The Dominican Republic, an upper middle-income country, enjoyed stable, consistent growth in a relatively diversified economy in 2019, as it has over the past decade. Foreign direct investment (FDI) provides a key source of foreign exchange for the Dominican economy, and the Dominican Republic is one of the main recipients of FDI in the Caribbean and Central America. The government actively courts FDI with generous tax exemptions and other incentives to attract businesses to the country. Historically, the tourism, real estate, telecommunications, free trade zones, mining, and financing sectors are the largest FDI recipients. In January 2020, the government announced a special incentive plan to promote high-quality investment in tourism and infrastructure in the southwest region and, in February 2020, it passed a Public Private Partnership law to catalyze private sector-led economic growth. The government’s Digital Republic program aims to create more opportunities in the digital economy for students and small businesses and ease some business operation restrictions.
Besides financial incentives, the country’s membership in the Central America Free Trade Agreement-Dominican Republic (CAFTA-DR) is one of the greatest advantages for foreign investors. Observers credit the agreement with increasing competition, improving the rule of law, and expanding access to quality products in the Dominican Republic. The United States remains the single largest investor in the Dominican Republic. CAFTA-DR includes protections for member state foreign investors, including mechanisms for dispute resolution.
Despite a stable macroeconomic situation, international indicators of the Dominican Republic’s competitiveness and transparency weakened over the past year. Foreign investors report numerous systemic problems in the Dominican Republic and cite a lack of clear, standardized rules by which to compete and a lack of enforcement of existing rules. Complaints include allegations of widespread corruption; requests for bribes; delays in government payments; weak intellectual property rights enforcement; bureaucratic hurdles; slow and sometimes locally biased judicial and administrative processes, and non-standard procedures in customs valuation and classification of imports. Weak land tenure laws and government expropriations without due compensation continue to be a problem. The public perceives administrative and judicial decision-making to be inconsistent, opaque, and overly time-consuming. Corruption and poor implementation of existing laws are widely discussed as key investor grievances.
A large public corruption scandal from 2017 continues to spark calls for institutional change and was reinvigorated by new related allegations published in June 2019 in an International Consortium of Investigative Journalists report. U.S. businesses operating in the Dominican Republic often need to take extensive measures to ensure compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Many U.S. firms and investors have expressed concerns that corruption in the government, including in the judiciary, continues to constrain successful investment in the Dominican Republic.
President Danilo Medina’s July 2019 decision not to contend for re-election ensured 2020 will be a year of transition for the Dominican Republic. The investment climate in the coming years will largely depend on whether the new government chooses to implement reforms necessary to promote competitiveness and transparency, rein in expanding public debt, and bring corrupt public officials to justice.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2019||137 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2020||115 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/
|Global Innovation Index||2019||87 of 129||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2018||$2,020||http://apps.bea.gov/international/
|World Bank GNI per capita||2018||$7,760||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The Dominican economy presents both challenges and opportunities for foreign investors. While the Dominican government promotes inward FDI and has established formal programs to attract it, lack of clear rules and uneven enforcement of existing rules complicates foreign investment.
The Dominican Republic provides tax incentives to investment in tourism, renewable energy, film production, Haiti-Dominican Republic border development, and the industrial sector. The Dominican Republic is also a signatory of CAFTA-DR, which mandates non-discriminatory treatment, free transferability of funds, protection against expropriation, and procedures for the resolution of investment disputes. However, some foreign investors indicate that the uneven enforcement of regulations and laws, or political interference in legal processes, creates difficulties for investment.
There are two main government agencies responsible for attracting foreign investment, the Export and Investment Center of the Dominican Republic (CEI-RD) and the National Council of Free Trade Zones for Export (CNZFE). CEI-RD promotes foreign investment and aids prospective foreign investors with business registration, matching services and identification of investment opportunities. CEI-RD also oversees “ProDominicana,” a branding and marketing program for the country launched in 2017 that promotes the DR as an investment destination and exporter. CNZFE aids foreign companies looking to establish operations in the country’s 74 free trade zones for export outside Dominican territory.
There are a variety of business associations that promote dialogue between the government and private sector, including the Association of Foreign Investor Businesses (ASIEX).
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
There are no general (statutory, de facto, or otherwise) limits on foreign ownership or control. According to Law No. 98-03 and Regulation 214-04, an interested foreign investor must file an application form at the offices of CEI-RD within 180 calendar days from the date on which the foreign investment took place. CEI-RD will then evaluate the application and issue the corresponding Certificate of Registration within 15 working days.
In order to set up a business in a free trade zone, a formal request must be made to the CNZFE, the entity responsible for issuing the operating licenses needed to be a free zone company or operator. CNZFE assesses the application and determines its feasibility. For more information on the procedure to apply for an operating license, visit the website of the CNZFE at http://www.cnzfe.gov.do.
The Dominican Republic does not maintain a formalized investment screening and approval mechanism for inbound foreign investment.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The Dominican Republic has not been reviewed recently by multilateral organizations regarding investment policy. The most recent reviews occurred in 2015. This included a trade policy review by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and a follow-up review by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) regarding its 2008 investment policy recommendations.
In the World Bank’s report, “Doing Business,” the Dominican Republic’s overall ranking for ease of doing business fell from 102 in 2019 to 115 in 2020, reflecting stagnant performance in several of the indicator categories. According to the report, starting a limited liability company (SRL by its Spanish acronym) in the Dominican Republic is a seven-step process that requires 16.5 days. However, some businesses report the full incorporation process can take two or three times longer than the advertised process.
The Dominican Republic has a single-window registration website for SRL registration (https://www.formalizate.gob.do/) that offers a one-stop shop for registration needs. Foreign companies may use the registration website. However, this electronic method of registration is not widely used in practice and consultation with a local lawyer is recommended for company registrations.
There are no legal or government restrictions on Dominican investment abroad, although the government does little to promote it. Outbound foreign investment is significantly lower than inbound investment. The largest recipient of Dominican outward investment is the United States.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The national government manages all regulatory processes. Information about regulations is often scattered among various ministry and agency websites and is sometimes only available through direct communication with officials. It is advisable for U.S. investors to consult with local attorneys or advisors to assist with locating comprehensive regulatory information.
On the 2019 Global Innovations Index, the Dominican Republic’s overall rank remained flat (87) compared to 2018. In sub-sections of the report, the Dominican Republic ranks 98 out of 129 for regulatory environment and 74 out of 129 for regulatory quality. The World Economic Forum 2019 Global Competitiveness Report ranked the Dominican Republic 87 out of 141 countries with respect to the efficiency of the legal framework in challenging regulations, and 108 out of 141 regarding burden of government regulations.
The World Bank Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance report states that Dominican ministries and regulatory agencies do not publish lists of anticipated regulatory changes or proposals intended for adoption within a specific timeframe. Law 200-04 requires regulatory agencies to give notice of proposed regulations in public consultations and mandates publication of the full text of draft regulations on a unified website: . Foreign investors, however, claim that these requirements are not always met in practice and many businesses note that the scope of the website content is not always adequate for investors or interested parties as not all relevant Dominican agencies provide content, and those that do often do not keep the content up to date. U.S. businesses reported that some laws went into effect before agencies issued implementing regulations to guide the businesses on how to comply with requirements.
The process of public consultation is not uniform across government. Some ministries and regulatory agencies solicit comments on proposed legislation from the public; however, public outreach is generally limited and depends on the responsible ministry or agency. For example, businesses report that some ministries sometimes upload proposed regulations to their websites or post them in national newspapers, while others may form working groups with key public and private sector stakeholders participating in the drafting of proposed regulations. Public comments received by the government are generally not publicly accessible. Some ministries and agencies prepare consolidated reports on the results of a consultation for direct distribution to interested stakeholders. Ministries and agencies do not conduct impact assessments of regulations or ex post reviews. Affected parties cannot request reconsideration or appeal of adopted regulations.
The Dominican Institute of Certified Public Accountants (ICPARD) is the country’s legally recognized professional accounting organization and has authority to establish accounting standards in accordance with Law 479-08, which also declares (as amended by Law 31-11) financial statements should be prepared in accordance with generally accepted accounting standards nationally and internationally. The ICPARD and the country’s Securities Superintendency require the use of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and IFRS for small and medium-sized entities (SMEs).
By law, the Office of Public Credit publishes on its website a quarterly report on the status of the non-financial public sector debt, which includes a wide array of information and statistics on public borrowing (www.creditopublico.gov.do/publicaciones/informes_trimestrales.htm).
In addition to the public debt addressed by the Office of Public Credit, the Central Bank maintains on its balance sheet nearly USD $12 billion in “quasi-fiscal” debt. When consolidated with central government debt, the debt-to-GDP ratio is near 53 percent, and the debt service ratio is near 30 percent.
International Regulatory Considerations
Since 1995, the Dominican Republic has presented 280 notifications to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). In recent years, the Dominican Republic has frequently changed technical requirements (e.g., for steel rebar imports and sanitary registrations, among others) and has failed to provide proper notification under the WTO TBT agreement and CAFTA-DR.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
The judicial branch is an independent branch of the Dominican government. According to Article 69 of the Constitution, all persons, including foreigners, have the right to appear in court. The basic concepts of the Dominican legal system and the forms of legal reasoning derive from French law. The five basic French Codes (Civil, Civil Procedure, Commerce, Penal, and Criminal Procedure) were translated into Spanish and passed as legislation in 1884. Some of these codes have since been amended and parts have been replaced. Subsequent Dominican laws are not of French origin.
The World Economic Forum 2019 Global Competitiveness report ranked the Dominican Republic 123 out of 141 countries in judicial independence and 87 of 141 in the efficiency of the legal framework in settling disputes. On the 2018 Global Innovations Index, the Dominican Republic ranked 91 out of 129 countries for rule of law.
There is a Commercial Code and a wide variety of laws governing business formation and activity. The main laws governing commercial disputes are the Commercial Code; Law No. 479-08, the Commercial Societies Law; Law No. 3-02, concerning Business Registration; Commercial Arbitration Law No. 489-08; Law No. 141-15 concerning Restructuring and Liquidation of Business Entities; and Law No. 126-02, concerning e-Commerce and Digital Documents and Signatures.
Some investors complain of long wait times for a decision by the judiciary. While Dominican law mandates overall time standards for the completion of key events in a civil case, these standards frequently are not met. The World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report noted that resolving complaints raised during the award and execution of a contract can take more than four years in the Dominican Republic, although some take longer. Some investors have complained that the local court system is unreliable, is biased against them, and that special interests and powerful individuals are able to use the legal system in their favor.
While the law provides for an independent judiciary, businesses note the government does not respect judicial independence or impartiality, and improper influence on judicial decisions is widespread. Several large U.S. firms cite the improper and disruptive use of lower court injunctions as a way for local distributors to obtain more beneficial settlements at the end of contract periods. In order to engage effectively in the Dominican market, many U.S. companies seek local partners that are well-connected and understand the local business environment.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The legal framework supports foreign investment. Article 221 of the Constitution declares that foreign investment shall receive the same treatment as domestic investment. Foreign Investment Law (No. 16-95) states that unlimited foreign investment is permitted in all sectors, with a few exceptions for hazardous materials or materials linked to national security.
The Export and Investment Center of the Dominican Republic (CEI-RD) aims to be the one-stop-shop for investment information, registration, and investor after-care services. CEI-RD maintains a user-friendly website for guidance on the government’s priority sectors for inward investment and on the range of investment incentives ( ).
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The National Commission for the Defense of Competition (PRO-COMPETENCIA) has the power to review transactions for competition-related concerns. Private sector contacts note, however, that strong public pressure is required for PRO-COMPETENCIA to act.
Expropriation and Compensation
The Dominican constitution permits the government’s exercise of eminent domain; however, it also mandates fair market compensation in advance of the use of seized land. Nevertheless, there are many outstanding disputes between U.S. investors and the Dominican government concerning unpaid government contracts or expropriated property and businesses. Property claims make up the majority of cases. Most, but not all, expropriations have been used for infrastructure or commercial development. Many claims remain unresolved for years.
Investors and lenders have reported that they typically do not receive prompt payment of fair market value for their losses. They have complained of difficulties in the subsequent enforcement even in cases in which the Dominican courts, including the Supreme Court, have ordered compensation or when the government has recognized a claim. In other cases, some indicate that lengthy delays in compensation payments are blamed on errors committed by government-contracted property assessors, slow processes to correct land title errors, a lack of budgeted funds, and other technical problems. There are also cases of regulatory action that investors say could be viewed as indirect expropriation. For example, they note that government decrees mandating atypical setbacks from roads or establishing new protected areas can deprive investors of their ability to use purchased land in the manner initially planned, substantially affecting the economic benefit sought from the investment.
Many companies report that the procedures to resolve expropriations lack transparency and, to a foreigner, may appear antiquated. Government officials are rarely, if ever, held accountable for failing to pay a recognized claim or failing to pay in a timely manner.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
In 2000, the Dominican Republic signed the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (Washington Convention), however, the Dominican Congress did not ratify the agreement as required by the constitution. In 2001, the Dominican Republic became a contracting state to the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention). The agreement entered into force by Congressional Resolution 178-01.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
The Dominican Republic has entered into 11 bilateral investment treaties that are in force, most of which contain dispute resolution provisions that submit the parties to arbitration.
As a signatory to CAFTA-DR, the Dominican Republic is bound by the investment chapter of CAFTA-DR, which submits the Parties to arbitration under either the ICSID or the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) rules. There have been three U.S. investor-state dispute cases filed against the Dominican Republic under CAFTA-DR. One case was settled; in the other two, an arbitration panel found in favor of the government. Dual nationals of the United States and Dominican Republic should be aware that their status as a Dominican national may interfere with their status as a “foreign” investor if they seek dispute settlement under CAFTA-DR provisions. U.S. citizens who contemplate pursuing Dominican naturalization for the ease of doing business in the Dominican Republic should consult with an attorney about the risks that may be raised by a change in nationality with regard to accessing the dispute settlement protections provided under CAFTA-DR.
There are at least 27 U.S. investors who are involved in ongoing legal disputes with the Dominican government and parastatal firms involving payments, expropriations, contractual obligations, or regulatory obligations. The investors range from large firms to private individuals and the disputes are at various levels of legal review.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Law 489-08 on commercial arbitration governs the enforcement of arbitration awards, arbitral agreements, and arbitration proceedings in the Dominican Republic. Per law 489-09, arbitration may be ad-hoc or institutional, meaning the parties may either agree on the rules of procedure applicable to their claim, or they may adopt the rules of a particular institution. Fundamental aspects of the United Nations Commission on International Trade (UNCITRAL) model law are incorporated into Law 489-08. In addition, Law 181-09 created an institutional procedure for the Alternative Dispute Resolution Center of the Chamber of Commerce Santo Domingo (http://www.camarasantodomingo.do/).
Foreign arbitral awards are enforceable in the Dominican Republic in accordance with Law 489-09 and applicable treaties, including the New York Convention. U.S. investors complain that the judicial process is slow and that domestic claimants with political connections have an advantage.
Law 141-15 provides the legal framework for bankruptcy. It allows a debtor company to continue to operate for up to five years during reorganization proceedings by staying legal proceedings. It also authorizes specialized bankruptcy courts; contemplates the appointment of conciliators, verifiers, experts, and employee representatives; allows the debtor to contract for new debt which will have priority status in relation to other secured and unsecured claims; stipulates civil and criminal sanctions for non-compliance; and permits the possibility of coordinating cross-border proceedings based on recommendations of the UNCITRAL Model Law of 1997. In March 2019, a specialized bankruptcy court was established in Santo Domingo. The national juridical school is still training specialized bankruptcy judges.
The Dominican Republic scores lower than the regional average and comparator economies on resolving insolvency on most international indices.
4. Industrial Policies
Investment incentives exist in various sectors of the economy, which are available to all investors, foreign and domestic. Incentives typically take the form of preferential tax rates or exemptions, preferential interest rates or access to finance, or preferential customs treatment. Sectors where incentives exist include agriculture, construction, energy, film production, manufacturing, and tourism.
Foreign companies are not restricted in their access to foreign exchange. There are no requirements that foreign equity be reduced over time or that technology be transferred according to defined terms. The government imposes no conditions on foreign investors concerning location, local ownership, local content, or export requirements.
The Renewable Energy Incentives Law No. 57-07 provides some incentives to businesses developing renewable energy technologies. Foreign investors praise the provisions of the law, but express frustration with approval and execution of potential renewable energy projects.
Special Zones for Border Development, created by Law No. 28-01, encourage development near the economically deprived Dominican Republic-Haiti border. A range of incentives, largely in the form of tax exemptions for a maximum period of 20 years, are available to direct investments in manufacturing projects in the Zones. These incentives include the exemption of income tax on the net taxable income of the projects, the exemption of sales tax, the exemption of import duties and tariffs and other related charges on imported equipment and machinery used exclusively in the industrial processes, as well as on imports of lubricants and fuels (except gasoline) used in the processes.
Incentives for manufacturing apply principally to production in free trade zones (discussed below) or for the manufacturing of textiles, clothing, and footwear specifically under Laws 84-99 and 56-07. Additionally, Law 392-07 encourages industrial innovation with a series of incentives that include exemptions on taxes and tariffs related to the acquisition of materials and machinery and special tax treatment for approved companies.
Tourism is a particularly attractive area for investment and one the government encourages strongly. Law 158-01 on Tourism Incentives, as amended by Law 195-13, and its regulations, grants wide-ranging tax exemptions, for fifteen years, to qualifying new projects by local or international investors. The projects and businesses that qualify for these incentives are: (a) hotels and resorts; (b) facilities for conventions, fairs, festivals, shows and concerts; (c) amusement parks, ecological parks, and theme parks; (d) aquariums, restaurants, golf courses, and sports facilities; (e) port infrastructure for tourism, such as recreational ports and seaports; (f) utility infrastructure for the tourist industry such as aqueducts, treatment plants, environmental cleaning, and garbage and solid waste removal; (g) businesses engaged in the promotion of cruises with local ports of call; and (h) small and medium-sized tourism-related businesses such as shops or facilities for handicrafts, ornamental plants, tropical fish, and endemic reptiles.
For existing projects, hotels and resort-related investments that are five years or older are granted 100 percent exemptions from taxes and duties related to the acquisition of the equipment, materials and furnishings needed to renovate their premises. In addition, hotels and resort-related investments that are fifteen years or older will receive the same benefits granted to new projects if the renovation or reconstruction involves 50 percent or more of the premises.
Finally, individuals and companies receive an income tax deduction for investing up to 20 percent of their annual profits in an approved tourist project. The Tourism Promotion Council (CONFOTOUR) is the government agency in charge of reviewing and approving applications by investors for these exemptions, as well as supervising and enforcing all applicable regulations. Once CONFOTOUR approves an application, the investor must start and continue work in the authorized project within a three-year period to avoid losing incentives.
The government does not currently have a practice of jointly financing foreign direct investment projects. However, in some circumstances the government has authority to offer land or infrastructure as a method of attracting and supporting investment that meets government development goals. In January 2020, the government announced a special development plan to encourage high-quality investment and infrastructure development in Pedernales and the southwest region of the country, with an emphasis on inclusive and sustainable development. Also, in February 2020, the government passed a law on public-private partnerships that may encourage high-quality infrastructure projects and help catalyze private sector-led economic growth, but implementation is still pending, and it is not yet clear whether it will apply to sectors other than infrastructure. The Dominican government does not currently offer special incentives for foreign businesses investing in women-owned or women-led projects, but the country’s development goals prioritize support for small businesses, particularly women-owned businesses, and the government offers numerous programs through CEI-RD and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce to support women entrepreneurs.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
The Dominican Republic’s free trade zones (FTZs) are regulated by the Promotion of Free Zones Law (No. 8-90) of January 15, 1990, which promotes the establishment of new free zones and the development and growth of existing zones. The law also provides for 100 percent exemption from all taxes, duties, charges, and fees affecting production and export activities in the zones. These incentives are for 20 years for zones located near the Dominican-Haitian border and 15 years for those located throughout the rest of the country. The National Council of Export Free Trade Zones (CNZFE) is the official authority that regulates compliance with Law 8-90, on Free Trade Zones and is composed of representatives from the public and private sectors, chaired by the Minister of Industry and Commerce. This body has the objective of delineating policies for the promotion and development of Free Zones, as well as approving applications for operating licenses, with discretionary authority to extend the time limits on these incentives. Products produced in FTZs can be sold on the Dominican market, however, relevant taxes apply.
In general, firms operating in the FTZs report fewer bureaucratic and legal problems than do firms operating outside the zones. Foreign currency flows from the FTZs are handled via the free foreign exchange market. Foreign and Dominican firms are afforded the same investment opportunities both by law and in practice.
According to CNZFE’s 2018 Statistical Report, the most recent available, 2018 exports from FTZs totaled $6.2 billion, comprising 3.3 percent of GDP. There are 673 companies operating in a total of 74 FTZs. Of the companies operating in FTZs, approximately 40 percent are from the United States. Other major presences include companies registered in the Dominican Republic (22.4 percent), United Kingdom (8.2 percent), Canada (4.5 percent), and Germany (3.5 percent). Companies registered in 38 other countries comprised the remaining investments. The main productive sectors receiving investment include: medical and pharmaceutical products, tobacco and derivatives, textiles, services, agro-industrial products, footwear, and metals and plastics.
Exporters/investors seeking further information from the CNZFE may contact:
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
The Dominican labor code establishes that 80 percent of the labor force of a foreign or national company, including free trade zone companies, be composed of Dominican nationals. Senior management and boards of directors of foreign companies are exempt from this regulation.
The Dominican Republic does not have excessively onerous visa, residence, work permit, or similar requirements inhibiting mobility of foreign investors and their employees. The host government does not have a forced localization policy to compel foreign investors to use domestic content in goods or technology.
There are no performance requirements as there is no distinction between Dominican and foreign investment. Investment incentives are applied uniformly to both domestic and foreign investors in accordance with World Trade Organization (WTO) requirements. In addition, there are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code or provide access to encryption.
Law No. 172-13 on Comprehensive Protection of Personal Data restricts companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data inside the Dominican Republic or beyond the country’s borders. Under this law, companies must obtain express written consent from individuals in order to transmit personal data unless an exception applies. The Superintendency of Banks currently supervises and enforces these rules, but its jurisdiction generally covers banks, credit bureaus, and other financial institutions. Industry representatives recommend updating this law to designate a national data protection authority that oversees other sectors.
5. Protection of Property Rights
The Dominican Constitution guarantees the right to own private property and provides that the state shall promote the acquisition of property, especially titled real property. All land must be registered under Dominican law, and that which is not registered is considered state land. There are no restrictions or specific regulations on foreigners or non-resident owners of land.
Mortgages and liens exist in the Dominican Republic. The Title Registry Office maintains a reliable system of recording titles, as well as a complementary registry of third-party rights, such as mortgages, liens, easements, and encumbrances. A patchwork history of land titling systems and sometimes violent political change has complicated land titling in the Dominican Republic. The country transitioned to a new system based on GPS coordinates in 2008 and has been working towards establishing clear titles, but industry sources estimate the proportion of clear titles remains around 35 percent of all land titles. The government advises that investors are ultimately responsible for due diligence and recommends partnering with experienced attorneys to ensure that all documentation, ranging from title searches to surveys, have been properly verified and processed.
Property owners maintain ownership of legally purchased property even if it is unoccupied or occupied by squatters. However, for land without a title (thereby state-owned), “adverse possession” can come into play, meaning squatters can acquire legal ownership of the land.
Land tenure insecurity persists, fueled by government land expropriations, institutional weaknesses, lack of effective law enforcement, and local community support for land invasions and squatting. Some companies have reported that concessions granted by the government are subsequently interfered with or not respected and cite alleged political expediency or influence as reasons for such actions. In some cases, holders of title certificates received little or no additional security. Long-standing titling practices, such as issuing provisional titles that are never completed or providing title to land to multiple owners without requiring individualization of parcels, have created substantial ambiguity in property rights and undermined the reliability of land records. Some of these practices have been curtailed in the last few years, but nonetheless undermine the reliability of existing land documentation. In addition, the country has struggled to control fraud in the creation and registration of land titles, including illegal operations within the government agencies responsible for issuing titles.
According to the World Bank’s report Doing Business 2020, registering property in the Dominican Republic requires 6 steps, an average of 33 days, and payment of 3.37 percent of the land value as a registration fee. In the 2020 report, the Dominican Republic rank for ease of registering property improved from 77 to 74 (out of 190 countries in ease of registering property). In the last decade, the Dominican government received a $10 million USD Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) loan to modernize its property title registration process, address deficiencies and gaps in the land administration system, and strengthen land tenure security. The project involved digitization of land records, decentralization of registries, establishment of a fund to compensate people for title errors, separation of the legal and administrative functions within the agency, and redefinition of the roles and responsibilities of judges and courts.
Intellectual Property Rights
Intellectual property rights (IPR) are issued by several IP authorities in the Dominican Republic. The National Copyright Office (ONDA) issues copyrights, the National Office of Industrial Property (ONAPI) issues trademarks and patents, the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MISPAS) issues sanitary registrations required for marketing foods, pharmaceuticals, and health products, and the Directorate of International Trade (DICOEX) has jurisdiction over the implementation of geographical indications. Despite strong IPR laws on the books and marginal operational improvements in recent years, the quality of decision-making at these IPR-issuing authorities is still inconsistent.
Enforcement is carried out by the Customs Authority (DGA), the National Police, the Special Office of the Attorney General for Matters of Health, the Special Office of the Attorney General for High Tech Crimes, and the National Copyright Office (ONDA). However, due to the absence of an interagency mechanism, these institutions demonstrated varying levels of capacity and commitment. The result is that enforcement remains weak as the government achieved little progress in addressing longstanding IPR issues such as the widespread cultural acceptance of signal piracy and counterfeit products.
Signal piracy has become the most common and flagrant IP infringement in the Dominican Republic, and it continues to become more widespread with the development of new technologies. For example, many people modify Amazon Firesticks to gain illegal access to virtually unlimited content via internet protocol television (IPTV). Businesses that provide services related to piracy often operate with impunity as ONDA rarely submits formal requests for the telecommunications regulator (INDOTEL) to cancel the licenses of those using pirated signals. Similarly, the country’s Special Prosecutor for High Tech Crimes rarely pursues copyright infringement cases, instead focusing resources on cybercrimes.
Despite the efforts of the Special Office of the Attorney General for Matters of Health, illicit or counterfeit goods are also still widely available. Counterfeit or smuggled alcohol and cigarettes are common because those items are taxed at a relatively high rate. In certain shopping districts like La Duerte, Villa Consuelo, and Moca, it is easy to find counterfeit apparel, shoes, luxury handbags, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and electronics. The availability of counterfeit goods in these shopping districts is common knowledge and law enforcement is unresponsive, reflecting the cultural acceptance of counterfeiting throughout the country.
Industry representatives also noted that the absence of specialized tribunals and weak technical capacity in the judicial system hinder prosecution of IP violations. While a limited number of judges in the capital city of Santo Domingo possess the skills and experience to adjudicate IP disputes, judges outside of the capital have little or no understanding of IP legal issues.
In 2019, the Dominican Republic passed Law No. 17-19 on the Eradication of Illicit Trade, Smuggling, and Forgery of Regulated Goods, which increased prosecution of some IP violations. This law prohibits the sale of pharmaceuticals, spirits, gasoline, and tobacco without official registration. The law also allows prosecutors to pursue legal action in the absence of a plaintiff.
According to the Special Office of the Attorney General for Matters of Health, much of the increase in its counterfeit goods cases can be attributed to this new legislation. In 2019, the number of counterfeit goods cases pursued by this office increased 76 percent and arrests increased 31 percent over 2018.
Since 2003, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has designated the Dominican Republic as a Special 301 Watch List country for serious IPR deficiencies. The country, however, is not listed in the notorious market report.
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The Dominican Stock Market, the Bolsa de Valores de la Republica Dominicana (BVRD), is one of the more active stock markets in the Caribbean region. It is regulated by the Securities Market Law (No. 249-17) and supervised by the Securities Superintendency, which approves all public securities offerings.
The private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments. Foreign investors are able to obtain credit on the local market but tend to prefer less expensive offshore sources. The Central Bank regularly issues certificates of deposit, using an auction process to determine interest rates and maturities.
In recent years, the local stock market has continued to expand, in terms of the securities traded on the BVRD. There are very few publicly traded companies on the exchange, as credit from financial institutions is widely available and many of the large Dominican companies are family-owned enterprises. Most of the securities traded in the BVRD are fixed-income securities issued by the Dominican State.
Money and Banking System
The Dominican Republic hosts a robust banking sector. According to the Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion, approximately 56 percent of Dominican adults have bank accounts. While full-service bank branches tend to be in urban areas, several banks employ sub-agents to extend services in more rural areas. Technology has also helped extend banking services more widely throughout the country. The Dominican Republic’s financial sector is relatively stable, and the IMF declared the financial system largely satisfactory during 2019 Article IV consultations, citing a strengthened banking system as a driver of solid economic performance over the past decade.
The Dominican banking comprises 124 entities, as follows: 50 financial intermediation entities (including large commercial banks, savings and loans associations, financial intermediation public entities, credit corporations), 42 foreign exchange and remittance agents (specifically, 36 exchange brokers and 6 remittances and foreign exchange agents), and 32 trustees. According to the latest available information (September 2019), total bank assets were $35.33 billion. The three largest banks hold 68.3% of the total assets – Banreservas 28.56%, Banco Popular 23.84%, and BHD Leon 15.9%.
The Dominican Monetary and Banking system is regulated by the Monetary and Financial Law (No. 183-02), and overseen by the Monetary Board, the Central Bank, and the Banks Superintendency. The mission of the Dominican Central Bank is to maintain the stability of prices, promote the strength and stability of the financial system, and ensure the proper functioning of payment systems. The Banks Superintendency carries out the supervision of financial intermediation entities, in order to verify compliance by said entities with the provisions of the law.
Foreign banks may establish operations in the Dominican Republic, although it may require a special decree for the foreign financial institution to establish domicile in the country. Foreign banks not domiciled in the Dominican Republic may establish representative offices in accordance with current regulations. To operate, both local and foreign banks must obtain the prior authorization of the Monetary Board and must process it via the Banks Superintendency. Major U.S. banks have a commercial presence in the country, but most focus on corporate banking services as opposed to retail banking. Some other foreign banks offer retail banking. There are no restrictions on foreigners opening bank accounts, although identification requirements do apply.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
The Dominican exchange system is a market with free convertibility of the peso. Economic agents perform their transactions of foreign currencies under free market conditions. There are generally no restrictions or limitations placed on foreign investors in converting, transferring, or repatriating funds associated with an investment.
The Central Bank sets the exchange rates and practices a policy of managed float. Some firms have had repeated difficulties obtaining dollars during periods of high demand. Importers may obtain foreign currency directly from commercial banks and exchange agents. The Central Bank participates in this market in pursuit of monetary policy objectives, buying or selling currencies and performing any other operation in the market to minimize volatility.
Decree No. 214-04 on the Registration of Foreign Investment in the Dominican Republic establishes the requirements for the registration of foreign investments, the remittance of profits, the repatriation of capital, and the requirements for the sale of foreign currency, among other issues related with investments.
Foreign investors can repatriate or remit both the profits obtained and the entire capital of the investment without prior authorization of the Central Bank. Article 5 of the aforementioned Decree 214-04 states that “the foreign investor, whose capital is registered with the CEI-RD, shall have the right to remit or repatriate it…”
Sovereign Wealth Funds
The Dominican government does not maintain a sovereign wealth fund.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in general do not have a significant presence in the economy, with most functions performed by privately-held firms. Notable exceptions are in the electricity, banking, and refining sectors. In the partially privatized electricity sector, private companies mainly provide the electricity generation, while the government handles the transmission and distribution phases via the Dominican Electric Transmission Company (ETED) and the Dominican Corporation of State Electrical Companies (CDEEE). CDEEE is the largest SOE in terms of government expenditures. However, the government participates in the generation phase, too (most notably in hydroelectric power) and one of the distribution companies is partially privatized. In the financial sector, the state-owned BanReservas is the largest bank in the country, with a 32 percent market share by assets. In the refining sector, the government is the majority owner of the only refinery in the country; Refinery Dominicana (Refidomsa) operates and manages the refinery, is the only importer of crude oil in the country, and is also the largest importer of refined fuels, with a 60 percent market share.
Law 10-04 requires the Chamber of Accounts to audit SOEs. Audits are published in . However, the available audits are dated several years ago. In addition, all audits are available upon request according to freedom of information provisions.
The government does not have any privatization programs. A partial privatization of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the late 1990s resulted in foreign investors obtaining management control of former SOEs engaged in activities such as electricity generation, airport management, and sugarcane processing.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
The government does not have an official position or policy on responsible business conduct, including corporate social responsibility (CSR). Although there is not a local culture of CSR, large foreign companies normally have active CSR programs, as do some of the larger local business groups. While most local firms do not follow OECD principles regarding CSR, the firms that do are viewed favorably, especially when their CSR programs are effectively publicized.
The Dominican Constitution states, “Everyone has the right to have quality goods and services, to objective, truthful and timely information about the content and characteristics of the products and services that they use and consume.” To that end, the national consumer protection agency, Pro Consumidor, offers consumer advocacy services.
The country joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) as a candidate in 2016. The government incorporates EITI standards into its mining transparency framework. In 2019, EITI conducted a validation study of the Dominican Republic’s implementation of EITI standards.
The Dominican Republic has a legal framework that includes laws and regulations to combat corruption, and which provide criminal penalties for corruption by officials. However, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Enforcement of existing laws is often ineffective. Individuals and NGOs noted the greatest hindrance to effective investigations was a lack of political will to prosecute individuals accused of corruption, particularly well-connected individuals or high-level politicians. Government corruption remained a serious problem and a public grievance.
The Dominican Republic’s rank on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index fell from 129 in 2018 to 137 in 2019 (out of 180 countries assessed). The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness report ranked the Dominican Republic as 110 of 141 countries for incidence of corruption.
In September 2019, the Dominican Supreme Court began a trial against six of the 14 defendants indicted in 2017 for alleged links to $92 million in bribes paid by the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht to obtain public works contracts. A 2016 plea agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and Odebrecht implicated high-level public officials in the Dominican Republic; the six current defendants include a senator, a lower house representative, a former senator, and a former minister of public works. Civil society welcomed the trial as a step forward in the fight against corruption, but activists highlighted what they perceived as a lack of political will to investigate thoroughly the case, which involved the country’s political and economic elites.
U.S. companies identified corruption as a barrier to FDI and some firms reported being solicited by public officials for bribes. It appears most pervasive in public procurement and the awarding of tenders or concessions, but complaints from U.S. investors indicate corruption occurs at all phases of investment. At least one firm said it intended to back out of a competition for a public concession as a result of a solicitation from government officials. U.S. companies also frequently cite the government’s slow response to the Odebrecht scandal as contributing to a culture of perceived impunity for high-level government officials, which fuels widespread acceptance and tolerance of corruption at all levels. U.S. businesses operating in the Dominican Republic often need to take extensive measures to ensure compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Civil society is engaged in anti-corruption campaigns. Several non-governmental organizations are particularly active in transparency and anti-corruption, notably the Foundation for Institutionalization and Justice (FINJUS), Citizen Participation (Participacion Ciudadana), and the Dominican Alliance Against Corruption (ADOCCO).
The Dominican Republic signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention. The Dominican Republic is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.
Resources to Report Corruption
Procuraduría Especializada contra la Corrupción Administrativa (PEPCA)
Calle Hipólito Herrera Billini esq. Calle Juan B. Pérez,
Centro de los Heroes, Santo Domingo, República Dominicana
Telephone: (809) 533-3522
Fax: (809) 533-4098
Linea 311 (government service for filing complaints and denunciations)
Phone: 311 (from inside the country)
Phone: 809 685 6200
Fax: 809 685 6631
10. Political and Security Environment
There is no recent history of widespread, politically motivated violence in the Dominican Republic. In February and March of 2020, there were multiple, mostly-peaceful protests throughout the country over the Dominican electoral authority’s decision to suspend national municipal elections after widespread failure of its electronic voting system. There are no examples of politically motivated damage to projects or installations in the last 10 years. In polling, Dominicans consistently cite crime and violence as among the largest challenges affecting daily life. The World Economic Forum 2019 Global Competitiveness Report ranked the Dominican Republic 118 out of 141 countries in overall security imposing costs on business and 97 of 141 in terms of organized crime imposing costs on businesses.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
An ample labor supply is available, although there is a scarcity of skilled workers and technical supervisors. Some labor shortages exist in professions requiring lengthy education or technical certification. According to 2019 Dominican Central Bank data, the Dominican labor force consists of approximately 5 million workers. The labor force participation rate is 65.3 percent; approximately 63 percent of the labor force works in services, 14.8 percent in government/administration, 10 percent in industry, and eight percent in agriculture, with the remaining four percent categorized as other work. The labor force is divided roughly 50-50 between the formal and informal sectors of the economy. In 2019, unemployment fell to 5.8 percent, with youth unemployment measured at 13.2 percent. A 2017 survey by the National Statistics Office and UN Population Fund found that of the 334,092 Haitians age 10 or older living in the country, 67 percent were working in the formal and informal sectors of the economy.
The Dominican Labor Code establishes policies and procedures for many aspects of employer-employee relationships, ranging from hours of work and overtime and vacation pay to severance pay, causes for termination, and union registration. The code applies equally to migrant workers, however, many irregular Haitian laborers and Dominicans of Haitian descent working in the construction and agricultural industries do not exercise their rights due to fear of being fired or deported. The law requires that at least 80 percent of non-management workers of a company be Dominican nationals. Exemptions and waivers are available and regularly granted. The law provides for severance payments, which are due upon layoffs or firing without just cause. The amount due is prorated based on length of employment.
Although the Labor Code provides for freedom to form unions and bargain collectively, it places several restrictions on these rights, which the International Labor Organization (ILO) considers excessive. For example, it restricts trade union rights by requiring unions to represent 51 percent of the workers in an enterprise to bargain collectively. In addition, the law prohibits strikes until mandatory mediation requirements have been met. Formal requirements for a strike to be legal also include the support of an absolute majority of all company workers for the strike, written notification to the Ministry of Labor, and a 10-day waiting period following notification before proceeding with the strike. Government workers and essential public service personnel, in theory, may not strike; however, healthcare workers protested and went on strike frequently in the second half of 2019 due to government failure to comply with the retirement law for doctors and nurses.
The law prohibits dismissal of employees for trade union membership or union activities. In practice, however, the law is inconsistently enforced. The majority of companies resist collective negotiating practices and union activities. Companies reportedly fire workers for union activity and blacklist trade unionists, among other anti-union practices. Workers frequently have to sign documents pledging to abstain from participating in union activities. Companies also create and support company-backed unions. Formal strikes occur but are not common.
The law establishes a system of labor courts for dealing with disputes. The process is often long, with cases pending for several years. One exception is workplace injury cases, which typically conclude quickly – and often in the worker’s favor. Both workers and companies report that mediation facilitated by the Ministry of Labor was the most rapid and effective method for resolving worker-company disputes.
Many of the major manufacturers in free trade zones have voluntary codes of conduct that include worker rights protection clauses generally aligned with the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work; however, workers are not always aware of such codes or the principles they contain. The Ministry of Labor monitors labor abuses, health, and safety standards in all worksites where an employer-employee relationship exists. Labor inspectors can request remediation for violations, and if remediation is not undertaken, can refer offending employers to the public prosecutor for sanctions.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs
The Dominican Republic is an eligible country for DFC financing purposes and there are current DFC-funded programs operating in the country. As an upper-middle income country, projects in the Dominican Republic must meet additional criteria to qualify for financing. The project must be in the infrastructure sector, target women’s empowerment, have a substantial development impact, or have a U.S. nexus. For example, a current project that began in 2019 provides two $10 million loan financing facilities to support lending to small- and medium-sized enterprises, with an emphasis on women-owned businesses. Under a 1962 bilateral agreement, DFC funding for a project must also receive approval from the Dominican government. In January 2019, the Dominican government and the DFC clarified the process for obtaining this approval in a bilateral letter. The Dominican government is a party to the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
* Source for Host Country Data: Central Bank of the Dominican Republic (BCRD). The BCRD does not report investment stock positions.
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
No information for the Dominican Republic is available on the IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS) website. According to the Dominican Central Bank (BCRD), total inward flows of FDI for 2019 were $3.01 billion. The BCRD provides a breakdown of FDI to the Dominican Republic by individual source country for the top investing countries. The five largest investing countries accounted for 82.3 percent of total inward FDI in 2019. Neither World Bank nor Dominican sources break down FDI from the Dominican Republic to individual destination countries
|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||$3,012.8||%||Total Outward||Amount||100%|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.|
* Source for Host Country Data: Central Bank of the Dominican Republic (BCRD), 2019 FDI inward flows.
14. Contact for More Information
Embassy of the United States of America
Avenida República de Colombia #57
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
+1 (809) 567-7775