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

United Kingdom

Executive Summary

The United Kingdom (UK) is a top global destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) and imposes few impediments to foreign ownership.  The United States is the largest source of direct investment into the UK.  Thousands of U.S. companies have operations in the UK.  The UK also hosts more than half of the European, Middle Eastern, and African corporate headquarters of American-owned firms.  The UK government provides comprehensive statistics on FDI in its annual inward investment  report:   https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/department-for-international-trade-inward-investment-results-2019-to-2020.

Following a drop in inward investment each year since 2016 that mirrored global declines, and amidst a historically sharp but temporary recession related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK government established the Office for Investment in November 2020.  The Office is focused on attracting high-value investment opportunities into the UK which “align with key government priorities, such as reaching net zero [carbon emissions], investing in infrastructure, and advancing research and development.  It also aims to drive inward investment into “all corners of the UK through a ‘single front door.’”

The UK’s National Security and Investment Act, which came into effect in May 2021, significantly strengthened the UK’s existing investment screening powers.  Investments resulting in foreign control generally exceeding 15 percent of companies in 17 sectors pertaining to national security require mandatory notifications to the UK government’s Investment Security Unit

The UK formally withdrew from the EU’s political institutions on January 31, 2020, and from  the bloc’s economic and trading institutions on December 31, 2020.  The UK and the EU concluded a Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) on December 24, 2020, setting out the terms of their future economic relationship.  The TCA maintains tariff-free trade between the UK and the EU but introduced a number of new non-tariff, administrative barriers.   On January 1, 2021, the UK began reviewing cross-border activities with a UK-EU nexus in parallel to the European Commission.

The United States and the UK launched free trade agreement negotiations in May 2020, which were paused with the change in U.S. Administration.  The United States and UK have enjoyed a “Commerce and Navigation” Treaty since 1815 which guarantees national treatment of U.S. investors.  A Bilateral Tax Treaty specifically protects U.S. and UK investors from double taxation.

On April 8, 2021, the UK established the Digital Markets Unit, a new regulatory body that will be responsible for implementing upcoming changes to competition rules in digital markets.  The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the UK’s competition regulator, has indicated that it intends to scrutinize and police the digital sector more thoroughly going forward.   The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) no longer applies to the UK.  Entities based in the UK must comply with the Data Protection Act (DPA) 2018, which incorporated provisions of the EU GDPR directly into UK law

In April 2020  a two percent digital services tax (DST) came into force that targets certain types of digital activity attributable to UK users. The in-scope digital services activities are: social media services; Internet search engines; and online marketplaces.  If an activity is ancillary or incidental to an in-scope digital services activity, its revenues may also be subject to the DST.

In March 2021, The UK government identified eight sites as post-Brexit freeports to spur trade, investment, innovation and economic recovery.  The eight sites are: East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, Humber region, Liverpool City Region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames, and Teesside.  The designated areas will offer special customs and tax arrangements and additional infrastructure funding to improve transport links.

HMG brought forward new immigration rules on January 1, 2021. The new rules have wide-ranging implications for foreign employees, students, and EU citizens.  The new rules are points-based, meaning immigrants need to attain a certain number of points in order to be awarded a visa.  The previous cap on visas has been abolished.  EU citizens who arrived before December 31, 2020, will not have to apply for a visa, but instead are eligible to apply for “settled” or “pre-settled” status, which allows them to live and work in the UK much the same as they were before the UK left the EU.  EU citizens arriving to the UK after January 1, 2021, must apply for the relevant visa.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 11 of 180 www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2020 8 of 190 www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 4 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-economy  
U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions) 2019 $851,400 www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $49,040 data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

Currency conversions have been done using XE and Bank of England data.

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Market entry for U.S. firms is facilitated by a common language, legal heritage, and similar business institutions and practices.  The UK is well supported by sophisticated financial and professional services industries and has a transparent tax system in which local and foreign-owned companies are taxed alike.  The pound sterling is a free-floating currency with no restrictions on its transfer or conversion.  There are no exchange controls restricting the transfer of funds associated with an investment into or out of the UK.

UK legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international standards.  The UK legal system provides a high level of investor protections.  Private ownership is protected by law and monitored for competition-restricting behavior.  U.S. exporters and investors generally will find little difference between the United States and the UK in the conduct of business, and common law prevails as the basis for commercial transactions in the UK.

The UK actively encourages inward FDI.  The Department for International Trade, including through its newly created Office for Investment, actively promotes inward investment and prepares market information for a variety of industries.  U.S. companies establishing British subsidiaries generally encounter no special nationality requirements on directors or shareholders.  Once established in the UK, foreign-owned companies are treated no differently from UK firms.  The UK government is a strong defender of the rights of any British-registered company, irrespective of its nationality of ownership.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign ownership is limited in only a few private sector companies for national security reasons, such as Rolls Royce (aerospace) and BAE Systems (aircraft and defense).  No individual foreign shareholder may own more than 15 percent of these companies.  Theoretically, the government can block the acquisition of manufacturing assets from abroad by invoking the Industry Act of 1975, but it has never done so.  Investments in energy and power generation require environmental approvals. Certain service activities (like radio and land-based television broadcasting) are subject to licensing.

The UK requires that at least one director of any company registered in the UK be ordinarily resident in the country.

The UK’s National Security and Investment Act, which came into effect in May 2021, significantly strengthened the UK’s existing investment screening powers.  Investments resulting in foreign control generally exceeding 15 percent of companies in 17 sectors pertaining to national security require mandatory notifications to the UK government’s Investment Security Unit (see https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/965784/nsi-scope-of-mandatory-regime-gov-response.pdf for details).  The regime operates separately from competition law.  The bill provides authority to a newly created Investment Security Unit to review investments retroactively for a period of five years.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The Economist Intelligence Unit, World Bank Group’s “Doing Business 2020,” and the OECD’s Economic Forecast Summary (December 2020) have current investment policy reports for the United Kingdom:

http://country.eiu.com/united-kingdom

http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/united-kingdom/

https://www.oecd.org/economy/united-kingdom-economic-snapshot/  

Business Facilitation

The UK government has promoted administrative efficiency to facilitate business creation and operation.  The online business registration process is clearly defined, though some types of companies cannot register as an overseas firm in the UK, including partnerships and unincorporated bodies.  Registration as an overseas company is only required when the company has some degree of physical presence in the UK.  After registering their business with the UK governmental body Companies House, overseas firms must separately register to pay corporation tax within three months.  On average, the process of setting up a business in the UK requires 13 days, compared to the European average of 32 days, putting the UK in first place in Europe and sixth in the world.

As of April 2016, companies have to declare all “persons of significant control.”  This policy recognizes that individuals other than named directors can have significant influence on a company’s activity and that this information should be transparent.  More information is available at this link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-the-people-with-significant-control-requirements-for-companies-and-limited-liability-partnerships.  Companies House maintains a free, publicly searchable directory, available at https://www.gov.uk/get-information-about-a-company.

The UK offers a welcoming environment to foreign investors, with foreign equity ownership restrictions in only a limited number of sectors covered by the World Bank’s Investing Across Sectors indicators.

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-international-trade

https://www.gov.uk/set-up-business

https://www.gov.uk/topic/company-registration-filing/starting-company

http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/united-kingdom/starting-a-business

Special Section on the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies

The British Overseas Territories (BOTs) comprise Anguilla, British Antarctic Territory, Bermuda, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, St. Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, Turks and Caicos Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, and Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus.  The BOTs retain a substantial measure of authority for their own affairs.  Local self-government is usually provided by an Executive Council and elected legislature.  Governors or Commissioners are appointed by the Crown on the advice of the British Foreign Secretary, and retain responsibility for external affairs, defense, and internal security.

Many of the territories are now broadly self-sufficient.  The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Department (FCDO), however, maintains development assistance programs in St. Helena, Montserrat, and Pitcairn. This includes budgetary aid to meet the islands’ essential needs and development assistance to help encourage economic growth and social development in order to promote economic self-sustainability.  In addition, all other BOTs receive small levels of assistance through “cross-territory” programs for issues such as environmental protection, disaster prevention, HIV/AIDS, and child protection.

Seven of the BOTs have financial centers:  Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.  These territories have committed to the OECD’s Common Reporting Standard (CRS) for the automatic exchange of taxpayer financial account information.  They have long exchanged information with the UK, and began exchanging information with other jurisdictions under the CRS from September 2017.

Of the BOTs, Anguilla is the only one to receive a “non-compliant” rating by the Global Forum for Exchange of Information on Request, putting it on the EU list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions.  The Global Forum has rated the other six territories as “largely compliant.”  Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, and the Turks and Caicos Islands have committed in reciprocal bilateral arrangements with the UK to hold beneficial ownership information in central registers or similarly effective systems, and to provide UK law enforcement authorities with near real-time access to this information.

Anguilla:  Anguilla has no income, capital gains, estate, profit or other forms of direct taxation on either individuals or corporations, for residents or non-residents of the jurisdiction.  The territory has no exchange rate controls.  Non-Anguillan nationals may purchase property, but the transfer of land to an alien includes a 12.5 percent tax on the assessed value of the property or the sales proceeds, whichever is greater.

British Virgin Islands:  The government of the British Virgin Islands offers a series of tax incentive packages aimed at reducing the cost of doing business on the islands.  This includes relief from corporation tax payments over specific periods, but companies must pay an initial registration fee and an annual license fee to the BVI Financial Services Commission.  Crown land grants are not available to non-British Virgin Islanders, but private land can be leased or purchased following the approval of an Alien Land Holding License.  Stamp duty is imposed on transfers of real estate and the transfer of shares in a BVI company owning real estate in the BVI at a rate of four percent for belongers (i.e., residents who have proven they meet a legal standard of close ties to the territory) and 12 percent for non-belongers.  There is no corporate income tax, capital gains tax, branch tax, or withholding tax for companies incorporated under the BVI Business Companies Act.  Payroll tax is imposed on every employer and self-employed person who conducts business in BVI.  The tax is paid at a graduated rate depending upon the size of the employer.  The current rates are 10 percent for small employers (those which have a payroll of less than $150,000, a turnover of less than $300,000 and fewer than seven employees) and 14 percent for larger employers.  Eight percent of the total remuneration is deducted from the employee, the remainder of the liability is met by the employer.  The first $10,000 of remuneration is free from payroll tax.

Cayman Islands:  There are no direct taxes in the Cayman Islands.  In most districts, the government charges stamp duty of 7.5 percent on the value of real estate at sale, but certain districts, including Seven Mile Beach, are subject to a rate of nine percent.  There is a one percent fee payable on mortgages of less than KYD 300,000, and one and a half percent on mortgages of KYD 300,000 or higher.  There are no controls on the foreign ownership of property and land.  Investors can receive import duty waivers on equipment, building materials, machinery, manufacturing materials, and other tools.

Falkland Islands:  Companies located in the Falkland Islands are charged corporation tax at 21 percent on the first £1 million ($1.4 million) and 26 percent for all amounts in excess of £1 million ($1.4 million).  The individual income tax rate is 21 percent for earnings below £12,000 ($16,800) and 26 percent above this level.

Gibraltar:  With BREXIT, Gibraltar is not currently a part of the EU, but under the terms of an agreement in principle reached between the UK and Spain on December 31, 2020, it is set to become a part of the EU’s passport-free Schengen travel area.  The UK and EU are set to begin negotiations on a treaty on the movement of people and goods between Gibraltar and the bloc.  Gibraltar has a buoyant economy with a stable currency and few restrictions on moving capital or repatriating dividends.  The corporate income tax rate is 20 percent for utility, energy, and fuel supply companies, and 10 percent for all other companies.  There are no capital or sales taxes.

Montserrat:   Foreign investors are permitted to acquire real estate, subject to the acquisition of an Alien Land Holding license, which carries a fee of five percent of the purchase price.  The government also imposes stamp and transfer fees of 2.6 percent of the property value on all real estate transactions.  Foreign investment in Montserrat is subject to the same taxation rules as local investment and is eligible for tax holidays and other incentives.  Montserrat has preferential trade agreements with the United States, Canada, and Australia.  The government allows 100 percent foreign ownership of businesses, but the administration of public utilities remains wholly in the public sector.

St. Helena:  The  government offers tax-based incentives, which are considered on the merits of each project – particularly tourism projects.  All applications are processed by Enterprise St. Helena, the business development agency.

Pitcairn Islands:  The Pitcairn Islands have approximately 50 residents, with a workforce of approximately 29 employed in 10 full-time equivalent roles.  The territory does not have an airstrip or a commercially viable harbor.  Residents exist on fishing, subsistence farming, and handcrafts.

The Turks and Caicos Islands:  Through an “open arms” investment policy, the government commits to a streamlined business licensing system, a responsive immigration policy to give investment security, access to government-owned land under long-term leases, and a variety of duty concessions to qualified investors.  The islands have a “no tax” policy, but property purchasers must pay a stamp duty on purchases over $25,000.  Depending on the island, the stamp duty rate may be up to 6.5 percent for purchases up to $250,000, eight percent for purchases $250,001 to $500,000, and 10 percent for purchases over $500,000.

The Crown Dependencies:  The Crown Dependencies are the Bailiwick of Jersey, the Bailiwick of Guernsey, and the Isle of Man.  The Crown Dependencies are not part of the UK but are self-governing dependencies of the Crown.  This means they have their own directly elected legislative assemblies, administrative, fiscal and legal systems, and their own courts of law.  The Crown Dependencies are not represented in the UK Parliament.  The following tax data are current as of April 2021:

Jersey’s standard rate of corporate tax is zero percent.  The exceptions to this standard rate are financial service companies, which are taxed at 10 percent; utility companies, which are taxed at 20 percent; and income specifically derived from Jersey property rentals or Jersey property development, taxed at 20 percent.  A five percent VAT is applicable in Jersey.

Guernsey has a zero percent rate of corporate tax.  Exceptions include some specific banking activities, taxed at 10 percent; utility companies, which are taxed at 20 percent; Guernsey residents’ assessable income is taxed at 20 percent; and income derived from land and buildings is taxed at 20 percent.

The Isle of Man’s corporate standard tax is zero percent.  The exceptions to this standard rate are income received from banking business, which is taxed at 10 percent, and income received from land and property in the Isle of Man, which is taxed at 20 percent.  In addition, a 10 percent tax rate also applies to companies which carry on a retail business in the Isle of Man and have taxable income in excess of £500,000 ($695,000) from that business.  A 20 percent rate of VAT is applicable in the Isle of Man.

Outward Investment

The UK is one of the largest outward investors in the world, undergirded by numerousbilateral investment treaties (BITs) .  The UK’s international investment position abroad (outward investment) increased from £1,453 billion ($1,938) in 2018 to £1,498 ($1,912) by the end of 2019.  The main destination for UK outward FDI is the United States, which accounted for approximately 25 percent of UK outward FDI stocks at the end of 2019.  Other key destinations include the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and Spain which, together with the United States, account for a little under half of the UK’s outward FDI stock.  Europe and the Americas remain the dominant areas for UK international investment positions abroad, accounting for eight of the top 10 destinations for total UK outward FDI.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

The UK has concluded 105 bilateral investment treaties, which are known in the UK as Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (IPPAs).  These include:  Albania, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cameroon, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Dominica, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, China SAR, Hungary, Indonesia, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea Republic of, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Lithuania, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Tanzania, United Republic of Tanzania, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

For a complete current list, including actual treaty texts, see:  http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA/CountryBits/221#iiaInnerMenu

3. Legal Regime

International Regulatory Considerations

The UK’s withdrawal from the EU may result in a period in which the future regulatory direction of the UK is uncertain as the UK determines the extent to which it will either maintain and enforce the current EU regulatory regime or deviate towards new regulations in any particular sector.  The UK is an independent member of the WTO and actively seeks to comply with all WTO obligations.

Transparency of the Regulatory System

U.S. exporters and investors generally will find little difference between the United States and UK in the conduct of business.  The regulatory system provides clear and transparent guidelines for commercial engagement.  Common law prevails in the UK as the basis for commercial transactions, and the International Commercial Terms (INCOTERMS) of the International Chambers of Commerce are accepted definitions of trading terms.  As of 1 January 2021 firms in the UK must use the UK-adopted international accounting standards (IAS) instead of the EU-adopted IAS in terms of accounting standards and audit provisions. .  The UK’s Accounting Standards Board provides guidance to firms on accounting standards and works with the IASB on international standards.

Statutory authority over prices and competition in various industries is given to independent regulators, primarily the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).  Other sector regulators with some jurisdiction over competition include, the Office of Communications (Ofcom), the Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat), the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem), the Rail Regulator, and the Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA).  The PRA was created out of the dissolution of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) in 2013.  The PRA reports to the Financial Policy Committee (FPC) in the Bank of England.  The PRA is responsible for supervising the safety and soundness of individual financial firms, while the FPC takes a systemic view of the financial system and provides macro-prudential regulation and policy actions.  The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) acts as a single integrated regulator focused on enforcement of the UK’s competition laws.  The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is a regulator that addresses financial and market misconduct through legally reviewable processes.  These regulators work to protect the interests of consumers while ensuring that the markets they regulate are functioning efficiently.  Most laws and regulations are published in draft for public comment prior to implementation.  The FCA maintains a free, publicly searchable register of their filings on regulated corporations and individuals here: https://register.fca.org.uk/

The UK government publishes regulatory actions, including draft text and executive summaries, on the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy webpage listed below.  The current policy requires the repeal of two regulations for any new one in order to make the business environment more competitive.

https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/business-regulation

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/regulatory-delivery

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The UK is a common-law country.  UK business contracts are legally enforceable in the UK, but not in the United States or other foreign jurisdictions.  International disputes are resolved through litigation in the UK Courts or by arbitration, mediation, or some other alternative dispute resolution (ADR) method.  The UK has a long history of applying the rule of law to business disputes.  The current judicial process remains procedurally competent, fair, and reliable, which helps position London as an international hub for dispute resolution with over 10,000 cases filed per annum.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Outside of national security reviews of investment in the 17 sectors deemed to be central to national security per the National Security and Investment Act, few statutes govern or restrict foreign investment in the UK.  The procedure for establishing a company in the UK is identical for British and foreign investors.  No approval mechanisms exist for foreign investment, apart from the process outlined in Section 1.  Foreigners may freely establish or purchase enterprises in the UK, with a few limited exceptions, and acquire land or buildings.  As noted above, the UK is currently reviewing its procedures and has proposed new rules for restricting foreign investment in those sectors of the economy with higher risk for adversely impairing national security.

Alleged tax avoidance by multinational companies, including by several major U.S. firms, has been a controversial political issue and subject of investigations by the UK Parliament and EU authorities.  Foreign and UK firms are subject to the same tax laws, however, and several UK firms have also been criticized for tax avoidance.  Foreign investors may have access to certain EU and UK regional grants and incentives designed to attract industry to areas of high unemployment, but these do not include tax concessions.  Access to EU grants ended on December 31, 2020.

The UK flattened its structure of corporate tax rates in 2015, toa flat rate of 19 percent for non-ring-fenced companies, with marginal tax relief granted for companies with profits falling between £300,000 ($420,000) and £1.5 million ($2.1 million).   There are different Corporation Tax rates for companies that make profits from oil extraction or oil rights in the UK or UK continental shelf.  These are known as “ring fence” companies.  Small ”ring fence” companies are taxed at a rate of 19 percent for profits up to £300,000 ($420,000), and 30 percent for profits over £300,000 ($420,000).  A special rate of 20 percent is given to unit trusts and open-ended investment companies.

On March 3, 2021, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced that, starting in 2023, UK corporate tax would increase to 25 percent for companies with profits over £250,000 ($346,000).  A small profits rate (SPR) will also be introduced for companies with profits of £50,000 ($69,000) or less so that they will continue to pay Corporation Tax at 19 percent.  Companies with profits between £50,000 ($69,000) and £250,000 ($346,000) will pay tax at the main rate reduced by a marginal relief providing a gradual increase in the effective Corporation Tax rate.

Tax deductions are allowed for expenditure and depreciation of assets used for trade purposes.  These include machinery, plant, industrial buildings, and assets used for research and development.

The UK has a simple system of personal income tax.  The marginal tax rates for 2020-2021 are as follows: up to £12,500 ($17,370), 0 percent; £12,501 ($17,370) to £50,000 ($69,481), 20 percent; £50,001 ($69,481) to £150,000 ($208,444), 40 percent; and over £150,000 ($208,444), 45 percent.

UK citizens also make mandatory payments of about 12 percent of income into the National Insurance system, which funds social security and retirement benefits.  The UK requires non-domiciled residents of the UK to either pay tax on their worldwide income or the tax on the relevant part of their remitted foreign income being brought into the UK.  If they have been resident in the UK for seven tax years of the previous nine, and they choose to pay tax only on their remitted earnings, they may be subject to an additional charge of £30,000 ($42,000).  If they have been resident in the UK for 12 of the last 14 tax years, they may be subject to an additional charge of £60,000 ($84,000).

The Scottish Parliament has the legal power to increase or decrease the basic income tax rate in Scotland, currently 20 percent, by a maximum of three percentage points.

For further guidance on laws and procedures relevant to foreign investment in the UK, follow the link below:

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/investment-in-the-uk-guidance-for-overseas-businesses

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

UK competition law prohibits anti-competitive behavior within the UK through Chapters I and II of the Competition Act of 1998 and the Enterprise Act of 2002.  The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is responsible for implementing these laws by investigating potentially anti-competitive behaviors, including cases involving state aid, cartel activity, or mergers that threaten to reduce the competitive market environment.  While merger notification in the UK is voluntary, the CMA may impose substantial fines or suspense orders on potentially non-compliant transactions.  The CMA has no prosecutorial authority, but it may refer entities for prosecution in extreme cases, such as those involving cartel activity, which carries a penalty of up to five years imprisonment.  The CMA is also responsible for ensuring consumer protection, conducting market research, and coordinating with sectoral regulators, such as those involved in the regulation of the UK’s energy, water, and telecommunications markets.

On January 1, 2021, the UK began reviewing cross-border activities with a UK-EU nexus in parallel to the European Commission.  On April 8, 2021, the UK established the Digital Markets Unit, a new regulatory body that will be responsible for implementing upcoming changes to competition rules in digital markets.

UK competition law requires:

1) the prohibition of agreements or practices that restrict free trading and competition between business entities (this includes in particular the repression of cartels);

2) the banning of abusive behavior by a firm dominating a market, or anti-competitive practices that tend to lead to such a dominant position (practices controlled in this way may include predatory pricing, tying, price gouging, refusal to deal and many others); and,

3) the supervision of mergers and acquisitions of large corporations, including some joint ventures.

Any transactions which could threaten competition also fall into scope of the UK’s regulators.  UK law provides for remedies to problematic transactions, such as an obligation to divest part of the merged business or to offer licenses or access to facilities to enable other businesses to continue competing.  In addition to the CMA, the Takeover Panel, the Financial Conduct Authority, and the Pensions Regulator have principal regulatory authority:

  • The Takeover Panel is an independent body, operating per the City Code on Takeover and Mergers(the “Code”), which regulates takeovers of public companies,  centrally managed or controlled in the UK, the Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey.  The Code provides a binding set of rules for takeovers aimed at ensuring fair treatment for all shareholders in takeover bids, including requiring bidders to provide information about their intentions after a takeover.
  • The Financial Conduct Authority administers Listing Rules, Prospectus Regulation Rules, and Disclosure Guidance and Transparency Rules, which can apply to takeovers of publicly-listed companies.
  • The Pensions Regulator has powers to intervene in investments in pension schemes.

Expropriation and Compensation

The UK is a member of the OECD and adheres to the OECD principle that when a government expropriates property, compensation should be timely, adequate, and effective.  In the UK, the right to fair compensation and due process is uncontested and is reflected in all international investment agreements.  Expropriation of corporate assets or the nationalization of industry requires a special act of Parliament.  In response to the 2007-2009 financial crisis, the UK government nationalized Northern Rock Bank (sold to Virgin Money in 2012) and took major stakes in the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Lloyds Banking Group.

Dispute Settlement

As a member of the World Bank-based International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the UK accepts binding international arbitration between foreign investors and the State.  As a signatory to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, the UK provides local enforcement on arbitration judgments decided in other signatory countries.

London is a thriving center for the resolution of international disputes through arbitration under a variety of procedural rules such as those of the London Court of International Arbitration, the International Chamber of Commerce, the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, the American Arbitration Association International Centre for Dispute Resolution, and others.  Many of these arbitrations involve parties with no connection to the jurisdiction, but who are drawn to the jurisdiction because they perceive it to be a fair, neutral venue with an arbitration law and courts that support competent and efficient resolution of disputes.  They also choose London-based arbitration because of the general prevalence of the English language and law in international commerce.  A wide range of contractual and non-contractual claims can be referred to arbitration in this jurisdiction including disputes involving intellectual property rights, competition, and statutory claims.  There are no restrictions on foreign nationals acting as arbitration counsel or arbitrators in this jurisdiction.  There are few restrictions on foreign lawyers practicing in the jurisdiction as evidenced by the fact that over 200 foreign law firms have offices in London.

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In addition to its membership in ICSID, the UK is a signatory to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.  The latter convention has territorial application to Gibraltar (September 24, 1975), Hong Kong (January 21, 1977), Isle of Man (February 22, 1979), Bermuda (November 14, 1979), Belize and Cayman Islands (November 26, 1980), Guernsey (April 19, 1985), Bailiwick of Jersey (May 28, 2002), and British Virgin Islands (February 24, 2014).

The United Kingdom has consciously elected not to follow the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration.  Enforcement of an arbitral award in the UK is dependent upon where the award was granted.  The process for enforcement in any particular case is dependent upon the seat of arbitration and the arbitration rules that apply.  Arbitral awards in the UK can be enforced under a number of different regimes, namely:  The Arbitration Act 1996, The New York Convention, The Geneva Convention 1927, The Administration of Justice Act 1920 and the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act 1933, and Common Law.

The Arbitration Act 1996 governs all arbitrations seated in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, both domestic and international.  The full text of the Arbitration Act can be found here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/23/data.pdf.

The Arbitration Act is heavily influenced by the UNCITRAL Model Law, but it has some important differences.  For example, the Arbitration Act covers both domestic and international arbitration; the document containing the parties’ arbitration agreement need not be signed; an English court is only able to stay its own proceedings and cannot refer a matter to arbitration; the default provisions in the Arbitration Act require the appointment of a sole arbitrator as opposed to three arbitrators; a party retains the power to treat its party-nominated arbitrator as the sole arbitrator in the event that the other party fails to make an appointment (where the parties’ agreement provides that each party is required to appoint an arbitrator); there is no time limit on a party’s opposition to the appointment of an arbitrator; parties must expressly opt out of most of the provisions of the Arbitration Act which confer default procedural powers on the arbitrators; and there are no strict rules governing the exchange of pleadings.  Section 66 of the Arbitration Act applies to all domestic and foreign arbitral awards.  Sections 100 to 103 of the Arbitration Act provide for enforcement of arbitral awards under the New York Convention 1958.  Section 99 of the Arbitration Act provides for the enforcement of arbitral awards made in certain countries under the Geneva Convention 1927.

UK courts have a good record of enforcing arbitral awards.  The courts will enforce an arbitral award in the same way that they will enforce an order or judgment of a court.  At the time of writing, there are no examples of the English courts enforcing awards which were set aside by the courts at the place of arbitration.

Under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act, the court’s permission is required for an international arbitral award to be enforced in the UK.  Once the court has given permission, judgment may be entered in terms of the arbitral award and enforced in the same manner as a court judgment or order.  Permission will not be granted by the court if the party against whom enforcement is sought can show that (a) the tribunal lacked substantive jurisdiction and (b) the right to raise such an objection has not been lost.

The length of arbitral proceedings can vary greatly.  If the parties have a relatively straightforward dispute, cooperate, and adopt a fast-track procedure, arbitration can be concluded within months or even weeks.  In a substantial international arbitration involving complex facts, many witnesses and experts and post-hearing briefs, the arbitration could take many years.  A reasonably substantial international arbitration will likely take between one and two years.

There are two alternative procedures that can be followed in order to enforce an award.  The first is to seek leave of the court for permission to enforce.  The second is to begin an action on the award, seeking the same relief from the court as set out in the tribunal’s award.  Enforcement of an award made in the jurisdiction may be opposed by challenging the award.  The court may also, however, refuse to enforce an award that is unclear, does not specify an amount, or offends public policy.  Enforcement of a foreign award may be opposed on any of the limited grounds set out in the New York Convention.  A stay may be granted for a limited time pending a challenge to the order for enforcement.  The court will consider the likelihood of success and whether enforcement of the award will be made more or less difficult as a result of the stay.  Conditions that might be imposed on granting the stay include such matters as paying a sum into court.  Where multiple awards are to be rendered, the court may give permission for the tribunal to continue hearing other matters, especially where there may be a long delay between awards.

Most awards are complied with voluntarily.  If the party against whom the award was made fails to comply, the party seeking enforcement can apply to the court.  The length of time it takes to enforce an award which complies with the requirements of the New York Convention will depend on whether there are complex objections to enforcement which require the court to investigate the facts of the case.  If a case raises complex issues of public importance the case could be appealed to the Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court.  This process could take around two years.  If no complex objections are raised, the party seeking enforcement can apply to the court using a summary procedure that is fast and efficient.  There are time limits relating to the enforcement of the award.  Failure to comply with an award is treated as a breach of the arbitration agreement.  An action on the award must be brought within six years of the failure to comply with the award or 12 years if the arbitration agreement was made under seal.  If the award does not specify a time for compliance, a court will imply a term of reasonableness.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The UK has strong bankruptcy protections going back to the Bankruptcy Act of 1542.  Today, both individual bankruptcy and corporate insolvency are regulated in the UK primarily by the Insolvency Act 1986 and the Insolvency Rules 1986, regulated through determinations in UK courts.  The World Bank’s Doing Business Index ranks the UK 14 out of 190 for ease of resolving insolvency.

Regarding individual bankruptcy law, the court will oblige a bankrupt individual to sell assets to pay dividends to creditors.  A bankrupt person must inform future creditors about the bankrupt status and may not act as the director of a company during the period of bankruptcy.  Bankruptcy is not criminalized in the UK, and the Enterprise Act of 2002 dictates that for England and Wales bankruptcy will not normally last longer than 12 months.  At the end of the bankrupt period, the individual is normally no longer held liable for bankruptcy debts unless the individual is determined to be culpable for his or her own insolvency, in which case the bankruptcy period can last up to 15 years.

For corporations declaring insolvency, UK insolvency law seeks to distribute losses equitably between creditors, employees, the community, and other stakeholders in an effort to rescue the company.  Liability is limited to the amount of the investment.  If a company cannot be rescued, it is liquidated and assets are sold to pay debts to creditors, including foreign investors.  In March 2020, the UK government announced it would introduce legislation to change existing insolvency laws in response to COVID-19.  The new measures seek to enable companies undergoing a rescue or restructuring process to continue trading and help them avoid insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The UK offers a range of incentives for companies of any nationality locating in depressed regions of the country, as long as the investment generates employment.  DIT works with its partner organizations in the devolved administrations – Scottish Development International, the Welsh Government and Invest Northern Ireland – and with London and Partners and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) throughout England, to promote each region’s particular strengths and expertise to overseas investors.

Local authorities in England and Wales also have power under the Local Government and Housing Act of 1989 to promote the economic development of their areas through a variety of assistance schemes, including the provision of grants, loan capital, property, or other financial benefit.  Separate legislation, granting similar powers to local authorities, applies to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

In March 2021, The UK government identified eight sites as post-Brexit freeports to spur trade, investment, innovation and economic recovery.  The eight sites are: East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, Humber region, Liverpool City Region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames, and Teesside.  The designated areas will offer special customs and tax arrangements and additional infrastructure funding to improve transport links.

The cargo ports and freight transportation ports at Liverpool, Prestwick, Sheerness, Southampton, and Tilbury used for cargo storage and consolidation are designated as Free Trade Zones.  No activities that add value to commodities are permitted within the Free Trade Zones, which are reserved for bonded storage, cargo consolidation, and reconfiguration of goods.  The Free Trade Zones offer little benefit to exporters or investors.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The UK does not mandate “forced localization” of data and does not require foreign IT firms to turn over source code.  The Investigatory Powers Act became law in November 2016 addressing encryption and government surveillance.  It permitted the broadening of capabilities for data retention and the investigatory powers of the state related to data.

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) no longer applies to the UK.  Entities based in the UK must comply with the Data Protection Act (DPA) 2018, which incorporated provisions of the EU GDPR directly into UK law.  The UK GDPR sits alongside the DPA 2018 with some technical amendments so that it works in a UK-only context.

On February 19, 2021, the European Commission launched the process towards the adoption of two data adequacy decisions for transfers of personal data to the UK, one under the GDPR and the other for the Law Enforcement Directive.  The decisions, once adopted, would ensure personal data transfers from the European Economic Area (EEA) to the UK continue without the restrictions that the European Commission would ordinarily require on transfers to non-EEA countries.  The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) allows these transfers to continue on an interim basis until the data adequacy decisions are adopted.

HMG brought forward new immigration rules on January 1, 2021. The new rules have wide-ranging implications for foreign employees, students, and EU citizens.  The new rules are points-based, meaning immigrants need to attain a certain number of points in order to be awarded a visa.  The previous cap on visas has been abolished.  Applicants will need to be able to speak English and be paid the relevant salary threshold by their sponsor. This will either be the general salary threshold of £25,600 ($35,800) or the going rate for their job, whichever is higher.  If applicants earn less – but no less than £20,480 ($28,700) – they may still be able to apply by ”trading” points on specific characteristics against their salary.  For example, if they have a job offer in a shortage occupation or have a PhD relevant to the job.  More details are available here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/899755/UK_Points-Based_System_Further_Details_Web_Accessible.pdf

EU citizens who arrived before December 31, 2020, will not have to apply for a visa, but instead are eligible to apply for “settled” or “pre-settled” status, which allows them to live and work in the UK much the same as they were before the UK left the EU.  EU citizens arriving to the UK after January 1, 2021, must apply for the relevant visa.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The UK has robust real property laws stemming from legislation including the Law of Property Act 1925, the Settled Land Act 1925, the Land Charges Act 1972, the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996, and the Land Registration Act 2002.

Interests in property are well enforced, and mortgages and liens have been recorded reliably since the Land Registry Act of 1862.  The Land Registry is the government database where all land ownership and transaction data are held for England and Wales, and it is reliably accessible online, here: https://www.gov.uk/search-property-information-land-registry.  Scotland has its own Registers of Scotland, while Northern Ireland operates land registration through the Land and Property Services.

Long-term physical presence on non-residential property without permission is not typically considered a crime in the UK.  Police take action if squatters commit other crimes when entering or staying in a property.

Intellectual Property Rights

The UK legal system provides a high level of intellectual property rights (IPR) protection, and enforcement mechanisms are comparable to those available in the United States.  The UK is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).  The UK is also a member of the following major intellectual property protection agreements: the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Universal Copyright Convention, the Geneva Phonograms Convention, and the Patent Cooperation Treaty.  The UK has signed and, through implementing various EU Directives, enshrined into UK law the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT), known as the internet treaties.

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is the official UK government body responsible forIPR, including patents, designs, trademarks, and copyright.  The IPO web site contains comprehensive information on UK law and practice in these areas.  https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/intellectual-property-office 

According to the Intellectual Property Crime Report for 2019/20, imports of counterfeit and pirated goods to the UK accounted for as much as £13.6 billion ($18.8 billion) in 2016 – the equivalent of three percent of UK imports in genuine goods.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR’s) 2020 Notorious Markets Report includes amazon.co.uk, based in the UK, due to high levels of counterfeit goods on the platform, but the report also notes the UK has blocking orders in place for a number of torrent and infringing websites.  The 2020 report further details the “innovative approaches to disrupting ad-backed funding of pirate sites” taken by the London Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) and IPO.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The City of London houses one of the largest and most comprehensive financial centers globally.  London offers all forms of financial services:  commercial banking, investment banking, insurance, venture capital, private equity, stock and currency brokers, fund managers, commodity dealers, accounting and legal services, as well as electronic clearing and settlement systems and bank payments systems.  London is highly regarded by investors because of its solid regulatory, legal, and tax environments, a supportive market infrastructure, and a dynamic, highly skilled workforce.

The UK government is generally hospitable to foreign portfolio investment.  Government policies are intended to facilitate the free flow of capital and to support the flow of resources in product and services markets.  Foreign investors are able to obtain credit in local markets at normal market terms, and a wide range of credit instruments are available.  The principles underlying legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent, and  are consistent with international standards.  In all cases, regulations have been published and are applied on a non-discriminatory basis by the Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA).

The London Stock Exchange is one of the most active equity markets in the world.  London’s markets have the advantage of bridging the gap between the day’s trading in the Asian markets and the opening of the U.S. market.  This bridge effect is also evidenced by the fact that many Russian and Central European companies have used London stock exchanges to tap global capital markets.

The Alternative Investment Market (AIM), established in 1995 as a sub-market of the London Stock Exchange, is specifically designed for smaller, rapidly expanding companies.  The AIM has a more flexible regulatory system than the main market and has no minimum market capitalization requirements.  Since its launch, the AIM has raised more than £68 billion ($95 billion) for more than 3,000 companies.

Money and Banking System

The UK banking sector is the largest in Europe and represents the continent’s deepest capital pool.  More than 150 financial services firms from the EU are based in the UK.  The financial and related professional services industry contributed approximately 10 percent of UK economic output in 2020, employed approximately 2.3 million people, and contributed the most to UK tax receipts of any sector.  The long-term impact of Brexit on the financial services industry is uncertain at this time.  Some firms have already moved limited numbers of jobs outside the UK in order to service EU-based clients, but the UK is anticipated to remain a top financial hub.

The Bank of England serves as the central bank of the UK.  According to its guidelines, foreign banking institutions are legally permitted to establish operations in the UK as subsidiaries or branches.  Responsibilities for the prudential supervision of a foreign branch are split between the parent’s home state supervisors and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA).  The PRA, however, expects the whole firm to meet the PRA’s threshold conditions.  The PRA expects new foreign branches to focus on wholesale and corporate banking and to do so at a level that is not critical to the UK economy.  The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is the conduct regulator for all banks operating in the United Kingdom.  For foreign branches the FCA’s Threshold Conditions and conduct of business rules apply, including areas such as anti-money laundering.  Eligible deposits placed in foreign branches may be covered by the UK deposit guarantee program and therefore foreign branches may be subject to regulations concerning UK depositor protection.

There are no legal restrictions that prohibit foreign residents from opening a business bank account; setting up a business bank account as a non-resident is in principle straightforward.   In practice, however, most banks will not accept applications from overseas due to fraud concerns and the additional administration costs.  To open a personal bank account, an individual must at minimum present an internationally recognized proof of identification and prove residency in the UK.  This can present a problem for incoming FDI and American expatriates.  Unless the business or the individual can prove UK residency, they will have limited banking options.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The pound sterling is a free-floating currency with no restrictions on its transfer or conversion.  Exchange controls restricting the transfer of funds associated with an investment into or out of the UK are not exercised.

Remittance Policies

Not applicable.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The United Kingdom does not maintain a national wealth fund.  Although there have at time been calls to turn The Crown Estate – created in 1760 by Parliament as a means of funding the British monarchy – into a wealth fund, there are no current plans to do so.  Moreover, with assets of just under $20 billion, The Crown Estate would be small in relation to other national funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

There are 20 partially or fully state-owned enterprises in the UK at the national level.  These enterprises range from large, well-known companies to small trading funds.  Since privatizing the oil and gas industry, the UK has not established any new energy-related state-owned enterprises or resource funds.

Privatization Program

The privatization of state-owned utilities in the UK is now essentially complete.  With regard to future investment opportunities, the few remaining government-owned enterprises or government shares in other utilities are likely to be sold off to the private sector when market conditions improve.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Businesses in the UK are accountable for a due-diligence approach to responsible business conduct (RBC), or corporate social responsibility (CSR), in areas such as human resources, environment, sustainable development, and health and safety practices – through a wide variety of existing guidelines at national, EU, and global levels.  There is a strong awareness of CSR principles among UK businesses, promoted by UK business associations such as the Confederation of British Industry and the UK government.

The British government fairly and uniformly enforces laws related to human rights, labor rights, consumer protection, environmental protection, and other statutes intended to protect individuals from adverse business impacts.

The UK government adheres to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.  It is committed to the promotion and implementation of these Guidelines and encourages UK multinational enterprises to adopt high corporate standards involving all aspects of the Guidelines.  The UK has established a National Contact Point (NCP) to promote the Guidelines and to facilitate the resolution of disputes that may arise within that context.  The NCP is part of the Department for International Trade.  A Steering Board monitors the work of the UK NCP and provides strategic guidance.  It is composed of representatives of relevant government departments and four external members nominated by the Trades Union Congress, the Confederation of British Industry, the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and the NGO community.  The results of a UK government consultation on CSR can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/300265/bis-14-651-good-for-business-and-society-government-response-to-call-for-views-on-corporate-responsibility.pdf.

Information on UK regulations and policies relating to the procurement of supplies, services and works for the public sector, and the relevance of promoting RBC, are found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/public-sector-procurement-policy.

9. Corruption

Although isolated instances of bribery and corruption have occurred in the UK, U.S. investors have not identified corruption of public officials as a challenge in doing business in the UK.

The Bribery Act 2010 amended and reformed UK criminal law and provided a modern legal framework to combat bribery in the UK and internationally.  The scope of the law is extra-territorial.  Under the Act, a relevant person or company can be prosecuted for bribery if the crime is committed abroad.  The Act applies to UK citizens, residents and companies established under UK law.  In addition, non-UK companies can be held liable for a failure to prevent bribery if they do business in the UK.

Section 9 of the Act requires the UK government to publish guidance on procedures that commercial organizations can put in place to prevent bribery on their behalf.  It creates the following offenses: active bribery, described as promising or giving a financial or other advantage, passive bribery, described as agreeing to receive or accepting a financial or other advantage; bribery of foreign public officials; and the failure of commercial organizations to prevent bribery by an associated person (corporate offense).  This corporate criminal offense places a burden of proof on companies to show they have adequate procedures  in place to prevent bribery (http://www.transparency.org.uk/our-work/business-integrity/bribery-act/adequate-procedures-guidance/).  To avoid corporate liability for bribery, companies must make sure that they have strong, up-to-date and effective anti-bribery policies and systems.  It is a corporate criminal offense to fail to prevent bribery by an associated person.  The briber must be “associated” with the commercial organization, a term which will apply to, amongst others, the organization’s agents, employees, and subsidiaries.  A foreign corporation which “carries on a business, or part of a business” in the UK may therefore be guilty of the UK offense even if, for example, the relevant acts were performed by the corporation’s agent outside the UK.  The Act does not extend to political parties and it is unclear whether it extends to family members of public officials.

The UK formally ratified the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery in 1998 and ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption in 2006.

Resources to Report Corruption

UK law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government routinely implements these laws effectively.  The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is an independent government department, operating under the superintendence of the Attorney General with jurisdiction in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.  It investigates and prosecutes those who commit serious or complex fraud, bribery, and corruption, and pursues them and others for the proceeds of their crime.

All allegations of bribery of foreign public officials by British nationals or companies incorporated in the United Kingdom—even in relation to conduct that occurred overseas—should be reported to the SFO for possible investigation.  When the SFO receives a report of possible corruption, its intelligence team makes an assessment and decides if the matter is best dealt with by the SFO itself or passed to a law enforcement partner organization, such as the Overseas Anti-Corruption Unit of the City of London Police (OACU) or the International Corruption Unit of the National Crime Agency.  Allegations can be reported in confidence using the SFO’s secure online reporting form: https://www.sfo.gov.uk/contact-us/reporting-serious-fraud-bribery-corruption/.

Details can also be sent to the SFO in writing:

SFO Confidential
Serious Fraud Office
2-4 Cockspur Street
London, SW1Y 5BS
United Kingdom

10. Political and Security Environment

The UK is politically stable but continues to be a target for both domestic and global terrorist groups.  Terrorist incidents in the UK have significantly decreased in frequency and severity since 2017, which saw five terrorist attacks that caused 36 deaths.  In 2019, the UK suffered one terrorist attack resulting in three deaths (including the attacker), and another two attacks in early 2020 caused serious injuries and resulted in the death of one attacker.  In November 2019, the UK lowered the terrorism threat level to substantial, meaning the risk of an attack was reduced from “highly likely” to “likely.”  UK officials categorize Islamist terrorism as the greatest threat to national security, though officials identify a rising threat from racially or ethnically motivated extremists, which they refer to as “extreme right-wing” terrorism.  Since March 2017, police and security services have disrupted 19 Islamist and seven extreme right-wing plots.

Environmental advocacy groups in the UK have been involved with numerous protests against a variety of business activities, including: airport expansion, bypass roads, offshore structures, wind farms, civilian nuclear power plants, and petrochemical facilities.  These protests tend not to be violent but can be disruptive, with the aim of obtaining maximum media exposure.

Brexit has waned as a source of political instability.  Nonetheless, the June 2016 EU referendum campaign was characterized by significant polarization and widely varying perspectives across the country.  Differing views about the future UK-EU relationship continue to polarize political opinion across the UK.  Scottish political leaders have indicated that the UK leaving the EU may provide justification to pursue another Referendum on Scotland leaving the UK.  Implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement has contributed to heightened political and sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland.

The UK formally departed the bloc on January 31, 2020, following the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, and completed its transition out of the EU on December 31, 2020.

The Conservative Party, traditionally the UK’s pro-business party, was, until the COVID-19 pandemic, focused on implementing Brexit, a process many international businesses opposed because they anticipated it would make trade in goods, services, workers, and capital with the UK’s largest trading partners more challenging and costly, at least in the short term.  The Conservative Party-led government implemented a Digital Services Tax (DST), a two percent tax on the revenues of predominantly American search engines, social media services and online marketplaces which derive value from UK users, and has additionally legislated for an increase in the Corporation Tax rate from 19 percent to 25 percent.

The Labour Party’s leader, Sir Keir Starmer, is widely acknowledged to be more economically centrist than his predecessor.  In his first major economic speech following his election as Labour Party leader, Starmer declared his intention to repair and improve the party’s relationship with the business community, but has proposed few policies beyond the focus of the COVID-19 crisis.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The UK’s labor force comprises more than 41 million workers.  The employment rate between November 2020 and January 2021 was 75 percent, with 28.3 million workers employed.  There were 1.7 million workers unemployed in January 2021, or five percent, one percent higher than at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The most serious issue facing British employers is a skills gap derived from a high-skill, high-tech economy outpacing the educational system’s ability to deliver work-ready graduates.  The government has placed a strong emphasis on improving the British educational system in terms of greater emphasis on science, research and development, and entrepreneurial skills, but any positive reforms will necessarily deliver benefits with a lag.

As of 2018, approximately 23.5 percent of UK workers belonged to a union.  Public-sector workers represented a much higher share of union members at 52.5 percent, while the private sector was 13.2 percent.  Manufacturing, transport, and distribution trades are highly unionized. Unionization of the workforce in the UK is prohibited only in the armed forces, public-sector security services, and police forces.  Union membership has risen slightly in recent years, despite a previous downward trend.

In the 2019, 234,000 working days were lost from 35 official labor disputes.  The Trades Union Congress (TUC), the British nation-wide labor federation, encourages union-management cooperation.

On April 1, 2021, the UK raised the minimum wage to £8.91 ($12.33) an hour for workers ages 25 and over.  The increased wage impacts about 2 million workers across Britain.

The 2006 Employment Equality (Age) Regulations make it unlawful to discriminate against workers, employees, job seekers, and trainees because of age, whether young or old.  The regulations cover recruitment, terms and conditions, promotions, transfers, dismissals, and training.  They do not cover the provision of goods and services.  The regulations also removed the upper age limits on unfair dismissal and redundancy.  It sets a national default retirement age of 65, making compulsory retirement below that age unlawful unless objectively justified.  Employees have the right to request to work beyond retirement age and the employer has a duty to consider such requests.

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) 2018 $2,710,000 2019 $2,829,000 https://data.worldbank.org/
country/united-kingdom
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) 2019 $527,000 2019 $851,414 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States (M USD, stock positions) 2019 $524,000 2019 $505,088 https://www.selectusa.gov/
country-fact-sheet/United-Kingdom 
Total inbound stock of FDI as percent host GDP 2018 25.3% 2019 11.3% Calculated using respective GDP and FDI data
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI 
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy 
 From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (USD, Billions)
Inward Direct Investment 2019 Outward Direct Investment 2018
Total Inward 2,155.9 Proportion Total Outward 2,060 Proportion
USA 527.8 24.5% USA 525.2 25.3%
Netherlands 231.3 10.7% Netherlands 215.4 10.4%
Luxembourg 185.9 8.6% Luxembourg 132.6 6.4%
Belgium 161 7.5% France 104 5.0%
Japan 125.2 7.4% Spain 104 5.0%
 Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 100% All Countries 100% All Countries 100%
United States 1,077,839 32% United States 549,159 30% United States 528,680 34%
Ireland 422,939 13% Ireland 340,790 19% France 131,552 8%
Luxembourg 184,953 6% Luxembourg 144,231 8% Germany 101,282 7%
France 171,948 5% Japan 81,081 5% Int’l Orgs 96,055 6%
Germany 146,051 4% China, P.R Mainland 49,373 3% Ireland 82,148 5%

14. Contact for More Information

U.S. Embassy London
Economic Section
33 Nine Elms Ln
London SW11 7US
United Kingdom
+44 (0)20-7499-9000
LondonEconomic@state.gov

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future