With the second highest GDP per capita in Latin America (behind Uruguay), Chile has historically enjoyed among the highest levels of stability and prosperity in the region. However, widespread civil unrest broke out throughout the country in 2019 in protest of the government’s handling of the economy and perceived systemic inequality. Pursuant to a political accord, Chile held a plebiscite in October 2020 in which citizens chose to redraft the constitution. Uncertainty about the outcome of the redrafting process may impact investment. Due to Chile’s solid macroeconomic policy framework, the country boasts one of the strongest sovereign bond ratings in Latin America, which has provided fiscal space for the Chilean government to respond to the economic contraction resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic through stimulus packages and other measures. As a result, Chile’s economic growth in 2021 was, according to the Central Bank’s latest estimation, between 11.5 percent and 12 percent. The same institution forecasts Chile’s economic growth in 2022 will be in the range of 1 to 2 percent due largely to the gradual elimination of COVID-19 economic stimulus programs.
Chile has successfully attracted large amounts of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) despite its relatively small domestic market. The country’s market-oriented policies have created significant opportunities for foreign investors to participate in the country’s economic growth. Chile has a sound legal framework and there is general respect for private property rights. Sectors that attract significant FDI include mining, finance/insurance, energy, telecommunications, chemical manufacturing, and wholesale trade. Mineral, hydrocarbon, and fossil fuel deposits within Chilean territory are restricted from foreign ownership, but companies may enter into contracts with the government to extract these resources. Corruption exists in Chile but on a much smaller scale than in most Latin American countries, ranking 27 – along with the United States – out of 180 countries worldwide and second in Latin America in Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Although Chile is an attractive destination for foreign investment, challenges remain. Legislative and constitutional reforms proposed in response to the social unrest and the pandemic have generated concerns about the future government policies on property rights, rule of law, tax structure, the role of government in the economy, and many other issues. Importantly, the legislation enabling the constitutional reform process requires that the new constitution must respect Chile’s character as a democratic republic, its judicial sentences, and its international treaties (including the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement). Despite a general respect for intellectual property (IP) rights, Chile has not fully complied with its IP obligations set forth in the U.S.-Chile FTA and remains on the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report for not adequately enforcing IP rights. Environmental permitting processes, indigenous consultation requirements, and cumbersome court proceedings have made large project approvals increasingly time consuming and unpredictable, especially in cases with political sensitivities. The current administration has stated its willingness to continue attracting foreign investment.
In 2021, Mexico was the United States’ second largest trading partner in goods and services. It remains one of our most important investment partners. Bilateral trade grew 482 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 a stock of USD 184.9 billion (2020 per the International Monetary Fund’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey).
The Mexican economy averaged 2.1 percent GDP growth from 1994 to 2021, contracted 8.3 percent in 2020 — its largest ever annual decline — and rebounded 5 percent in 2021. Exports surpassed pre-pandemic levels by five percent thanks to the reopening of the economy and employment recovery. Still, supply chain shortages in the manufacturing sector, the COVID-19 omicron variant, and increasing inflation caused the economic rebound to decelerate in the second half of 2021. Mexico’s conservative fiscal policy resulted in a primary deficit of 0.3 percent of GDP in 2021, and the public debt decreased to 50.1 percent from 51.7 percent of GDP in 2020. The newly appointed Central Bank of Mexico (or Banxico) governor committed to upholding the central bank’s independence. Inflation surpassed Banxico’s target of 3 percent ± 1 percent at 5.7 percent in 2021. The administration maintained its commitment to reducing bureaucratic spending to fund an ambitious social spending agenda and priority infrastructure projects, including the Dos Bocas Refinery and Maya Train.
The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) entered into force July 1, 2020 with Mexico enacting legislation to implement it. Still, the Lopez Obrador administration has delayed issuance of key regulations across the economy, complicating the operating environment for telecommunications, financial services, and energy sectors. The Government of Mexico (GOM) considers the USMCA to be a driver of recovery from the COVID-19 economic crisis given its potential to attract more foreign direct investment (FDI) to Mexico.
Investors report the lack of a robust fiscal response to the COVID-19 crisis, regulatory unpredictability, a state-driven economic policy, and the shaky financial health of the state oil company Pemex have contributed to ongoing uncertainties. The three major ratings agencies (Fitch, Moody’s, and Standard and Poor’s) maintained their sovereign credit ratings for Mexico unchanged from their downgrades in 2020 (BBB-, Baa1, and BBB, lower medium investment grade, respectively). Moody’s downgraded Pemex’s credit rating by one step to Ba3 (non-investment) July 2021, while Fitch and S&P maintained their ratings (BB- and BBB, lower medium and non-investment grades, respectively. Banxico cut Mexico’s GDP growth expectations for 2022, to 2.4 from 3.2 percent, as did the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to 2.8 percent from the previous 4 percent estimate in October 2021. The IMF anticipates weaker domestic demand, ongoing high inflation levels as well as global supply chain disruptions in 2022 to continue impacting the economy. Moreover, uncertainty about contract enforcement, insecurity, informality, and corruption continue to hinder sustained Mexican economic growth. Recent efforts to reverse the 2013 energy reforms, including the March 2021 changes to the electricity law (found to not violate the constitution by the supreme court on April 7 but still subject to injunctions in lower courts), the May 2021 changes to the hydrocarbon law (also enjoined by Mexican courts), and the September 2021 constitutional amendment proposal prioritizing generation from the state-owned electric utility CFE, further increase uncertainty. These factors raise the cost of doing business in Mexico.
Spain is open to foreign investment and actively seeks additional investment as a key component of its COVID-19 recovery. After six years of growth (2014-2019), Spain’s GDP fell 11 percent in 2020 – the worst performance in the Eurozone – due in large part to high COVID-19 infection rates, a strict three-month lockdown, border closures, and pandemic-related restrictions that decimated its tourism and hospitality sectors. By building on healthy fundamentals and fueled by up to 140 billion euros in Next Generation EU recovery funds, Spain rebounded with 5.1 percent GDP growth in 2021, and unemployment improved to 13.3 percent. Economic activity is expected to return to its pre-crisis level in 2023, though Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine could threaten the recovery by pushing up energy prices, compounding supply chain disruptions, and stoking inflation. Service-based industries, particularly those related to tourism, and energy-intensive industries remain most vulnerable to the economic shock. Spain’s key economic risks are high public debt levels and ballooning pension costs for its aging population, though these areas are targets for government reforms.
Despite COVID-19’s economic shock, Spain’s excellent infrastructure, well-educated workforce, large domestic market, access to the European Common Market, and leadership on renewable energy make it an appealing foreign investment destination. Spanish law permits up to 100 percent foreign ownership in companies, and capital movements are completely liberalized. According to Spanish data, in 2021, foreign direct investment flow into Spain was EUR 28.8 billion, 17.7 percent more than in 2020. Of this total, EUR 1.6 billion came from the United States, the fifth largest investor in Spain in new foreign direct investment. Foreign investment is concentrated in the energy, real estate, financial services, engineering, and construction sectors.
Spain aims to use its Next Generation EU recovery funds to transform the Spanish economy, especially through digitalization and greening of the economy, to achieve long-term increases in productivity and growth. Full financing is contingent on additional economic reforms beyond labor reform. Spain’s credit ratings remain stable, and issuances of public debt – especially for green bonds – have been oversubscribed, reflecting strong investor appetite for investment in Spain. However, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which account for more than 99 percent of Spanish businesses and have been acutely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, still have some difficulty accessing credit and rely heavily on bank financing. Small firms also experience more challenges accessing EU recovery funds.