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Argentina

Executive Summary

Argentina presents significant investment and trade opportunities, particularly in infrastructure, health, agriculture, information technology, energy, and mining. In 2018, President Mauricio Macri continued to reform the market-distorting economic policies of his immediate predecessors. Since entering office in December 2015, the Macri administration has taken steps to reduce bureaucratic hurdles in business creation, enacted some tax reforms, courted foreign direct investment, and attempted to implement labor reforms through sector-specific agreements with unions. However, Argentina’s economic recession coupled with the political stagnation of an election year have reduced the Macri administration’s ability to enact pro-business reforms and have choked international investment to Argentina.

In 2018, Argentina´s economy suffered from stagnant economic growth, high unemployment, and soaring inflation: economic activity fell 2.6 percent and annual inflation rate reached 47.6 percent by the end of year. This deteriorating macroeconomic situation prevented the Macri administration from implementing structural reforms that could address some of the drivers of the stagflation: high tax rates, high labor costs, access to financing, cumbersome bureaucracy, and outdated infrastructure. In September 2018, Argentina established a new export tax on most goods through December 31, 2020, and in January 2019, began applying a similar tax of 12 percent on most exports of services. To account for fluctuations in the exchange rate, the export tax on these goods and services may not exceed four pesos per dollar exported. Except for the case of the energy sector, the government has been unsuccessful in its attempts to curb the power of labor unions and enact the reforms required to attract international investors.

The Macri administration has been successful in re-establishing the country as a world player. Argentina assumed the G-20 Presidency on December 1, 2017, and hosted over 45 G-20 meetings in 2018, culminating with the Leaders’ Summit in Buenos Aires. The country also held the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) presidency for 2017-2018 and served as host of the WTO Ministerial in 2017.

In 2018, Argentina moved up eight places in the Competitiveness Ranking of the World Economic Forum (WEF), which measures how productively a country uses its available resources, to 81 out of 140 countries, and 10 out of the 21 countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region. Argentina is courting an EU-MERCOSUR trade agreement and is increasing engagement with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) with the goal of an invitation for accession this year. Argentina ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement on January 22, 2018. Argentina and the United States continue to expand bilateral commercial and economic cooperation, specifically through the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), the Commercial Dialogue, the Framework to Strengthen Infrastructure Investment and Energy Cooperation, and the Digital Economy Working Group, in order to improve and facilitate public-private ties and communication on trade and investment issues, including market access and intellectual property rights. More than 300 U.S. companies operate in Argentina, and the United States continues to be the top investor in Argentina with more than USD $14.9 billion (stock) of foreign direct investment as of 2017.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 85 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 119 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 80 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $14,907 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $13,030 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Macri government actively seeks foreign direct investment. To improve the investment climate, the Macri administration has enacted reforms to simplify bureaucratic procedures in an effort to provide more transparency, reduce costs, diminish economic distortions by adopting good regulatory practices, and increase capital market efficiencies. Since 2016, Argentina has expanded economic and commercial cooperation with key partners including Chile, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Canada, and the United States, and deepened its engagement in international fora such as the G-20, WTO, and OECD.

Over the past year, Argentina issued new regulations in the gas and energy, communications, technology, and aviation industries to improve competition and provide incentives aimed to attract investment in those sectors. Argentina seeks tenders for investment in wireless infrastructure, oil and gas, lithium mines, renewable energy, and other areas. However, many of the public-private partnership projects for public infrastructure planned for 2018 had to be delayed or canceled due to Argentina’s broader macroeconomic difficulties and ongoing corruption investigations into public works projects.

Foreign and domestic investors generally compete under the same conditions in Argentina. The amount of foreign investment is restricted in specific sectors such as aviation and media. Foreign ownership of rural productive lands, bodies of water, and areas along borders is also restricted.

Argentina has a national Investment and Trade Promotion Agency that provides information and consultation services to investors and traders on economic and financial conditions, investment opportunities, Argentine laws and regulations, and services to help Argentine companies establish a presence abroad. The agency also provides matchmaking services and organizes roadshows and trade delegations. The agency’s web portal provides detailed information on available services (http://www.produccion.gob.ar/agencia). Many of the 24 provinces also have their own provincial investment and trade promotion offices.

The Macri administration welcomes dialogue with investors. Argentine officials regularly host roundtable discussions with visiting business delegations and meet with local and foreign business chambers. During official visits over the past year to the United States, China, India, Vietnam, and Europe, among others, Argentine delegations often met with host country business leaders.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic commercial entities in Argentina are regulated by the Commercial Partnerships Law (Law 19,550), the Argentina Civil and Commercial Code, and rules issued by the regulatory agencies. Foreign private entities can establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity in nearly all sectors.

Full foreign equity ownership of Argentine businesses is not restricted, for the most part, with exception in the air transportation and media industries. The share of foreign capital in companies that provide commercial passenger transportation within the Argentine territory is limited to 49 percent per the Aeronautic Code Law 17,285. The company must be incorporated according to Argentine law and domiciled in Buenos Aires. In the media sector, Law 25,750 establishes a limit on foreign ownership in television, radio, newspapers, journals, magazines, and publishing companies to 30 percent.

Law 26,737 (Regime for Protection of National Domain over Ownership, Possession or Tenure of Rural Land) establishes that a foreigner cannot own land that allows for the extension of existing bodies of water or that are located near a Border Security Zone. In February 2012, the government issued Decree 274/2012 further restricting foreign ownership to a maximum of 30 percent of national land and 15 percent of productive land. Foreign individuals or foreign company ownership is limited to 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) in the most productive farming areas. In June 2016, the Macri administration issued Decree 820 easing the requirements for foreign land ownership by changing the percentage that defines foreign ownership of a person or company, raising it from 25 percent to 51 percent of the social capital of a legal entity. Waivers are not available.

Argentina does not maintain an investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment. U.S. investors are not at a disadvantage to other foreign investors or singled out for discriminatory treatment.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Argentina was last subject to an investment policy review by the OECD in 1997 and a trade policy review by the WTO in 2013. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has not done an investment policy review of Argentina.

Business Facilitation

Since entering into office in December 2015, the Macri administration has enacted reforms to normalize financial and commercial transactions and facilitate business creation and cross-border trade. These reforms include eliminating capital controls, reducing some export taxes and import restrictions, reducing business administrative processes, decreasing tax burdens, increasing businesses’ access to financing, and streamlining customs controls.

In October 2016, the Ministry of Production issued Decree 1079/2016, easing bureaucratic hurdles for foreign trade and creating a Single Window for Foreign Trade (“VUCE” for its Spanish acronym). The VUCE centralizes the administration of all required paperwork for the import, export, and transit of goods (e.g., certificates, permits, licenses, and other authorizations and documents). Argentina subjects imports to automatic or non-automatic licenses that are managed through the Comprehensive Import Monitoring System (SIMI, or Sistema Integral de Monitoreo de Importaciones), established in December 2015 by the National Tax Agency (AFIP by its Spanish acronym) through Resolutions 5/2015 and 3823/2015. The SIMI system requires importers to submit detailed information electronically about goods to be imported into Argentina. Once the information is submitted, the relevant Argentine government agencies can review the application through the VUCE and make any observations or request additional information. The number of products subjected to non-automatic licenses has been modified several times, resulting in a net decrease since the beginning of the SIMI system.

The Argentine Congress approved an Entrepreneurs’ Law in March 2017, which allows for the creation of a simplified joint-stock company (SAS, or Sociedad por Acciones Simplifacada) online within 24 hours of registration. Detailed information on how to register a SAS is available at: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/crear-una-sociedad-por-acciones-simplificada-sas . As of April 2019, the online business registration process is only available for companies located in Buenos Aires. The government is working on expanding the SAS to other provinces. Further information can be found at http://www.produccion.gob.ar/todo-sobre-la-ley-de-emprendedores/.

Foreign investors seeking to set up business operations in Argentina follow the same procedures as domestic entities without prior approval and under the same conditions as local investors. To open a local branch of a foreign company in Argentina, the parent company must be legally registered in Argentina. Argentine law requires at least two equity holders, with the minority equity holder maintaining at least a five percent interest. In addition to the procedures required of a domestic company, a foreign company establishing itself in Argentina must legalize the parent company’s documents, register the incoming foreign capital with the Argentine Central Bank, and obtain a trading license.

A company must register its name with the Office of Corporations (IGJ, or Inspeccion General de Justicia). The IGJ website describes the registration process and some portions can be completed online (http://www.jus.gob.ar/igj/tramites/guia-de-tramites/inscripcion-en-el-registro-publico-de-comercio.aspx ). Once the IGJ registers the company, the company must request that the College of Public Notaries submit the company’s accounting books to be certified with the IGJ. The company’s legal representative must obtain a tax identification number from AFIP, register for social security, and obtain blank receipts from another agency. Companies can register with AFIP online at www.afip.gob.ar or by submitting the sworn affidavit form No. 885 to AFIP.

Details on how to register a company can be found at the Ministry of Production and Labor’s website: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion/crear-una-empresa . Instructions on how to obtain a tax identification code can be found at: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/obtener-el-cuit .

The enterprise must also provide workers’ compensation insurance for its employees through the Workers’ Compensation Agency (ART, or Aseguradora de Riesgos del Trabajo). The company must register and certify its accounting of wages and salaries with the Directorate of Labor, within the Ministry of Production and Labor.

In April 2016, the Small Business Administration of the United States and the Ministry of Production of Argentina signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to set up small and medium sized business development centers (SBDCs) in Argentina. The goal of the MOU is to provide small businesses with tools to improve their productivity and increase their growth. Under the MOU, in June 2017, Argentina set up the first SBDC pilot in the province of Neuquen.

The Ministry of Production and Labor offers a wide range of attendance-based courses and online training for businesses. The full training menu can be viewed at: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion/capacitacion 

Outward Investment

Argentina does not have a governmental agency to promote Argentine investors to invest abroad nor does it have any restrictions for a domestic investor investing overseas.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Argentina has a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States, which entered into force on October 20, 1994. The text of the Argentina-United States BIT is available at: http://2001-2009.state.gov/documents/organization/43475.pdf .

As of April 2019, Argentina has 50 BITs in force. Argentina has signed treaties that are not yet in force with six other countries: Greece (October 1999), New Zealand (August 1999), the Dominican Republic (March 2001), Qatar (November 2016), United Arab Emirates (April 2018), and Japan (December 2018).

During 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, Argentina continued discussions to strengthen bilateral commercial, economic, and investment cooperation with a number of countries, including China, Denmark, India, Mexico, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, South Korea, Russia, Vietnam, and the United States. Argentina and the United States established a bilateral Commercial Dialogue and a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in 2016. Bilateral talks are ongoing through both mechanisms. Argentina does not have a Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

Argentina is a founding member of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), which includes Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela (currently suspended). Through MERCOSUR, Argentina has Free Trade Agreements with Egypt, Israel, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. MERCOSUR has Trade Framework Agreements with Morocco and Mexico, and Preferential Trade Agreements (PTA) with the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), India, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Ecuador. MERCOSUR is currently pursuing a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and has initiated free trade discussions with Canada, South Korea, and Japan. The bloc is also in talks to expand on its agreements with SACU and India.

Argentina has Economic Complementarity Agreements with Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Chile that were established before MERCOSUR and thus, grandfathered into Mercosur. Argentina is engaged in ongoing negotiations to expand the PTA agreement with Mexico. Argentina also has an economic association agreement with Colombia signed in June 2017. In January 2019, the expanded Economic Complementation Agreement (ECA) between Chile and Argentina entered into effect. The new ECA was signed in November 2017, approved by the Argentine Congress in December 2018, and ratified by the Chilean Congress in January 2019. The new deal includes trade facilitation regulation and development programs directed to supporting SMEs, and adds chapters on e-commerce, trade in services, and government procurement.

Argentina does not have a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States. In December 2016, Argentina signed a Tax Information Exchange Agreement with the United States, which increases the transparency of commercial transactions between the two countries to aid with combating tax and customs fraud. The Agreement entered into force on November 13, 2017. The United States and Argentina have initiated discussions to sign a Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) inter-governmental agreement.

In 2014, Argentina committed to implementing the OECD single global standard on automatic exchange of financial information. According to media sources, Argentina had been set to make its first financial information exchange in September 2018, but it was postponed to 2019.

In June 2018, AFIP and the OECD signed an MOU to establish the first Latin American Financial and Fiscal Crime Investigation Academy.

Argentina has signed 18 double taxation treaties, including with Germany, Canada, Russia, and the United Kingdom. In November 2016, Argentina and Switzerland signed a bilateral double taxation treaty. In November 2016, Argentina signed an agreement with the United Arab Emirates, which has not yet entered into force. In July 2017, Argentina updated a prior agreement with Brazil, which also has not yet been implemented. Argentina also has customs agreements with numerous countries. A full listing is available at: http://www.afip.gov.ar/institucional/acuerdos.asp .

In general, national taxation rules do not discriminate against foreigners or foreign firms (e.g., asset taxes are applied to equity possessed by both domestic and foreign entities).

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Government incentives do not make any distinction between foreign and domestic investors.

The Argentine government offers a number of investment promotion programs at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels to attract investment to specific economic sectors such as capital assets and infrastructure, innovation and technological development, and energy, with no discrimination between national or foreign-owned enterprises. They also offer incentives to encourage the productive development of specific geographical areas. The Investment and International Trade Promotion Agency provides cost-free assessment and information to investors to facilitate operations in the country. Argentina’s investment promotion programs and regimes can be found at: http://www.investandtrade.org.ar/?lang=en  http://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/en/where_tax_benefits.php?wia=1&lang=en<http://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/docs/pdf/Doing_Business_in_Argentina-2018.pdf, and http://www.produccion.gob.ar.

The National Fund for the Development of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises provides low cost credit to small and medium-sized enterprises for investment projects, labor, capital, and energy efficiency improvement with no distinction between national or foreign-owned enterprises. More information can be found at https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion/financiamiento 

The Ministry of Production and Labor supports numerous employment training programs that are frequently free to the participants and do not differentiate based on nationality.

Some of the investment promotion programs require investments within a specific region or locality, industry, or economic activity. Some programs offer refunds on Value-Added Tax (VAT) or other tax incentives for local production of capital goods.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Argentina has two types of tax-exempt trading areas: Free Trade Zones (FTZ), which are located throughout the country, and the more comprehensive Special Customs Area (SCA), which covers all of Tierra del Fuego Province and is scheduled to expire at the end of 2023.

Argentine law defines an FTZ as a territory outside the “general customs area” (GCA, i.e., the rest of Argentina) where neither the inflows nor outflows of exported final merchandise are subject to tariffs, non-tariff barriers, or other taxes on goods. Goods produced within a FTZ generally cannot be shipped to the GCA unless they are capital goods not produced in the rest of the country. The labor, sanitary, ecological, safety, criminal, and financial regulations within FTZs are the same as those that prevail in the GCA. Foreign firms receive national treatment in FTZs.

Merchandise shipped from the GCA to a FTZ may receive export incentive benefits, if applicable, only after the goods are exported from the FTZ to a third country destination. Merchandise shipped from the GCA to a FTZ and later exported to another country is not exempt from export taxes. Any value added in an FTZ or re-export from an FTZ is exempt from export taxes. For more information on FTZ in Argentina see: http://www.afip.gob.ar/zonasFrancas/ .

Products manufactured in an SCA may enter the GCA free from taxes or tariffs. In addition, the government may enact special regulations that exempt products shipped through an SCA (but not manufactured therein) from all forms of taxation except excise taxes. The SCA program provides benefits for established companies that meet specific production and employment objectives.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Employment and Investor Requirements

The Argentine national government does not have local employment mandates nor does it apply such schemes to senior management or boards of directors. However, certain provincial governments do require employers to hire a certain percentage of their workforce from provincial residents. There are no excessively onerous visa, residence, work permit, or similar requirements inhibiting mobility of foreign investors and their employees. Under Argentine Law, conditions to invest are equal for national and foreign investors. As of March 2018, citizens of MERCOSUR countries can obtain legal residence within five months and at little cost, which grants permission to work. Argentina suspended its method for expediting this process in early 2018.

Goods, Technology, and Data Treatment

Argentina has local content requirements for specific sectors. Requirements are applicable to domestic and foreign investors equally. Argentine law establishes a national preference for local industry for most government procurement if the domestic supplier’s tender is no more than five to seven percent higher than the foreign tender. The amount by which the domestic bid may exceed a foreign bid depends on the size of the domestic company making the bid. On May 10, 2018, Argentina issued Law 27,437, giving additional priority to Argentine small and medium-sized enterprises and, separately, requiring that foreign companies that win a tender must subcontract domestic companies to cover 20 percent of the value of the work. The preference applies to procurement by all government agencies, public utilities, and concessionaires.  There is similar legislation at the sub-national (provincial) level.

On September 5, 2018, the government issued Decree 800/2018, which provides the regulatory framework for Law 27,437. On November 16, 2016, the government passed a public-private partnership (PPP) law (27,328) that regulates public-private contracts. The law lowered regulatory barriers to foreign investment in public infrastructure projects with the aim of attracting more foreign direct investment. Several projects under the PPP initiative have been canceled or put on hold due to an ongoing investigation on corruption in public works projects during the last administration. The PPP law contains a “Buy Argentina” clause that mandates at least 33 percent local content for every public project.

Argentina is not a signatory to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA), but it became an observer to the GPA in February 1997.

On July 5, 2016, the Ministry of Production and Labor and the Ministry of Energy and Mining issued Joint Resolutions 123 and 313, which allow companies to obtain tax benefits on purchases of solar or wind energy equipment for use in investment projects that incorporate at least 60 percent local content in their electromechanical installations.  In cases where local supply is insufficient to reach the 60 percent threshold, the threshold can be reduced to 30 percent. The resolutions also provide tax exemptions for imports of capital and intermediate goods that are not locally produced for use in the investment projects.

On August 1, 2016, Argentina passed law 27,263, implemented by Resolution 599-E/2016, which provides tax credits to automotive manufacturers for the purchase of locally-produced automotive parts and accessories incorporated into specific types of vehicles. The tax credits range from 4 percent to 15 percent of the value of the purchased parts.  The list of vehicle types included in the regime can be found here: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/260000-264999/263955/norma.htm . On April 20, 2018, Argentina issued Resolution 28/2018, simplifying the procedure for obtaining the tax credits. The resolution also establishes that if the national content drops below the minimum required by the resolution because of relative price changes due to exchange rate fluctuations, automotive manufacturers will not be considered non-compliant with the regime. However, the resolution sets forth that tax benefits will be suspended for the quarter when the drop was registered.

The Media Law, enacted in 2009 and amended in 2015, requires companies to produce advertising and publicity materials locally or to include 60 percent local content. The Media Law also establishes a 70 percent local production content requirement for companies with radio licenses. Additionally, the Media Law requires that 50 percent of the news and 30 percent of the music that is broadcast on the radio be of Argentine origin. In the case of private television operators, at least 60 percent of broadcast content must be of Argentine origin. Of that 60 percent, 30 percent must be local news and 10 to 30 percent must be local independent content.

Argentina establishes percentages of local content in the production process for manufacturers of mobile and cellular radio communication equipment operating in Tierra del Fuego province.  Resolution 66, issued July 12, 2018, replaces Resolution 1219/2015 and maintains the local content requirement for products such as technical manuals, packaging, and labeling. Resolution 66 eliminated the local content requirement imposed by Resolution 1219 for batteries, screws, and chargers. The percentage of local content required ranges from 10 percent to 100 percent depending on the process or item. In cases where local supply is insufficient to meet local content requirements, companies may apply for an exemption that is subject to review every six months. A detailed description of local content percentage requirements can be found here .

There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption, nor does the government prevent companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the country’s territory.

Argentina does not have forced localization of content in technology or requirements of data storage in country.

Investment Performance Requirements

There is no discrimination between domestic and foreign investors in investment incentives. There are no performance requirements. A complete guide of incentives for investors in Argentina can be found at: http://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/invest_argentina.php .

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Secured interests in property, including mortgages, are recognized in Argentina. Such interests can be easily and effectively registered. They also can be readily bought and sold. Argentina manages a national registry of real estate ownership (Registro de la Propiedad Inmueble) at http://www.dnrpi.jus.gov.ar/ . No data is available on the percent of all land that does not have clear title. There are no specific regulations regarding land lease and acquisition of residential and commercial real estate by foreign investors. Law 26,737 (Regime for Protection of National Domain over Ownership, Possession or Tenure of Rural Land) establishes the restrictions of foreign ownership on rural and productive lands, including water bodies. Foreign ownership is also restricted on land located near borders.

Legal claims may be brought to evict persons unlawfully occupying real property, even if the property is unoccupied by the lawful owner. However, these legal proceedings can be quite lengthy, and until the legal proceedings are complete, evicting squatters is problematic. The title and actual conditions of real property interests under consideration should be carefully reviewed before acquisition.

Argentine Law 26.160 prevents the eviction and confiscation of land traditionally occupied by indigenous communities in Argentina, or encumbered with an indigenous land claim. Indigenous land claims can be found in the land registry. Enforcement is carried out by the National Institute of Indigenous Affairs, under the Ministry of Social Development.

Intellectual Property Rights

The government of Argentina adheres to some treaties and international agreements on intellectual property (IP) and belongs to the World Intellectual Property Organization and the World Trade Organization. The Argentine Congress ratified the Uruguay Round agreements, including the provisions on intellectual property, in Law 24425 on January 5, 1995.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s 2019 Special 301 Report identified Argentina on the Priority Watch List. Trading partners on the Priority Watch List present the most significant concerns regarding inadequate or ineffective IP protection or enforcement or actions that otherwise limit market access for persons relying on IP protection. For a complete version of the 2019 Report, see: https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2018/april/ustr-releases-2018-special-301-report .

Argentina continues to present longstanding and well-known challenges to IP-intensive industries, including from the United States. A key deficiency in Argentina’s legal framework for patents is the unduly broad limitations on patent eligible subject matter. Pursuant to a highly problematic 2012 Joint Resolution establishing guidelines for the examination of patents, Argentina rejects patent applications for categories of pharmaceutical inventions that are eligible for patentability in other jurisdictions, including in the United States. Additionally, to be patentable, Argentina requires that processes for the manufacture of active compounds disclosed in a specification be reproducible and applicable on an industrial scale. Stakeholders assert that Resolution 283/2015, introduced in September 2015, also limits the ability to patent biotechnological innovations based on living matter and natural substances. Such measures have interfered with the ability of companies investing in Argentina to protect their IP and may be inconsistent with international norms. Another ongoing challenge to the innovative agricultural, chemical, and pharmaceutical sectors is inadequate protection against the unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorized disclosure, of undisclosed test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for products in those sectors. Argentina struggles with a substantial backlog of patent applications resulting in long delays for innovators seeking patent protection in the market, a problem compounded by a reduction in the number of patent examiners in 2018 primarily due to a government-wide hiring freeze.

Enforcement of IP rights in Argentina continues to be a challenge and stakeholders report widespread unfair competition from sellers of counterfeit and pirated goods and services. La Salada in Buenos Aires remains the largest counterfeit market in Latin America. Argentine police generally do not take ex officio actions, prosecutions can stall and languish in excessive formalities, and, when a criminal case does reach final judgment, infringers rarely receive deterrent sentences. Hard goods counterfeiting and optical disc piracy is widespread, and online piracy continues to grow as criminal enforcement against online piracy is nearly nonexistent. As a result, IP enforcement online in Argentina consists mainly of right holders trying to convince cooperative Argentine ISPs to agree to take down specific infringing works, as well as attempting to seek injunctions in civil cases. Right holders also cite widespread use of unlicensed software by Argentine private enterprises and the government.

Over the last year, Argentina made limited progress in IP protection and enforcement. Beset with economic challenges, Argentina’s government agencies were strapped by a reduction of funding and a government-wide hiring freeze, and many of Argentina’s IP-related initiatives that had gained momentum last year did not gain further traction due to a lack of resources. Despite these circumstances, the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) revamped its procedures and began accepting electronic filing of patent, trademark, and industrial designs applications as of October 1, 2018. Argentina also improved registration procedures for trademarks and industrial designs.  On trademarks, the law now provides for a fast track option that reduces the time to register a trademark to four months. The United States continues to monitor this change as INPI works on the implementing regulation. For industrial designs, INPI now accepts multiple applications in a single filing and applicants may substitute digital photographs for formal drawings. To further improve patent protection in Argentina, including for small and medium-sized enterprises, the United States urges Argentina to ratify the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).

Argentina’s efforts to combat counterfeiting continue, but without systemic measures, illegal activity persists.  Argentine authorities arrested the alleged operators of the market La Salada as well as numerous associates in 2017, but vendors continue to sell counterfeit and pirated goods at the market and throughout Buenos Aires. The United States has encouraged Argentina to create a national IP enforcement strategy to build on these successes and move to a sustainable, long-lasting initiative. The United States also has encouraged legislative proposals to this effect, along the lines of prior bills introduced in Congress to provide for landlord liability and stronger enforcement on the sale of infringing goods at outdoor marketplaces such as La Salada, and to amend the trademark law to increase criminal penalties for counterfeiting carried out by criminal networks. In November 2017, Argentina entered into an agreement with the Chamber of Medium-Sized Enterprises and the Argentine Anti-Piracy Association to create a National Anti-Piracy Initiative focusing initially on trademark counterfeiting. The United States encourages Argentina to expand this initiative to online piracy. In March, revisions to the criminal code, including certain criminal sanctions for circumventing technological protection measures (TPMs), were submitted to Congress. While Argentina has moved forward with the creation of a federal specialized IP prosecutor’s office, the office is not yet in operation. In November 2018, following a constructive bilateral meeting earlier in the year, Argentina and the United States held a DVC under the bilateral Innovation and Creativity Forum for Economic Development, part of the U.S.-Argentina Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), to continue discussions and collaboration on IP topics of mutual interest. The United States intends to monitor all the outstanding issues for progress, and urges Argentina to continue its efforts to create a more attractive environment for investment and innovation.

For statistics on illegal sales in Argentina, go to the following link: http://redcame.org.ar/seccion/relevamiento-venta-ilegal 

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Macri administration has enacted a series of macroeconomic reforms (unifying the exchange rate, settling with holdout creditors, annulling most of the trade restrictions, lifting capital controls, to mention a few) to improve the investment climate. In May 2018, the Congress approved a new capital markets law aimed at boosting economic growth through the development and deepening of the local capital market. The law removed over-reaching regulatory intervention provisions introduced by the previous government and eased restrictions on mutual funds and foreign portfolio investment in domestic markets. Argentina also signed several bilateral agreements and MOUs with other countries aimed to increase foreign direct investment. There are no restrictions on payments and transfers abroad (in accordance with IMF Article VIII).

The Argentine Securities and Exchange Commission (CNV or Comision Nacional de Valores) is the federal agency that regulates securities markets offerings. Securities and accounting standards are transparent and consistent with international norms. Foreign investors have access to a variety of options on the local market to obtain credit. Nevertheless, the domestic credit market is small – credit is 16 percent of GDP, according to the World Bank. The Buenos Aires Stock Exchange is the organization responsible for the operation of Argentina’s primary stock exchange, located in Buenos Aires city. The most important index of the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange is the MERVAL (Mercado de Valores).

U.S. banks, securities firms, and investment funds are well-represented in Argentina and are dynamic players in local capital markets. In 2003, the government began requiring foreign banks to disclose to the public the nature and extent to which their foreign parent banks guarantee their branches or subsidiaries in Argentina.

Money and Banking System

Argentina has a relatively sound banking sector based on diversified revenues, well-contained operating costs, and a high liquidity level. The main challenge for banks is to rebuild long-term assets and liabilities. Due to adverse international and domestic conditions with the economy entering into a recession with high inflation and interest rates, credit to the private sector in local currency (for both corporations and individuals) decreased 18 percent in real terms in 2018. In spite of falling credit, banks remain well equipped to weather weak economic conditions. The largest bank is the Banco de la Nacion Argentina. Non-performing private sector loans constitute less than four percent of banks’ portfolios. The ten largest private banks have total assets of approximately ARS 2,643 billion (USD 64 billion). Total financial system assets are approximately ARS 5,506 billion (USD 134 billion). The Central Bank of Argentina acts as the country’s financial agent and is the main regulatory body for the banking system.

Foreign banks and branches are allowed to establish operations in Argentina. They are subject to the same regulation as local banks. Argentina’s Central Bank has many correspondent banking relationships, none of which are known to have been lost in the past three years.

The Central Bank has enacted a resolution recognizing cryptocurrencies and requiring that they comply with local banking and tax laws. No implementing regulations have been adopted. Blockchain developers report that several companies in the financial services sector are exploring or considering using blockchain-based programs externally and are using some such programs internally. One Argentine NGO, through funding from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), is developing blockchain-based banking applications to assist low income populations.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

President Macri has issued a number of regulations that lifted all capital controls and reduced trade restrictions. In November 2017, the government repealed the obligation to convert hard currency earnings on exports of both goods and services to pesos in the local foreign exchange market.

Per Resolution 36,162 of October 2011, locally registered insurance companies are mandated to maintain all investments and cash equivalents in the country. The BCRA limits banks’ dollar-denominated asset holdings to 10 percent of their net worth.

In June 2018, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Argentina announced a Standby Arrangement agreement (SBA). Three months after agreeing to a USD 50 billion SBA, Argentina and the IMF announced in September 2018 a set of revisions, including an increase of the line of credit by USD 7.1 billion and front loading the disbursement of funds. The revised program sought to erase any doubts about the government’s ability to cover its financing needs for 2018 and 2019 and in turn, Argentina committed to meeting strict new budget and monetary policy targets. On the monetary side, the BCRA replaced inflation targeting with a policy to ensure zero growth of the monetary base through December 2019. The BCRA also allows the exchange rate to float freely between a floor and ceiling of 34 and 44 pesos per dollar (at the time of introducing the framework).

Originally, the BCRA hoped that the floor and ceiling bounds would avoid a real appreciation of the peso; the adjustment started with a 3 percent monthly increase for the last quarter of 2018, and would drop to a monthly 1.75 percent increase for the second quarter of 2019. However, in mid-April 2019, the BCRA announced that the floor and ceiling will remain constant until the end of 2019, at 39.8 and 51.5 pesos per dollar, respectively. Under this framework, the BCRA may only sell up to USD 150 million reserves per day when trading above the ceiling.

Remittance Policies

According to Resolutions 3,819/2015 and 1/2017, companies and investors have no official restrictions on money conversion, remittances, or repatriation of their earnings.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Argentine Government does not maintain a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The Argentine government has state-owned enterprises (SOEs) or significant stakes in mixed-capital companies in the following sectors: civil commercial aviation, water and sanitation, oil and gas, electricity generation, transport, paper production, satellite, banking, railway, shipyard, and aircraft ground handling services.

By Argentine law, a company is considered a public enterprise if the state owns 100 percent of the company’s shares. The state has majority control over a company if the state owns 51 percent of the company’s shares. The state has minority participation in a company if the state owns less than 51 percent of the company’s shares. Laws regulating state-owned enterprises and enterprises with state participation can be found at http://www.saij.gob.ar/13653-nacional-regimen-empresas-estado-lns0001871-1955-03-23/123456789-0abc-defg-g17-81000scanyel .

Through the government’s social security agency (ANSES), the Argentine government owns stakes ranging from one to 31 percent in 46 publically-listed companies. U.S. investors also own shares in some of these companies. As part of the ANSES takeover of Argentina’s private pension system in 2008, the government agreed to commit itself to being a passive investor in the companies and limit the exercise of its voting rights to 5 percent, regardless of the equity stake the social security agency owned. A list of such enterprises can be found at: http://fgs.anses.gob.ar/participacion .

State-owned enterprises purchase and supply goods and services from the private sector and foreign firms. Private enterprises may compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to market share, products/services, and incentives. Private enterprises also have access to financing terms and conditions similar to SOEs. SOEs are subject to the same tax burden and tax rebate policies as their private sector competitors. SOEs are not currently subject to firm budget constraints under the law, and have been subsidized by the central government in the past; however, the Macri administration is reducing subsidies in the energy, water, and transportation sectors. Argentina does not have regulations that differentiate treatment of SOEs and private enterprises. Argentina has observer status under the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement and, as such, SOEs are subject to the conditions of Argentina’s observance.

Argentina does not have a specified ownership policy, guideline or governance code for how the government exercises ownership of SOEs. The country generally adheres to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs. The practices for SOEs are mainly in compliance with the policies and practices for transparency and accountability in the OECD Guidelines.

Argentina does not have a centralized ownership entity that exercises ownership rights for each of the SOEs. The general rule in Argentina is that requirements that apply to all listed companies also apply to publicly-listed SOEs.

In 2018, the OECD released a report evaluating the corporate governance framework for the Argentine SOE sector relative to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs, which can be viewed here: http://www.oecd.org/countries/argentina/oecd-review-corporate-governance-soe-argentina.htm .

Privatization Program

The current administration has not developed a privatization program.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is an increasing awareness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and responsible business conduct (RBC) among both producers and consumers in Argentina. RBC and CSR practices are welcomed by beneficiary communities throughout Argentina. There are many institutes that promote RBC and CSR in Argentina, the most prominent being the Argentine Institute for Business Social Responsibility (http://www.iarse.org /), which has been working in the country for more than 17 years and includes among its members many of the most important companies in Argentina.

Argentina is a member of the United Nation’s Global Compact. Established in April 2004, the Global Compact Network Argentina is a business-led network with a multi-stakeholder governing body elected for two-year terms by active participants. The network is supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Argentina in close collaboration with other UN Agencies. The Global Compact Network Argentina is the most important RBC/CSR initiative in the country with a presence in more than 20 provinces. More information on the initiative can be found at: http://pactoglobal.org.ar .

Foreign and local enterprises tend to follow generally accepted CSR/RBC principles. Argentina subscribed to the Declaration on the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises in April 1997.

Many provinces, such as Mendoza and Neuquen, have or are in the process of enacting a provincial CSR/RBC law. There have been many previously unsuccessful attempts to pass a CSR/RBC law. Distrust over the State’s role in private companies had been the main concern for legislators opposed to these bills.

In February 2019, the Argentine government joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

9. Corruption

Argentina’s legal system incorporates several measures to address public sector corruption. The government institutions tasked with combatting corruption include the Anti-Corruption Office (ACO), the National Auditor General, and the General Comptroller’s Office. Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, and the Ministry of Justice’s ACO is responsible for analyzing and investigating federal executive branch officials based on their financial disclosure forms. The ACO is also responsible for investigating corruption within the federal executive branch or in matters involving federal funds, except for funds transferred to the provinces. While the ACO does not have authority to independently prosecute cases, it can refer cases to other agencies or serve as the plaintiff and request a judge to initiate a case.

Argentina enacted a new Corporate Criminal Liability Law in November 2017 following the advice of the OECD to comply with its Anti-Bribery Convention. The full text of Law 27,401 can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/295000-299999/296846/norma.htm . The new law entered into force in early 2018. It extends anti-bribery criminal sanctions to corporations, whereas previously they only applied to individuals; expands the definition of prohibited conduct, including illegal enrichment of public officials; and allows Argentina to hold Argentines responsible for foreign bribery. Sanctions include fines and blacklisting from public contracts. Argentina also enacted an express prohibition on the tax deductibility of bribes.

Corruption has been an issue in Argentina. In its March 2017 report, the OECD expressed concern about Argentina’s enforcement of foreign bribery laws, inefficiencies in the judicial system, politicization and perceived lack of independence at the Attorney General’s Office, and lack of training and awareness for judges and prosecutors. According to the World Bank’s worldwide governance indicators, corruption remains an area of concern in Argentina. In the latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) that ranks countries and territories by their perceived levels of corruption, Argentina ranked 85 out of 180 countries in 2018, an improvement of 10 places versus 2016. Allegations of corruption in provincial as well as federal courts remained frequent. Few Argentine companies have implemented anti-foreign bribery measures beyond limited codes of ethics.

Since assuming office, President Macri made combating corruption and improving government transparency a priority objective for his administration. In September 2016, Congress passed a law on public access to information. The law explicitly applies to all three branches of the federal government, the public justice offices, and entities such as businesses, political parties, universities, and trade associations that receive public funding. It requires these institutions to respond to citizen requests for public information within 15 days, with an additional 15-day extension available for “exceptional” circumstances. Sanctions apply for noncompliance. The law also mandates the creation of the Agency for Access to Public Information, an autonomous office within the executive branch. President Macri also proposed a series of criminal justice and administrative reforms. Chief among these are measures to speed the recovery of assets acquired through corruption, plea-bargaining-type incentives to encourage judicial cooperation, and greater financial disclosure for public servants. In early 2016, the Argentine government reaffirmed its commitment to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), became a founding member of the Global Anti-Corruption Coalition, and reengaged the OECD Working Group on Bribery.

Argentina is a party to the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Convention against Corruption. It ratified in 2001 the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (Anti-Bribery Convention). Argentina also signed and ratified the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and participates in UNCAC’s Conference of State Parties. Argentina also participates in the Mechanism for Follow-up on the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (MESICIC).

Since Argentina became a party to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, allegations of Argentine individuals or companies bribing foreign officials have surfaced. A March 2017 report by the OECD Working Group on Bribery indicated there were 13 known foreign bribery allegations involving Argentine companies and individuals as of that date.  According to the report, Argentine authorities investigated and closed some of the allegations and declined to investigate others.  The authorities determined some allegations did not involve foreign bribery but rather other offenses.  Several such allegations remained under investigation. 

Resources to Report Corruption

Laura Alonso
Director
Government of Argentina Anti-Corruption Office
Oficina Anticorrupción, Tucumán 394, C1049AAH, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires.
Phone: +54 11 5167 6400
Email: anticorrupcion@jus.gov.ar and http://denuncias.anticorrupcion.gob.ar/ 

Poder Ciudadano (Local Transparency International Affiliate)
Phone: +54 11 4331 4925 ext 225
Fax: +54 11 4331 4925
Email: comunicaciones@poderciudadano.org
Website: http://www.poderciudadano.org 

10. Political and Security Environment

Demonstrations are common in metropolitan Buenos Aires and in other major cities and rural areas. Political violence is not widely considered a hindrance to the investment climate in Argentina.

Protesters regularly block streets, highways, and major intersections, causing traffic jams and delaying travel. Public demonstrations, strikes, and street blocking barricades increased in 2018 in response to economic and political issues. While demonstrations are usually non-violent, individuals sometimes seek confrontation with the police and vandalize private property. Groups occasionally protest in front of the U.S. Embassy or U.S.-affiliated businesses. In February 2016, the Ministry of Security approved a National Anti-Street Pickets Protocol that provides guidelines to prevent the blockage of major streets and public facilities during demonstrations. However, this protocol did not often apply to venues within the City of Buenos Aires (CABA), which fall under the city’s jurisdiction.  The CABA government often did not enforce security protocols against illegal demonstrations.

In December 2017, while Congress had called an extraordinary session to address the retirement system reforms, several demonstrations against the bill turned violent, causing structural damage to public and private property, injuries to 162 people (including 88 policemen), and arrests of 60 people. The demonstrations ultimately dissipated, and the government passed the bill.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Argentine workers are among the most highly-educated and skilled in Latin America. Foreign investors often cite Argentina’s skilled workforce as a key factor in their decision to invest in Argentina. Argentina has relatively high social security, health, and other labor taxes, however, and high labor costs are among foreign investors’ most often cited operational challenges. The unemployment rate was 9.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to official statistics. The government estimated unemployment for workers below 29 years old as roughly double the national rate. Analysts estimate one-third of Argentina’s salaried workforce was employed informally. Though difficult to measure, analysts believe including self-employed informal workers in the estimate would drive the overall rate of informality to 40 percent of the labor force.

Labor laws are comparatively protective of workers in Argentina, and investors cite labor-related litigation as an important factor increasing labor costs in Argentina. There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in the Foreign Trade Zones. Organized labor plays an important role in labor-management relations and in Argentine politics. Under Argentine law, the Secretariat of Labor recognizes one union per sector per geographic unit (e.g., nationwide, a single province, or a major city) with the right to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement for that sector and geographic area. Roughly 40 percent of Argentina’s formal workforce is unionized. The Secretariat of Labor ratifies collective bargaining agreements. Collective bargaining agreements cover workers in a given sector and geographic area whether they are union members or not, so roughly 70 percent of the workforce was covered by an agreement. While negotiations between unions and industry are generally independent, the Secretariat of Labor often serves as a mediator. Argentine law also offers recourse to mediation and arbitration of labor disputes.

Tensions between management and unions occur. Many managers of foreign companies say they have good relations with their unions. Others say the challenges posed by strong unions can hinder further investment by their international headquarters. Depending on how sectors are defined, some activities such as oil and gas production or aviation involve multiple unions, which can lead to inter-union power disputes that can impede the companies’ operations.

During 2017, the government helped employers and workers agree on adjustments to collective bargaining agreements covering private sector oil and gas sector workers in Neuquen Province for unconventional hydrocarbon exploration and production. The changes were aimed at reducing certain labor costs and incentivizing greater productivity. Employers and unions reached similar agreements in the construction and automotive sectors. The government intends to adapt such agreements to other sectors, while it seeks to advance broader labor reforms through new legislation.

The government presented to the Congress in November 2017 a labor reform bill, including four broad thrusts: (1) a labor amnesty that would aim to reduce informality by encouraging employers to declare their off-the-books workers to the authorities without penalties or fines; (2) a National Institute of Worker Education to develop policies and programs aimed at workers’ skills development, as well as a system of workplace-based educational programs specifically for secondary, technical, and university students; (3) a technical commission to limit costs for union healthcare programs by evaluating drugs and medical treatments to determine which ones the union plans must cover; and (4) modifications to the labor contract law to reduce employers’ costs, incentivize hiring, and improve competitiveness. Union resistance to the fourth area led the government to divide the bill into three separate proposals covering the first three reform areas, respectively, and to resubmit the new bills to the congress in May 2018. The three labor reform bills remained pending before congress as of March 2019.

Labor-related demonstrations in Argentina occurred periodically in 2018. Reasons for strikes include job losses, high taxes, loss of purchasing power, and wage negotiations. Labor demonstrations may involve tens of thousands of protestors. Recent demonstrations have essentially closed sections of the city for a few hours or days at a time. Demonstrations by airline employees caused significant flight delays or cancellations in recent months as well.

The Secretariat of Labor has hotlines and an online website to report labor abuses, including child labor, forced labor, and labor trafficking. The Superintendent of Labor Risk (Superintendencia de Riesgos del Trabajo) has oversight of health and safety standards. Unions also play a key role in monitoring labor conditions, reporting abuses and filing complaints with the authorities. Argentina has a Service of Mandatory Labor Conciliation (SECLO), which falls within the Secretariat of Labor, Employment and Social Security. Provincial governments and the city government of Buenos Aires are also responsible for labor law enforcement.

The minimum age for employment is 16. Children between the ages of 16 and 18 may work in a limited number of job categories and for limited hours if they have completed compulsory schooling, which normally ends at age 18. The law requires employers to provide adequate care for workers’ children during work hours to discourage child labor. The Department of Labor’s 2016 Worst Form of Child Labor for Argentina can be accessed here: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/argentina 

The Department of State’s 2018 Human Rights Report for Argentina can be accessed here

Argentine Law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, nationality, religion, political opinion, union affiliation, or age. The law also prohibits employers, either during recruitment or time of employment, from asking about a worker’s political, religious, labor, and cultural views or sexual orientation. These national anti-discrimination laws also apply to labor relations and other social relations.

Argentina has been a member of the International Labor Organization since 1919.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The Argentine government signed a comprehensive agreement with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) in 1989. The agreement allows OPIC to insure U.S. investments against risks resulting from expropriation, inconvertibility, war or other conflicts affecting public order. In November 2018, OPIC and the Government of Argentina signed six letters of interest to advance several projects in support of Argentina’s economic growth. The agreements will support sectors ranging from infrastructure to energy to logistics and total USD 813 million dollars in U.S. support that will catalyze additional private investment.

OPIC is open for business in all Latin American and Caribbean countries except Venezuela and Cuba. Argentina is also a member of the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

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 $451,443 2017 $637,430 www.worldbank.org/en/country  
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 N/A 2017 $14,907 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  

www.bcra.gov.ar

Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 N/A 2017 $1,020 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 N/A 2017 12.2% UNCTAD data available at

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

* https://www.indec.gob.ar/uploads/informesdeprensa/pib_03_19.pdf ;  www.bcra.gov.ar 


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $80,373 100% Total Outward N/A 100%
United States $17,713 22% N/A N/A
Spain $13,874 17% N/A N/A
Netherlands $9,300 12% N/A N/A
Brazil $4,983 6% N/A N/A
Chile $4,650 6% N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

No information from the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS) for Outward Direct Investment is available for Argentina.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section
U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires
Avenida Colombia 4300
(C1425GMN)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
+54-11-5777-4747
ECONBA@state.gov

Bolivia

Executive Summary

In general, Bolivia is open to foreign direct investment.  A 2014 investment promotion law guarantees equal treatment for national and foreign firms, however, it also stipulates that public investment has priority over private investment (both national and foreign) and that the Bolivian Government will determine which sectors require private investment.  Gross foreign direct investment (FDI) into Bolivia was approximately USD 781 million in 2018 (a decrease of approximately USD 420 million compared to 2017), primarily concentrated in the hydrocarbons and mining sectors.

U.S. companies interested in investing in Bolivia should note that in 2012 Bolivia abrogated the Bilateral Investment Treaties (BIT) it signed with the U.S. and a number of other countries.  The Bolivian Government claimed the abrogation was necessary for Bolivia to comply with the 2009 Constitution.  Companies that invested under the U.S. – Bolivia BIT will be covered until June 10, 2022, but investments made after June 10, 2012 are not covered.

Overall, Bolivia’s investment climate has remained relatively steady over the past several years.  Lack of legal security, corruption allegations, and unclear investment incentives are all impediments to investment in Bolivia.  At the moment, there is no significant foreign direct investment from the United States in Bolivia, and there are no initiatives designed specifically to encourage U.S. investment.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Planning are leading efforts to attract more foreign investment (including the launching of a new website, http://www.investbolivia.gob.bo/), but it is not clear if they will be successful, especially in the short term given upcoming general elections in October 2019.  But Bolivia’s current macroeconomic stability, abundant natural resources, and strategic location in the heart of South America make it a country to watch.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 132 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 156 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 117 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $596 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $3,130 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

In 2017, the investment rate as percentage of GDP (21 percent) was in line with regional averages.  The average rate in South America is 19 percent, while it is 22 percent in Chile and Peru and 25 percent in Colombia.  There has also been a shift from private to public investment.  In recent years private investment was particularly low because of the deterioration of the business environment.  From 2006 to 2015, private investment, including local and foreign investment, averaged 7.5 percent of GDP.  In contrast, from 2006 to the present, public investment grew significantly, reaching an annual average of 14 percent of GDP through 2017.  Prior to 2006 public investment averaged 6.5 percent of GDP.

FDI is highly concentrated in natural resources, especially hydrocarbons and mining, which account for nearly two-thirds of FDI.  Since 2006 the net flow of FDI averaged 2.6 percent of GDP.  Before 2006 it averaged around 7.8 percent of GDP.

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

In general, Bolivia remains open to FDI.  The 2014 investment law guarantees equal treatment for national and foreign firms, however it also stipulates that public investment has priority over private investment (both national and foreign) and that the Bolivian Government will determine which sectors require private investment.

U.S. companies interested in investing in Bolivia should note that in 2012 Bolivia abrogated the BIT it signed with the United States and a number of other countries.  The Bolivian Government claimed the abrogation was necessary for Bolivia to comply with the 2009 Constitution.  Companies that invested under the U.S. –Bolivia BIT will be covered until June 10, 2022, but investments made after June 10, 2012 are not covered.

Pursuant to Article 320 of the 2009 Constitution, Bolivia no longer recognizes international arbitration forums for disputes involving the government.  The parties also cannot settle the dispute in an international court.  However, the implementation of this article is still uncertain.

Specifically, Article 320 of the Bolivian Constitution states:

  1. Bolivian investment takes priority over foreign investment.
  2. Every foreign investment will be subject to Bolivian jurisdiction, laws, and authorities, and no one may invoke a situation for exception, nor appeal to diplomatic claims to obtain more favorable treatment.

III. Economic relations with foreign states or enterprises shall be conducted under conditions of independence, mutual respect and equity.  More favorable conditions may not be granted to foreign states or enterprises than those established for Bolivians.

  1. The state makes all decisions on internal economic policy independently and will not accept demands or conditions imposed on this policy by states, banks or Bolivian or foreign financial institutions, multilateral entities or transnational enterprises.
  2. Public policies will promote internal consumption of products made in Bolivia.

Article 262 of the Constitution states:

“The fifty kilometers from the border constitute the zone of border security.  No foreign person, individual, or company may acquire property in this space, directly or indirectly, nor possess any property right in the waters, soil or subsoil, except in the case of state necessity declared by express law approved by two thirds of the Plurinational Legislative Assembly.  The property or the possession affected in case of non-compliance with this prohibition will pass to the benefit of the state, without any indemnity.”

The judicial system faces a huge backlog of cases, is short staffed, lacks resources, has problems with corruption, and is believed to be influenced by political actors.  Swift resolution of cases, either initiated by investors or against them, is unlikely.  The Marcelo Quiroga Anti-Corruption law of 2010 makes companies and their signatories criminally liable for breach of contract with the government, and the law can be applied retroactively.  Authorities can use this threat of criminal prosecution to force settlement of disputes.  Commercial disputes can often lead to criminal charges and cases are often processed slowly.  See our Human Rights Report as background on the judicial system, labor rights and other important issues.

Article 129 of the Bolivian Arbitration Law No. 708, established that all controversies and disputes that arise regarding investment in Bolivia will have to be addressed inside Bolivia under Bolivian Laws.  Consequently, international arbitration is not allowed for disputes involving the Bolivian Government or state-owned enterprises.

Bolivia does not currently have an investment promotion agency to facilitate foreign investment.  However, the government has said that it is working to create an investment promotion agency in order to attract investment in the non-traditional and industrial sectors.  The government has also recently launched an investment promotion website (www.investbolivia.gob.bo ) in order to provide information about investment opportunities in Bolivia.

The government does maintain ongoing dialogue with the private sector through several working groups, one of which addresses the investment climate.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There is a right for foreign and domestic private entities to establish and own business enterprises and engage in remunerative activity.

There are some areas where investors may judge that preferential treatment is being given to their Bolivian competitors, for example in key sectors where private companies compete with state owned enterprises.  Additionally, foreign investment is not allowed in matters relating directly to national security.  And only the government can own most natural resources.

The Constitution specifies that all hydrocarbon resources are the property of the Bolivian people and that the state will assume control over their exploration, exploitation, industrialization, transport, and marketing (Articles 348 and 351).  The state-owned and operated company, Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB) manages hydrocarbons transport and sales and is responsible for ensuring that the domestic market demand is satisfied at prices set by the hydrocarbons regulator before allowing any hydrocarbon exports.  YPFB benefitted from government action in 2006 that required operators to turn over their production to YPFB and to sign new contracts that gave YPFB control over the distribution of gasoline, diesel, and liquid petroleum gas (LPG) to gas stations.  The law allows YPFB to enter into joint venture contracts for limited periods with national or foreign individuals or companies wishing to exploit or trade hydrocarbons or their derivatives.  For companies working in the industry, contracts are negotiated on a service contract basis and there are no restrictions on ownership percentages of the companies providing the services.

The Constitution (Article 366) specifies that every foreign enterprise that conducts activities in the hydrocarbons production chain will submit to the sovereignty of the state, and to the laws and authority of the state.  No foreign court case or foreign jurisdiction will be recognized, and foreign investors may not invoke any exceptional situation for international arbitration, nor appeal to diplomatic claims.

According to the Constitution, no concessions or contracts may transfer the ownership of natural resources or other strategic industries to private interests.  Instead temporary authorizations to use these resources may be requested at the pertinent ministry (Mining, Water and Environment, Public Works, etc.).  The Bolivian Government is still renegotiating commercial agreements related to forestry, mining, telecommunications, electricity, and water services, in order to comply with these regulations.

The Telecommunications, Technology and Communications General Law (Law 164, Article 28) stipulates that the licenses for radio broadcasts will not be given to foreign persons or entities.  Further, in the case of broadcasting associations, the share of foreign investors cannot exceed 25 percent of the total investment, except in those cases approved by the state or by international treaties.

The Central Bank of Bolivia is responsible for registering all foreign investments.  According to the 2014 investment law, any investment will be monitored by the ministry related to the particular sector.  For example, the Mining Ministry is in charge of overseeing all public and private mining investments.  Each Ministry assesses industry compliance with the incentive objectives.  To date, only the Ministry of Hydrocarbons and Energy has enacted a Law (N 767) to incentivize the exploration and production of hydrocarbons.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Bolivia underwent a World Trade Organization (WTO) trade policy review in 2017.  In concluding remarks by the Chairperson, the Chairperson noted that several WTO members raised challenges impacting investor confidence in Bolivia, due primarily to Bolivia’s abrogation of 22 BITs following the passage of its 2009 constitution.  However, some WTO members also commended Bolivia for enacting a new investment promotion law in 2014 and a law on conciliation and arbitration, both of which increased legal certainty for investors, according to those members.

Business Facilitation

According to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 rankings, Bolivia ranks 156 out of 190 countries on the ease of doing business, much lower than most countries in the region.  Bolivia ranks 178 out of 190 on the ease of starting a business.

FUNDEMPRESA is a mixed public/private organization authorized by the central government to register and certify new businesses.  Its website is www.fundempresa.org.bo  and the business registration process is laid out clearly within the tab labeled “processes, requirements and forms,” however the registration cannot be completed entirely online. A user can download the required forms from the site and can fill them out online, but then has to mail the completed forms or deliver them to the relevant offices.  A foreign applicant would be able to use the registration forms.  The forms do ask for a “cedula de identidad,” which is a national identification document; however, foreign users usually enter their passport numbers instead.  Once a company submits all documents required to FUNDEMPRESA, the process takes between 2-4 working days.

The steps to register a business are: (1) register and receive a certificate from Fundempresa; (2) register with the Bolivian Internal Revenue Service (Servicio de Impuestos Nacionales) and receive a tax identification number; (3) register and receive authorization to operate from the municipal government in which the company will be established; (4) if the company has employees, it must register with the national health insurance service and the national retirement pension agency in order to contribute on the employees’ behalf;  and (5) if the company has employees, it must register with the Ministry of Labor.  According to Fundempresa, the process should take 30 days from start to finish.  All steps are required and there is no simplified business creation regime.

Outward Investment

The Bolivian Government does not promote or incentivize outward investment.  Nor does the government restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

As mentioned earlier, potential investors should note that Bolivia has abrogated the Bilateral Investment Treaties (BIT) it signed with the United States and 22 other countries.  The Bolivian Government claimed the abrogation was necessary for Bolivia to comply with the 2009 Constitution.  Companies that invested under the U.S. – Bolivia BIT will be covered until June 10, 2022, but investments made after June 10, 2012 are not covered.

The BIT with Bolivia was the first to be terminated by a U.S. treaty partner.  In a related action, in October 2007, Bolivia became the first country to withdraw from the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).  Bolivia has had a signed BIT with Peru since 1993.

Bolivia does not have a bilateral taxation treaty with the U.S.  However, Bolivia has several agreements with other countries aimed at avoiding double taxation.  Those countries include:  Argentina, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Andean Community countries.  The Bolivian Government is currently assessing the possibility of agreements with several additional countries.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

In an effort to attract more investment, the government enacted an investment law in 2014, which says that each Ministry will provide incentives for sector-specific investment.

Article 14 of the 2014 investment law requires technology transfer from foreign companies operating in Bolivia to Bolivian workers and institutions.  The law also specifies that Bolivians should work in operational, administrative, and executive offices of foreign companies.  Also, companies investing in Bolivia should donate equipment and machinery to universities and technical schools in the same area as the investment, and conduct research activities that will find solutions that contribute to public welfare.

Article 21 of the investment law stipulates that the government can incentivize investment in certain sectors that contribute to the economic and social development of the country.

Law 767 from 2015 aims to promote investments in the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons.  However, many companies considered this regulation as skewed to production and insufficient to incentivize new exploration.  In 2016, Supreme Decree 2830 was issued, providing a 12 percent reduction in the payment of the direct tax on hydrocarbons and other incentives in order to better incentive exploration.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

In 2016, Supreme Decree 2779 was enacted, approving regulations for a new system of free trade zones in Bolivia.  The decree establishes a period of one year for existing free trade zones to transform into free industrial zones, which allow for industrial operations and assembly.  Free industrial zones exist in El Alto, Patacamaya, Oruro, Puerto Suarez, and Warnes.  Cobija is the only remaining free trade zone under this new system, with operations approved until 2038.  Concessions within free industrial zones are 15 years in duration and renewable.  The decree also eased customs procedures for goods entering the zones and established stronger government support for the promotion of productive investments in the zones.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Bolivian labor law requires businesses to limit foreign employees to 15 percent of their total work force and requires that such foreign hires be part of the technical staff.  These workers require a work visa that can be obtained in any Bolivian consulate, and in the case that they work for a Bolivian company, both the company and the workers should also contribute to the Bolivian Pension System (Pension Law Article 104.1)

Supreme Decree 27328 regulates national and local level government procurement, which give priority to national sourcing.  If an item required is not produced in Bolivia, buying decisions are made based on price.  Supreme Decree 28271 (Article 10), establishes the following preference margins for sourcing with Bolivian products:

Except for national tenders, 10 percent preference margin for Bolivian products regardless of the origin of materials.

For national public tenders, if the cost of Bolivian materials represents more than 50 percent of the total cost of the product, the producers receive a 10 percent preference margin over other sellers.

In national and international public tenders, if Bolivian inputs and labor represent more than the 50 percent of the total cost of the product, the seller receives a 25 percent preference margin over other sellers.  If the Bolivian inputs and labor represent between 30 percent and 50 percent of the total cost of the product, the seller receives a 15 percent preference margin over other sellers.

Under the Bolivian Criminal Code (Article 226), it is a crime to raise or lower the price of a product based on false information, interests, or actions.  For those caught doing so, punishment is six months to three years in prison.  It is also a crime to hoard or conceal products in order to raise prices.  The Bolivian Government has aggressively applied these provisions in a number of cases, applying regulations that allow them to request accounting records and audit companies’ financial actions looking for evidence of speculation.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights are legally protected and registered in the Real Estate Office, where titles or deeds are recorded and mortgages/liens are registered.  The recording system is reliable, although there have been complaints regarding the amount of time required to register a property.

The Office of Property Registry oversees the acquisition and disposition of land, real estate, and mortgages.  Mortgages are easy to obtain, taking usually no more than 60 days to obtain a standard loan.  However, challenges to land titles are common due to bureaucratic delays encountered while registering properties, especially in rural areas.  Competing claims to land titles and the absence of a reliable dispute resolution process create risk and uncertainty in real property acquisition.  Nevertheless, illegal occupation of rural private property is decreasing since the passage of Law 477 combatting land seizures.

The Bolivian Constitution grants citizens and foreigners the right to private property but stipulates that the property must serve a social or economic function.  If the government determines that a given property is not sufficiently useful (according to its own unclear criteria), the constitution allows the government to expropriate.  The agricultural sector has been most hard hit by this policy due to uncertainty from year to year about whether farmland would be productive.  In 2015, the government agreed to do away with the annual productivity inspections and reduce their frequency from every two to every five years, though the Legislative Assembly has not yet passed these modifications.  There are other laws that limit access to land, forest, water and other natural resources by foreigners in Bolivia.

The constitution also grants formal, collective land titles to indigenous communities, in order to restore their former territories (Article 394.3), stating that public land will be granted to indigenous farmers, migrant indigenous communities, Afro-Bolivians, and small farmer communities that do not possess or who have insufficient land (Article 395).  Foreigners cannot acquire land from the Bolivian Government (Article 396).  Under law 3545, passed in 2006, the government will not grant public lands to non-indigenous people or agriculture companies.  The Mother Earth Integral Development Law to Live Well (Mother Earth Law, or Law #300) passed in October 2012 specifies that the state controls access to natural resources, particularly when foreign use is involved.  In action, the law limits access to land, forest, water and other natural resources by foreigners in Bolivia.

According to Bolivia’s Agrarian Reform Institute (INRA), approximately 25 percent of all land in Bolivia lacks clear title, and as a result, squatting is a problem.  In some cases, squatters may be able to make a legal claim to the land.  While the Criminal Code criminalizes illegal occupation, the judicial system is slow and ineffective in its enforcement of the law.  Financial mechanisms are available for securitization of properties for lending purposes, although the threat of reversion for properties failing to fulfill a social function discourages the use of land as collateral.

Intellectual Property Rights

The Bolivian Intellectual Property Service (SENAPI) leads the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR) within Bolivia.  SENAPI maintains and regularly updates a complete set of IPR regulations currently in force within Bolivia.  The list is available on SENAPI’s website:  http://www.senapi.gob.bo/MarcoLegal.asp?lang=EN 

SENAPI also maintains an updated version of the services they provide, along with associated costs, at:  http://www.senapi.gob.bo/TasasPropiedadIntelectual.asp?lang=EN 

SENAPI reviews patent registrations for form and substance and publishes notices of proposed registrations in the Official Gazette.  If there are no objections within 30 working days, the organization grants patents for a period of 20 years.  The registration of trademarks parallels that of patents.  Once obtained, a trademark is valid for a 10-year renewable period.  It can be cancelled if not used within three years of the date of grant.

The existing copyright law recognizes copyright infringement as a public offense and the 2001 Bolivian Criminal Procedures Code provides for the criminal prosecution of IPR violations.  However, it is not common for prosecutors to file criminal charges, and civil suits, if pursued, face long delays.  Criminal penalties carry a maximum of five years in jail, and civil penalties are restricted to the recovery of direct economic damages.  SENAPI has established a conciliation process to solve IPR controversies in order to prevent parties from going to trial.

Bolivia does not have an area of civil law specifically related to industrial property, but has a century-old industrial privileges law still in force.  Bolivia is a signatory of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS).  SENAPI is aware of Bolivia’s obligations under the TRIPS Agreement and it sets out the minimum standards of IPR protection in compliance with this agreement.  SENAPI sustains its position that Bolivia complies with the substantive obligations of the main conventions of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property (Paris Convention), and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne Convention) in their most recent versions.  According to SENAPI, Bolivia complies with WTO’s dispute settlement procedures in accordance with its TRIPS obligations.  However, Bolivia falls short on the implementation of domestic procedures and providing legal remedies for the enforcement of intellectual property rights.

Bolivia is a signatory country of the 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty; however, it did not ratify any of those treaties domestically.  Bolivia is not a member of the Madrid Protocol on Trademarks, the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs, or the Patent Law Treaty.

Bolivia is a signatory of Andean Community (CAN) Decision 486, which deals with industrial property and trade secrets and is legally binding in Bolivia.  Decision 486 states that each member country shall accord the Andean Community countries, the World Trade Organization, and the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, treatment no less favorable than it accords to its own nationals with regard to the protection of intellectual property.  Besides its international obligations, Bolivia has not passed any domestic laws protecting trade secrets.

On December 20, 2018, Bolivia’s National Assembly passed Law 1134, the “Bolivian Cinema and Audiovisual Arts Law.”  The law creates a fund to promote Bolivian cinema by charging foreign movie distributors and exhibitors three percent of their total monthly revenue.   Contacts contend that the law could help the Bolivian Government target piracy networks that currently operate with impunity.  Article 27 of the new law strengthens IPR protections for visual works and allows Bolivian Customs to pursue criminal prosecution, but it is unlikely that foreign works would be protected in practice.

Bolivian Customs lacks the human and financial resources needed to intercept counterfeit goods shipments at international borders effectively.  Customs authorities act only when industries trying to protect their brands file complaints.  Moreover, there is a sense of unregulated capitalism with regard to the sale of goods in the informal sector.  Many importers believe the payment of customs fees will “legalize” the sale of counterfeit products.  Sellers either do not know about or do not take into consideration intellectual property rights, particularly in the textile, electrical appliances, and entertainment markets (including markets for CDs/DVDs/Blu-rays).  Large quantities of counterfeit electrical appliances imported from China with labels denoting “Sony,” “Panasonic,” and “General Electric” are available for purchase in local markets.  There is also a flourishing market of textile products made in Bolivia marketed using counterfeit labels of major U.S. brands.  While most counterfeit items come with the illegal brand already attached, brands and logos are available for purchase on the street and can easily be affixed to goods.

Although court actions against those infringing upon IPR are infrequent, there have been some significant cases.  The Industrial Property Director at SENAPI reported that the number of indictments related to counterfeit products increased steadily over the years.  In 2010 there were only 20 such cases.  In 2011, they increased to 27.  In 2012, 48 cases were reported.  In 2013, cases dipped slightly to 43, sharply rose to 60 in 2014, to 65 in 2015, and then to 109 in 2016. SENAPI has not made this data public since then.  According to SENAPI, this does not necessarily represent an increase in the total volume of counterfeit products.  Rather, the increase in indictments is due to SENAPI’s emphasis on enforcement efforts and the public’s greater awareness of IPR rights.  In April 2018, a Bolivian Police task force launched several raids to counter an international group of counterfeit medicine smugglers who were rebranding generic marks, forging medicines using flour, sugar, and dyes, and changing expiration dates.  This group was smuggling these products from Peru through the border.  Bolivian Police estimated that they seized more than USD1 million in counterfeit medicines.  The Bolivian Pharmaceutical Association estimates that they experience losses of approximately USD80 million per year due to contraband.

Bolivia is listed on the Watch List of 2019 USTR’s Special 301 Report.  Bolivia is not named in the 2019 Notorious Market Report.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The government’s general attitude toward foreign portfolio investment is neutral.  Established Bolivian firms may issue short or medium-term debt in local capital markets, which act primarily as secondary markets for fixed-return securities.  Bolivian capital markets have sought to expand their handling of local corporate bond issues and equity instruments.  Over the last few years, several Bolivian companies and some foreign firms have been able to raise funds through local capital markets.  However, the stock exchange is small and is highly concentrated in bonds and debt instruments (more than 95 percent of transactions).  The amount of total transactions per year generally hovers at around 45 percent of GDP.

Since 2008, the financial markets have experienced high liquidity, which has led to historically low interest rates.  However, liquidity has been returning to normal levels in recent years and there are some pressures to increase interest rates.  The Bolivian financial system is not well integrated with the international system and there is only one foreign bank among the top ten banks of Bolivia.

In October 2012, Bolivia returned to global credit markets for the first time in nearly a century, selling USD 500 million worth of 10-year bonds at the New York Stock Exchange.  The sovereign bonds were offered with an interest rate of 4.875 percent and demand for the bonds well surpassed the offer, reaching USD 1.5 billion.  U.S. financial companies Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, and Goldman Sachs were the lead managers of the deal.  In 2013, Bolivia sold another USD 500 million at 5.95 percent for ten years.  HSBC, Bank of America, and Merrill Lynch were the lead managers of the deal.  In 2017, Bolivia sold another USD 1 billion at 4.5 percent for ten years, with Bank of America and JP Morgan managing the deal.  According to the Ministry of Economy, the resources gained from the sales will be used to finance infrastructure projects.

The government and central bank respect their obligations under IMF Article VIII, as the exchange system is free of restrictions on payments and transfers for international transactions.

Foreign investors legally established in Bolivia are able to get credits on the local market.  However, due to the size of the market, large credits are rare and may require operations involving several banks.  Credit access through other financial instruments is limited to bond issuances in the capital market.  A recent financial services law directs credit towards the productive sectors and caps interest rates.

Money and Banking System

The Bolivian banking system is small, composed of 16 banks, 6 banks specialized in mortgage lending, 3 private financial funds, 30 savings and credit cooperatives, and 8 institutions specialized in microcredit.  Of the total number of personal deposits made in Bolivia through December 2018 (USD 26.3 billion), the banking sector accounted for 80 percent of the total financial system.  Similarly, of the total loans and credits made to private individuals (USD 25.1 billion) through December 2018, 80 percent were made by the banking sector, while private financial funds and the savings and credit cooperatives accounted for the other 20 percent.

Bolivian banks have developed the capacity to adjudicate credit risk and evaluate expected rates of return in line with international norms.  The banking sector is stable and healthy with delinquency rates at less than 2 percent in 2018.

In 2013, a new Financial Services Law entered into force.  This new law enacted major changes to the banking sector, including deposit rate floors and lending rate ceilings, mandatory lending allocations to certain sectors of the economy and an upgrade of banks’ solvency requirements in line with the international Basel standards.  The law also requires banks to spend more on improving consumer protection, as well as providing increased access to financing in rural parts of the country.

Credit is now allocated on government-established rates for productive activities, but foreign investors may find it difficult to qualify for loans from local banks due to the requirement that domestic loans be issued exclusively against domestic collateral.  Since commercial credit is generally extended on a short-term basis, most foreign investors prefer to obtain credit abroad.  Most Bolivian borrowers are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

In 2007, the government created a Productive Development Bank to boost the production of small, medium-sized and family-run businesses.  The bank was created to provide loans to credit institutions which meet specific development conditions and goals, for example by giving out loans to farmers, small businesses, and other development focused investors.  The loans are long term and have lower interest rates than private banks can offer in order to allow for growth of investments and poverty reduction.

In September 2010, the Bolivian Government bought the local private bank Banco Union as part of a plan to gain control of part of the financial market.  Banco Union is one of the largest banks, with a share of 10.8 percent of total national credits and 12.7 percent of the total deposits; one of its principal activities is managing public sector accounts.  Bolivian Government ownership of Banco Union was illegal until December 2012, when the government enacted the State Bank Law, allowing for state participation in the banking sector.

There is no strong evidence of “cross-shareholding” and “stable-shareholding” arrangements used by private firms to restrict foreign investment, and the 2009 Constitution forbids monopolies and supports antitrust measures.  In addition, there is no evidence of hostile takeovers (other than government nationalizations that took place from 2006-14).

The Financial sector is regulated by ASFI (Supervising Authority of Financial Institutions), a decentralized institution that is under the Ministry of Economy.  The Central Bank of Bolivia (BCB) oversees all financial institutions, provides liquidity when necessary, and acts as lender of last resort.  The BCB is the only monetary authority and is in charge of managing the payment system, international reserves, and the exchange rate.

Foreigners are able to establish bank accounts only with residency status in Bolivia.

Blockchain technologies in Bolivia are still in the early stages.  Currently, the banking sector is analyzing blockchain technologies and the sector intends to propose a regulatory framework in coordination with ASFI in the future.

Three different settlement mechanisms are available in Bolivia:  (1) the high-value payment system administered by the Central Bank for inter-bank operations; (2) a system of low value payments utilizing checks and credit and debit cards administered by the local association of private banks (ASOBAN); and (3) the deferred settlement payment system designed for small financial institutions such as credit cooperatives.  This mechanism is also administered by the Central Bank.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Banking Law (#393, 2013) establishes regulations for foreign currency hedging and authorizes banks to maintain accounts in foreign currencies.  A significant, but dropping, percentage of deposits are denominated in U.S. dollars (currently less than 14 percent of total deposits).  Bolivian law currently allows repatriation of profits, with a 12.5 percent withholding tax.  However, a provision of the 2009 Constitution (Article 351.2) requires reinvestment within Bolivia of private profits from natural resources.  Until specific implementing legislation is passed, it is unclear how this provision will be applied.  In addition, all bank transfers in U.S. dollars within the financial system and leaving the country must pay a Financial Transaction Tax (ITF) of .03 percent.  This tax applies to foreign transactions for U.S. dollars leaving Bolivia, not to money transferred internally.

Any banking transaction above USD 10,000 (in one operation or over three consecutive days) requires a form stating the source of funds.  In addition, any hard currency cash transfer from or to Bolivia equal to or greater than USD 10,000 must be registered with the customs office.  Amounts between USD 50,000 and USD 500,000 require authorization by the Central Bank and quantities above USD 500,000 require authorization by the Ministry of the Economy and Public Finance.  The fine for underreporting any cash transaction is equal to 30 percent of the difference between the declared amount and the quantity of money found.  The reporting standard is international, but many private companies in Bolivia find the application cumbersome due to the government requirement for detailed transaction breakdowns rather than allowing for blanket transaction reporting.

Administrative Resolution 398/10 approved in June 2010 forces Bolivian banks to reduce their investments and/or assets outside the country to an amount that does not exceed 50 percent of the value of their net equity.

The Central Bank charges a fee for different kinds of international transactions related to banking and trade.  The current list of fees and the details can be found at: https://www.bcb.gob.bo/webdocs/01_resoluciones/RD percent20180 percent202018.pdf 

Law 843 on tax reform directly affects the transfer of all money to foreign countries.  All companies are charged 25 percent tax, except for banks which can be charged 37.5 percent, on profits under the Tax Reform Law, but when a company sends money abroad, the presumption of the Bolivian Tax Authority is that 50 percent of all money transmitted is profit.  Under this presumption, the 25 percent tax is applied to half of all money transferred abroad, whether actual or only presumed profit.  In practical terms, it means there is a payment of 12.5 percent as a transfer tax.

Currency is freely convertible at Bolivian banks and exchange houses.  The Bolivian Government describes its official exchange system as an “incomplete crawling peg.”  Under this system, the exchange rate is fixed, but undergoes micro-readjustments that are not pre-announced to the public.  There is a spread of 10 basis points between the exchange rate for buying and selling U.S. dollars.  The Peso Boliviano (Bs) has remained fixed at 6.96 Bs/USD  1 for selling and 6.86 Bs/USD  1 for buying since October 2011.  The parallel rate closely tracks the official rate, suggesting the market finds the Central Bank’s policy acceptable.  In order to avoid distortions in the exchange rate market, the Central Bank requires all currency exchange to occur at the official rate ±1 basis point.

Remittance Policies

Each remittance transaction from Bolivia to other countries has a USD 2,500 limit per transaction, but there is no limit to the number of transactions that an individual can remit.  The volume of remittances sent to and from Bolivia has increased considerably in the past five years, and the central bank and banking regulator are currently analyzing whether to impose more regulations sometime in the future.  Foreign investors are theoretically able to remit through a legal parallel market utilizing convertible, negotiable instruments, but, in practice, the availability of these financial instruments is limited in Bolivia.  For example, the Bolivian Government mainly issues bonds in Bolivianos and the majority of corporate bonds are also issued in Bolivianos.

The official exchange rate between Bolivianos and dollars is the same as the informal rate.  The government allows account holders to maintain bank accounts in Bolivianos or dollars and make transfers freely between them.  Business travelers may bring up to USD 10,000 in cash into the country.  For amounts greater than USD 10,000, government permission is needed through sworn declaration.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Neither the Bolivian Government nor any government-affiliated entity maintains a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The Bolivian Government has set up companies in sectors it considers strategic to the national interest and social well-being, and has stated that it plans to do so in every sector it considers strategic or where there is either a monopoly or oligopoly.

The Bolivian Government owns and operates more than 60 businesses including energy and mining companies, a telecommunications company, a satellite company, a bank, a sugar factory, an airline, a packaging plant, paper and cardboard factories, and milk and Brazil nut processing factories, among others.  In 2005, income from state-owned business in Bolivia other than gas exports represented only a fraction of a percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  As of 2015, public sector contribution to GDP (including SOEs, investments, and consumption of goods and services) has risen to over 40 percent of GDP.

The largest SOEs are able to acquire credit from the Central Bank at very low interest rates and convenient terms.  Some private companies complain that it is impossible for them to compete with this financial subsidy.  Moreover, SOEs appear to benefit from easier access to licenses, supplies, materials and land; however, there is no law specifically providing SOEs with preferential treatment in this regard.  In many cases, government entities are directed to do business with SOEs, placing other private companies and investors at a competitive disadvantage.

The government registered budget surpluses from 2006 until 2013, but began experiencing budget deficits in 2014.  Close to 50 percent of the deficit was explained by the performance of SOEs, such as Bolivia’s state-owned oil and gas company.  According to the 2009 Constitution, all SOEs are required to publish an annual report and are subject to financial audits.  Additionally, SOEs are required to present an annual testimony in front of civil society and social movements, a practice known as social control.

Privatization Program

There are currently no privatization programs in Bolivia.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Bolivia has laws that regulate aspects related to corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices,  Both producers and consumers in Bolivia are generally aware of CSR, but consumer decisions are ultimately based on price and quality.  Because the Bolivian Constitution stipulates that economic activity cannot damage the collective good (Article 47), CSR activities are generally looked upon favorably by the Bolivian Government.  However, during pre-electoral periods, government officials occasionally accuse companies of using CSR practices as political tools against the government and suggest that the government pioneer tighter CSR regulations.

Though Bolivia is not part of the OECD, it has participated in several Latin American Corporate Governance Roundtables since 2000.  Neither the Bolivian Government nor its organizations use the OECD Guidelines for CSR.  Instead, Bolivian companies and organizations are focused on trying to accomplish the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, and they use the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) methodology in order to show economic, social and environmental results.  While the Bolivian Government, private companies, and non-profits are focused on the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, only a few private companies and NGOs focus on following the UN standard ISO 26000 guidelines and methodologies.  Another methodology widely accepted in Bolivia is the one developed by the ETHOS Institute, which provides measurable indicators accepted by PLARSE (Programa Latinoamericano de Responsabilidad Social Corporativa, the Latin American Program for CSR).The Bolivian Government issued a 2013 supreme decree that requires financial entities to allocate 6 percent of profits to CSR-related projects.

The 1942 General Labor Law is the basis for employment rights in Bolivia, but this law has been modified more than 2,000 times via 60 supreme decrees since 1942.  As a result of these modifications, the General Labor Law has become a complex web of regulations that is difficult to enforce or understand.  An example of the lack of enforcement is the Comprehensive System for Protection of the Disabled (Law 25689) which stipulates that at least 4 percent of the total work force in public institutions, state owned enterprises, and private companies should be disabled.  Neither the public nor private sectors are close to fulfilling this requirement, and most buildings lack even basic access modifications to allow for disabled workers.

In support of consumer protection rights, the Vice Ministry of Defense of User and Consumer Rights was created in 2009 (Supreme Decree 29894) under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice (which became the Ministry of Justice and Transparency in 2017).  This same year the Consumer Protection Law (Supreme Decree 0065) was enacted, which gave the newly created Vice Ministry the authority to request information, verify and follow up on consumer complaints.

The Mother Earth Law (Law 071) approved in October 2012 promotes CSR elements as part of its principles (Article 2), such as collective good, harmony, respect and defense of rights.  The Ministry of Environment and Water is in charge of overseeing the implementation of this law, but the implementing regulations and new institutions needed to enforce this law are still incomplete.

Even though Bolivia promotes the development of CSR practices in its laws, the government gives no advantage to businesses that implement these practices.  Instead, businesses implement CSRs in order to gain the public support necessary to pass the prior consultation requirements or strengthen their support when mounting a legal defense against claims that they are not using land to fulfill a socially valuable purpose, as defined in the Community Land Reform laws (# 1775 and #3545).

In April 2009 the Bolivian Government reorganized the supervisory agencies of the government (formerly Superintendencias) to include social groups, thus creating the “Authorities of Supervision and Social Control” (Supreme Decree 0071).  This authority controls and supervises the following sectors: telecommunications and transportation, water and sanitation, forests and land, pensions, electricity, and enterprises.  Each sector has an Authority of Supervision and Social Control assigned to its oversight, and each Authority has the right to audit the activities in the aforementioned sectors and the right to request the public disclosure of information, ranging from financial disclosures to investigation of management decisions.

9. Corruption

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:

Diego Jimenez Guachalla
Vice Minister of Justice and the Fight Against Corruption
Ministry of Justice
Calle Capitan Ravelo 2101, La Paz
+591-2-115773
http://www.transparencia.gob.bo/ 

Bolivian law stipulates criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the laws are not often implemented properly.  Governmental lack of transparency, and police and judicial corruption, remain significant problems.  The Ministry of Justice and Transparency and the Prosecutor’s Office are both responsible for combating corruption.  In September 2014, former Transparency Minister Nardy Suxo reported that the Ministry was investigating 388 complaints against public servants.  The Ministry has obtained 100 convictions since 2006.  Cases involving allegations of corruption against the president and vice president require congressional approval before prosecutors may initiate legal proceedings, and cases against pro-government public officials are rarely allowed to proceed.  Despite the fact that the courts found that the awarding of immunity for corruption charges is unconstitutional, their rulings were ignored by the government.

Police corruption remains a significant problem.  There are also reports of widespread corruption in the country’s judiciary.

There is an Ombudsman appointed by Congress and charged with protecting human rights and guarding against government abuse.  In his 2014 annual report, the Ombudsman cited the judicial system, the attorney general’s office, and the police as the most persistent violators of human rights due to widespread inefficiencies and corruption.  Public opinion reflected the Ombudsman’s statements.  The 2017 Transparency International corruption perception index ranked Bolivia as 112 of 180 countries and found that Bolivian citizens believe the most corrupt institutions in Bolivia are the judiciary, the police, and executive branch institutions

Bolivia has laws in place which govern public sector-related contracts (Law 1178 and Supreme Decree 181), including contracts for the acquisition of goods, services, and consulting jobs.  Bribery of public officials is also a criminal offense under Articles 145 and 158 of Bolivia’s Criminal Code.  Laws also exist that provide protection for citizens filing complaints against corruption.

Bolivia signed the UN Anticorruption Convention in December 2003 and ratified it in December 2005.  Bolivia is also party to the OAS Inter-American Convention against Corruption.  Bolivia is not a signatory of the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials.

10. Political and Security Environment

Bolivia is prone to social unrest, which can include violence.  Given the country’s reliance on a few key thoroughfares, conflict often disrupts transportation and distribution networks.  The majority of civil disturbances are related to domestic issues, usually workers pressuring the government for concessions by marching or closing major transportation arteries.  Over the past year, there has been no political violence that targeted foreigners.  While protests and blockades are frequent, they only periodically affect commerce.  Several conflicts in La Paz directly affected distribution of essential services or travel in and out of the city for periods greater than 24 hours during 2018.  However, numerous others caused businesses to close for short periods or impeded business operations.  To date, the situation remains as such.  The environment is becoming increasingly politicized in the run up to general elections in October 2019.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Approximately two-thirds of Bolivia’s population is considered “economically active.”  Between 60 and 70 percent of workers participate in the informal economy, where no contractual employer-employee relationship exists.  Relatively low education and literacy levels limit labor productivity, a fact reflected in wage rates.  Unskilled labor is readily available, but skilled workers are often harder to find.

Article 3 of the Labor Code limits to 15 percent the number of foreign nationals that can be employed by any business.  Due to the limited number of labor inspectors, enforcement of the law is uneven.

The 2009 Constitution specifies that unjustified firing from jobs is forbidden and that the state will resolve conflicts between employers and employees (Articles 49.3 and 50).  Bolivian labor law guarantees workers the right of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively.  Most companies are unionized, and nearly all unions belong to the Confederation of Bolivian Workers (COB).

Labor laws, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provide for the freedom of association, the right to strike, and the right to organize and bargain collectively.  The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.  The law does not require government approval for strikes and allows peaceful strikers to occupy business or government offices.  General and solidarity strikes are protected by the constitution, as is the right of any working individual to join a union.

Workers may form a union in any private company of 20 or more employees, but the law requires that at least 50 percent of the workforce be in favor of forming a union.  The law requires prior government authorization to establish a union and confirm its elected leadership, permits only one union per enterprise, and allows the government to dissolve unions by administrative fiat.  The law also requires that members of union executive boards be Bolivian by birth.  The labor code prohibits most public employees from forming unions, but some public-sector workers (including teachers, transportation workers, and health-care workers) were legally unionized and actively participated as members of the Bolivian Workers’ Union without penalty.

Freedom of association is limited by the government and under-resourced labor courts.  Moreover, the 20-worker threshold for forming a union proved an onerous restriction, as an estimated 72 percent of enterprises had fewer than 20 employees.  Labor inspectors may attend union meetings and monitor union activities.  Collective bargaining and voluntary direct negotiations between employers and workers without government participation was limited.  Most collective bargaining agreements were restricted to addressing wages.

Originally passed in 1942, Bolivia’s labor law has changed frequently due to new regulations.  Labor attorneys estimate that the law has been amended over two thousand times, with many amendments directly contradicting others.  Attorneys comment that it is virtually impossible to understand the rules clearly, creating significant uncertainty for both employers and employees.

Bolivia has no unemployment insurance or employment-related social safety net programs.  However, if an employee is laid off due to economic or technical reasons, employers are required to pay three months of salary as compensation.  If fired due to misconduct, the three month compensation is not applicable.  Nevertheless, employees generally have more negotiating leverage in Bolivia than employers, and many employers choose to pay the compensation in order to avoid retaliation.

The Ministry of Labor has labor-related conflict resolution mechanisms, but in reality these processes are skewed towards employees.  If parties cannot reach an agreement, employees are able to initiate legal proceedings, with appeals to Bolivia’s Supreme Court possible.

The National Labor Court handles complaints of antiunion discrimination, but rulings generally take a year or more.  In some cases, the court rules in favor of discharged workers and requires their reinstatement.  Union leaders state that problems are often resolved or are no longer relevant by the time the court rules.  For this reason, government remedies and penalties are often ineffective and insufficient to deter violations.

Violence during labor demonstrations continues to be a serious problem.  In August 2016, striking miners kidnapped and murdered Vice Minister Rodolfo Illanes during a conflict between miners and the government on the La Paz-Oruro highway.  Several miners were also shot and killed.  The case is still under investigation.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

OPIC’s programs are not currently available in Bolivia.

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) 2017 $37,782 2017 $37,509 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $598 2017 $598 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $2 2017 $2 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 1.8% 2017 1.6% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx 

 

* Source for Host Country Data: BEA, UNCTAD, World Bank


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment From/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 12,211 100% Total Outward 736 100%
Spain 2,886 23.6% Netherlands 286 38.8%
Sweden 2,166 17.7% Spain 172 23.4%
Netherlands 1,112 9.1% Brazil 80 10.9%
United States 790 6.5% Panama 63 8.6%
France 761 6.2% Canada 33 4.5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

 

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 5,667 100% All Countries 919 100% All Countries 1,748 100%
United States 2,356 41.6% Other Countries (not specified) 442 48.1% United States 2,290 48.2%
France 518 9.1% Cayman Islands 410 44.7% France 518 10.9%
Cayman Islands 410 7.2% United States 66 7.2% Japan 150 3.2%
Japan 150 2.6% South Korea 112 2.4%
South Korea 112 2.0% Canada 111 2.3%

14. Contact for More Information

J.M. Saxton-Ruiz
Political and Economic Officer
U.S. Embassy La Paz, Av. Arce 2780
(591-2) 216-8171
Saxton-RuizJM@state.gov

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