if they can prove exclusive possession of another’s land, without permission, for at least 16 years in the case of private lands and 30 years on State lands.

Intellectual Property Rights

The process of protecting intellectual property involves applying for and registering patents, trademarks, or designs. Trinidad and Tobago’s intellectual property rights (IPR) legal structure is strong, but enforcement is generally weak. Infringement on rights and theft is common.

Trinidad and Tobago is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). In 2020, Trinidad and Tobago acceded to the Madrid Protocol on Trademarks. Implementing regulations remain in drafting for the 2000 Patent Law Treaty and the Hague Agreement on Industrial Designs.

Trinidad and Tobago does not track seizures of counterfeit goods. At its May 2019 WTO Trade Policy Review, it reported one seizure in 2018. The country has prosecuted IPR violations in the past, but such prosecutions are uncommon.

TT is listed in the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Report Watch List for 2021. Challenges concern widespread copyright infringement and the country’s lack of institutional commitment to enforce IPR.

Trinidad and Tobago is not included in USTR’s 2020 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The government welcomes foreign portfolio investment.

TT has its own stock market and has an established regulatory framework to encourage and facilitate portfolio investment. There is enough liquidity in the markets to enter and exit sizeable positions.

Existing policies facilitate the free flow of financial resources into the product and factor markets.

The government and central bank respect IMF article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payment and transfers for current international transactions. Shortages of foreign exchange, exacerbated by the government’s maintenance of the local currency at values higher than those which the market would bear, however, cause considerable delays in payments and transfers for international transactions.

A full range of credit instruments is available to the private sector. There are no restrictions on borrowing by foreign investors, who are able to access credit. Credit is allocated on market terms, but interest rates tend to be higher for foreign borrowers.

Money and Banking System

Banking services are widespread throughout urban areas, but penetration is significantly lower in rural areas.

Although the banking sector is healthy and well-capitalized, the IMF in its 2020 Financial Stability Assessment Program noted Trinidad and Tobago’s banks are exposed to sovereign risk and potential liquidity risks stemming from non-bank financial entities in the group. The financial system as a whole faces risks of increasing household debt, a lack of supervisory independence and out-of-date regulatory frameworks, the sovereign-bank nexus and the absence of a macro-prudential toolkit, and contagion risks between investment funds and banks. The report further states that the financial sector legislation and regulation have not kept pace with international best practice. The supervisors operate with guidelines in key areas instead of binding powers, which limits their authority

In 2019, the estimated total assets of Trinidad and Tobago’s largest banks was $21.9 billion.

TT has a central bank system. Foreign banks may establish operations in TT provided they obtain a license from the central bank. Trinidad and Tobago has lost correspondent banking relationships in the past three years. The U.S. Mission is not aware of any current correspondent banking relationships that are in jeopardy.

There are no restrictions on a foreigner’s ability to establish a bank account.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

There are no restrictions or limitations placed on foreign investors in converting, transferring, or repatriating funds associated with an investment.

Shortages of foreign exchange, exacerbated by the government’s maintenance of the local currency at values higher than those which the market would bear, cause considerable delays in conversion into world currencies. Businesses continue to report a cumbersome bureaucratic process and a minimum three-month delay in such conversions.

The central bank intervenes to maintain an unofficial peg to the U.S. dollar, using a managed float in which the exchange rate fluctuates mildly day-to-day, and limits the availability of foreign currency.

Remittance Policies

While there are no recent changes or plans to change investment remittance policies to tighten or relax access to foreign exchange for investment remittances, commercial banks have enacted policies that limit access to foreign exchange due to national shortages, on guidance from the Ministry of Finance and the central bank.

Although there are no official time limitations on remittances, timeliness of remittances depends on availability of foreign currency.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The value of TT’s Heritage and Stabilization Fund the fund as of September 2020 is approximately $5.7 billion. The fund invests in U.S. short duration fixed income, U.S. core domestic fixed income, U.S. core domestic equities, and non-U.S. core international equities.

The sovereign wealth fund (SWF) follows the voluntary code of good practices known as the Santiago Principles. TT participates in the IMF-hosted International Working Group on Sovereign Wealth Funds.

None of the SWF is invested domestically. There are no potentially negative ramifications for U.S. investors in the local market.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

TT has 57 SOEs comprised of 44 wholly owned companies, eight majority-owned, and five in which the government has a minority share. SOEs are in the energy, manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, financial services, transportation, and communication sectors. Information on the total assets of SOEs, total net income of SOEs and number of people employed by SOEs is not available. The Investments Division of the Ministry of Finance appoints directors to the boards of state enterprises, reportedly at the direction of the minister of finance. SOEs are often informally or explicitly obligated to consult with government officials before making major business decisions. According to TT’s constitution, the government is entitled to: exercise control directly or indirectly over the affairs of the enterprise

  • exercise control directly or indirectly over the affairs of the enterprise
  • appoint a majority of directors of the board of directors of the enterprise; and
  • hold at least 50 per cent of the ordinary share capital of the enterprise

A published list of SOEs for 2021 can be found here: https://www.finance.gov.tt/2020/10/05/state-enterprise-investment-programme-2021/ 

In sectors that are open to both the private sector and foreign competition, SOEs are sometimes favored for government contracts, which might negatively impact U.S. investors in the market.

The country has not adhered to the OECD corporate governance guidelines for SOEs.

Privatization Program

TT does not have a privatization program in place, but the government has issued initial public offerings of various state-owned companies to obtain revenue, primarily in the finance and energy sectors.

Foreign investors can participate in the initial public offerings of SOEs.

The purchase of initial public offering shares on past occasions was open to the public, easy to understand, non-discriminatory, and transparent. For example: https://ngc.co.tt/media/news/ngl-initial-public-offering-brokerage-details/ 

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is general awareness of expectations of, and standards for, responsible business conduct (RBC), including obligations to proactively conduct due diligence to ensure businesses are doing no harm, including with regards to environmental, social, and governance issues.

The government has not put forward a clear definition of responsible business conduct, nor does it have specific policies to promote and encourage it. The government has not conducted a national action plan on RBC, nor does it currently factor it into procurement decisions.

There have not been any high-profile, controversial instances of private sector impact on human rights.

TT has laws to ensure protection of human rights, labor rights, consumers, and the environment. Enforcement, however, is lacking due to staffing shortages, capacity issues, and a bureaucratic judiciary.

Government, in collaboration with civil society, created the TT Corporate Governance Code, which incorporates governance, accounting, and executive compensation standards to protect shareholders. The code, however, is not mandatory.

The Caribbean Corporate Governance Institute is a not-for-profit organization headquartered in Trinidad and Tobago that freely advocates for responsible business conduct and improved corporate governance practices in the Caribbean.

The government does not encourage adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas. There are no domestic measures requiring supply chain due diligence for companies sourcing minerals originating from conflict-affected areas.

As a member of the EITI, the government publicly declares annually all revenues received from companies engaged in the extractive industries. The companies, in turn, publicly declare payments to the government.

Trinidad and Tobago is not a signatory of the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Various pieces of legislation address corruption of public officials:

  • The Integrity in Public Life Act requires public officials to disclose assets upon taking office and at the end of tenure.
  • The Freedom of Information Act gives members of the public a general right (with specified exceptions) of access to official documents of public authorities. The intention of the act was to address the public’s concerns of corruption and to promote a system of open and good governance. In compliance with the act, designated officers in each ministry and statutory authority process applications for information.
  • The Police Complaints Authority Act establishes a mechanism for complaints against police officers in relation to, among other things, police misconduct and police corruption.
  • The Prevention of Corruption Act provides for certain offences and punishment of corruption in public office.

The laws are non-discriminatory in their infrequent application. Effectiveness of these measures has been limited by a lack of thorough enforcement.

The laws do not extend to family members of officials or to political parties.

TT does not have laws or regulations to counter conflicts of interest in awarding contracts or government procurement.

The government has been a party to the development of corporate governance standards (non-binding) to encourage private companies to establish internal codes of conduct that, among other things, prohibit bribery of public officials.

Some private companies, particularly the larger ones, use internal controls and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials, though this is not a government requirement.

Trinidad and Tobago adheres to the UN Anticorruption Convention.

There are no protections for NGOs involved in investigating corruption, but investigations are not feared since corrupt actors are rarely punished.

U.S. firms often say corruption is an obstacle to FDI, particularly in government procurement, since TT’s procurement processes are not transparent.

Resources to Report Corruption

Mr. Justice Melville Baird
Chairman
The Integrity Commission
P.O. Box 1253, Port of Spain

The Integrity Commission of Trinidad and Tobago
Level 14, Tower D, International Waterfront Centre,
1A Wrightson Road, Port of Spain
868-623-8305
registrar@inegritycommission.org.tt 

Mr. Dion Abdool
Chairman
Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute
(local chapter of Transparency International)
Unit 4-12, Building 7, Fernandes Industrial Centre, Laventille
868-626-5756
admin@transparency.org.tt 

10. Political and Security Environment

While non-violent demonstrations occur on occasion, widespread civil disorder is not typical. There have been no serious incidents of political violence since a coup attempt in 1990.

Subsequent to the closure of state oil firm Petrotrin in November 2018, which resulted in the lay-off of nearly 6,000 workers, there were reports of damage to installations.

Certain areas of TT are increasingly insecure due to a critical level of violent crime. 11. Labor Policies and Practices

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The labor market includes many skilled and experienced workers, and the educational level of the population is among the top 10 in North America, according to the Human Development Index, though there is a gap between official literacy statistics and functional literacy. In 2020, the modeled International Labor Organization estimate of unemployment was 6.7 percent, while youth unemployment rate (15-24 years of age) was estimated at 9.1 percent in 2019.

Agricultural employment accounts for 3.6 percent of total employment while employment in services accounts for over 60 percent. The estimated non-agricultural workforce in the informal economy is 10 percent of the overall labor force. Trinidad and Tobago’s workforce includes not only TT nationals but also citizens of 11 other CARICOM countries as part of the free movement of labor without the need to obtain a work permit. In 2019, Trinidad and Tobago granted 16,523 “Venezuelan migrants” the right to work in the country for a period of one year under a temporary protective status. In 2021, the government allowed registered Venezuelan refugees a one-year extension of status.

Trinidad and Tobago is a net importer of expatriate labor, including doctors, nurses, construction workers, and extractive industry specialists. There are surpluses of accountants and attorneys and shortages of unskilled workers for the hospitality, retail, and agriculture sectors. The government subsidizes tertiary-level education for citizens whose income falls within a minimum range. The Multi-Sector Skills Training Program provides training in construction and hospitality and tourism for eligible citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. The government also encourages continuing learning opportunities for the disadvantaged via the Skills Training Program, which develops skills that can aid in the creation of home-based production of goods and services and employment generation.

There is no government policy requiring hiring of nationals, though it is encouraged, particularly in the energy sector.

There are no restrictions on employers adjusting employment to respond to fluctuating market conditions via severance. Labor laws differentiate between layoffs and firing. The Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act provides guidance on who is entitled to receive what based on specific circumstances. Severance pay is usually only paid to retirees and workers who have been made redundant. An employer is not required to pay severance to workers if everyone is severed, since the business is being closed. If, however, only a portion of the workforce is rendered redundant, the employer must pay severance. Unemployment insurance does not exist for workers who have been laid off for economic reasons, but programs designed to help job seekers get employed as quickly as possible are available. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government instituted a 3-6-month unemployment benefit program for those laid off.

Labor laws are not waived in order to attract or retain investment. There are no separate labor law provisions for special economic zones, trade zones, or free ports.

Collective bargaining is common, with approximately 15 percent of the population covered by collective bargaining agreements. Government workers, including civil servants, police officers, firefighters, military personnel, and staff in several state-owned enterprises, are covered by collective bargaining agreements. Unions are also quite active in the energy, steel, and telecommunications industries. Collective bargaining takes place between the firm and the recognized majority union rather than on an industry-wide basis. The government as an employer also bargains collectively. The process of collective bargaining is regulated by the Industrial Relations Act. There are close to 30 active, independent labor unions in TT.

The Industrial Relations Act (IRA) provides for dispute resolution through an industrial court in instances where the issue cannot be resolved by collective bargaining or through conciliation efforts by the Ministry of Labor.

There was no strike in the past year that posed an investment risk.

The International Labor Organization has not identified any compliance gaps in law or practice regarding international labor standards that may pose a reputational risk to investors. The government does not have a labor inspectorate system to identify and remediate labor violations, but the industrial court investigates and prosecutes unfair labor practices, such as harassment and/or improper dismissal of union members.

There were no new labor related laws or regulations enacted or in draft over the last year. 12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), and Other Investment Insurance or Development Finance Programs

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 $2,310 2019 $2,430 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $6,249 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $69 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 1% UNCTAD data available at https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html 

* Source for Host Country Data: Trinidad and Tobago Central Bank:  Homepage | Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago (central-bank.org.tt)

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

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Marissa Nicholas

Commercial Specialist

15 Queen’s Park West

Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago +1 (868) 622-6371 ext. 5933

+1 (868) 622-6371 ext. 5933 poscommercial@state.gov 

poscommercial@state.gov