Bolivia

Executive Summary

In general, Bolivia is open to foreign direct investment (FDI). In 2019, gross FDI flows received reached USD 560 million, lower than in 2018, while divestment reached USD 720 million, making net FDI received negative USD 160 million.  FDI flows were greatest in the sectors of hydrocarbons, manufacturing, industry, and commerce, together representing 81% of the total. Additional sectors receiving some FDI included the transport sector, storage and communications, insurance companies, and real estate services.

The year 2020 was characterized by a high degree of economic, political and social uncertainty in Bolivia.  After Bolivia’s October 2019 elections were annulled, the transitional government had little political authority to make policy changes.  New elections occurred in October 2020, with the new government taking office in November.  The pandemic-induced global economic slowdown led to a contraction of GDP in Bolivia of -7.7%.  Bolivia was the fastest growing economy in the region for five consecutive years through 2018, when growth fell to 2.2% due largely to lower demand, supply, and world natural gas prices, which led to a drop in gas export earnings.

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.

Notwithstanding the uncertain political situation, 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.  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 2020 124 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 150 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 105 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 USD 556 https://www.bea.gov/data/economic-accounts/international 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 3,520 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

In 2019, the investment rate as percentage of GDP (19 percent) was in line with regional averages.  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 2019, private investment, including local and foreign investment, averaged 8 percent of GDP.  In contrast, from 2006 to the present, public investment grew significantly, reaching an annual average of 11 percent of GDP through 2019.

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 2.4 percent of GDP.  Before 2006 it averaged around 6.7 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 of former President Evo Morales 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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.

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 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 needs to renegotiate 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 from 2012 (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 his concluding remarks, 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 2020 rankings, Bolivia ranks 150 out of 190 countries on the ease of doing business, much lower than most countries in the region.  Bolivia ranks 175 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.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Bolivia has no laws or policies that directly foster competition on a non-discriminatory basis.  However, Article 66 of the Commercial Code (Law 14379, 1977) states that unfair competition, such as maintaining an import, production, or distribution monopoly, should be penalized according to criminal law.  There are no informal regulatory processes managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations.

Regulatory authority regarding investment exists solely at the national level in Bolivia.  There are no subnational regulatory procedures.

The Commercial Code requires that all companies keep adequate accounting records and legal records for transparency.  However, there is a large informal sector that does not follow these practices.  Most accounting regulations follow international principles, but the regulations do not always conform to international standards.  Large private companies and some government institutions, such as the Central Bank and the Banking Supervision Authority, have transparent and consistent accounting systems.

Formal bureaucratic procedures have been reported to be lengthy, difficult to manage and navigate, and sometimes debilitating.  Many firms complain that a lack of administrative infrastructure, corruption, and political motives impede their ability to perform. The one exception is when registering a new company in Bolivia.  Once a company submits all documents required to the FUNDEMPRESA, the process usually takes less than one week.

There is no established public comment process allowing social, political, and economic interests to provide advice and comment on new laws and decrees.  However, the government generally — but not always — discusses proposed laws with the relevant sector.  The lack of laws to implement the 2009 Constitution creates legal discrepancies between constitutional guarantees and the dated policies currently enforced, and thus an uncertain investment climate.  Draft text or summaries are usually published on the National Assembly’s website.

Online regulatory disclosures by the Bolivian Government can be found in the “Gaceta Oficial” at:  http://www.gacetaoficialdebolivia.gob.bo/

Supreme Decree 71 in 2009 created a Business Auditing Authority (AEMP), which is tasked with regulating the business activities of public, private, mixed, or cooperative entities across all business sectors.  AEMP’s decisions are legally reviewable through appeal.  However, should an entity wish to file a second appeal, the ultimate decision-making responsibility rests with the Bolivian Government ministry with jurisdiction over the economic sector in question.  This has led to a perception that enforcement mechanisms are neither transparent nor independent.

Environmental regulations can slow projects due to the constitutional requirement of “prior consultation” for any projects that could affect local and indigenous communities.  This has affected projects related to the exploitation of natural resources, both renewable and nonrenewable, as well as public works projects.  Issuance of environmental licenses has been slow and subject to political influence and corruption.

In 2010, the new pension fund was enacted; it increased the contributions that companies have to pay from 1.71 percent of payroll to 4.71 percent.

International Regulatory Considerations

Bolivia is a full member of the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), comprised of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.  Bolivia is also in the process of joining the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) as a full (rather than associate) member.  The CAN’s norms are considered supranational in character and have automatic application in the regional economic block’s member countries.  The government does notify the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade regarding draft technical regulations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Property and contractual rights are enforced in Bolivian courts under a civil law system, but some have complained that the legal process is time consuming and has been subject to political influence and corruption.  Although many of its provisions have been modified and supplanted by more specific legislation, Bolivia’s Commercial Code continues to provide general guidance for commercial activities.  The constitution has precedence over international law and treaties (Article 410), and stipulates that the state will be directly involved in resolving conflicts between employers and employees (Article 50).  There have been allegations of corruption within the judiciary in high profile cases.  Regulatory and enforcement actions are appealable.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

No major laws, regulations, or judicial decisions impacting foreign investment came out in the past year.  There is no primary central point-of-contact for investment that provides all the relevant information to investors.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Bolivia does not have a competition law, but cases related to unfair competition can be presented to AEMP.  Article 314 of the 2009 Constitution prohibits private monopolies.  Based on this article, in 2009 the Bolivian Government created an office to supervise and control private companies (http://www.autoridadempresas.gob.bo/). Among its most important goals are: regulating, promoting, and protecting free competition; trade relations between traders; implementing control mechanisms and social projects, and voluntary corporate responsibility; corporate restructuring, supervising, verifying and monitoring companies with economic activities in the country in the field of commercial registration and seeking compliance with legal and financial development of its activities; and qualifying institutional management efficiency, timeliness, transparency and social commitment to contribute to the achievement of corporate goals.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Bolivian Constitution allows the central government or local governments to expropriate property for the public good or when the property does not fulfill a “social purpose” (Article 57).  In the case of land, this “Economic Social Purpose” (known as FES for its acronym in Spanish) is understood as “sustainable land use to develop productive activities, according to its best use capacity, for the benefit of society, the collective interest and its owner.”  In all other cases where this article has been applied, the Bolivian Government has no official definition of “collective interest” and makes decisions on a case-by-case basis.  Noncompliance with the social function of land, tax evasion, or the holding of large acreage is cause for reversion, at which point the land passes to “the Bolivian people” (Article 401).  In cases where the expropriation of land is deemed a necessity of the state or for the public good, such as when building roads or laying electricity lines, payment of just indemnification is required, and the Bolivian Government has paid for the land taken in such cases.  However, in cases where there is non-compliance in fulfilling this “Economic Social Purpose,” the Bolivian Government is not required to pay for the land and the land title reverts to the state.

The constitution also gives workers the right to reactivate and reorganize companies that are in the process of bankruptcy, insolvency, or liquidation, or those closed in an unjust manner, into employee-owned cooperatives (Article 54).  The mining code of 1997 (last updated in 2007) and hydrocarbons law of 2005 both outline procedures for expropriating land to develop underlying concessions.

Between 2006 and 2014, the former Bolivian Government nationalized companies that were previously privatized in the 1990s.  The former government nationalized the hydrocarbons sector, the majority of the electricity sector, some mining companies (including mines and a tin smelting plant), and a cement plant.  To take control of these companies, the former government forced private entities to sell shares to the government, often at below market prices.  Some of the affected companies have cases pending with international arbitration bodies.  All outsourcing private contracts were canceled and assigned to public companies (such as airport administration and water provision).

There are still some former state companies that are under private control, including the railroad, and some electricity transport and distribution companies.  The first non-former state company was nationalized in December of 2012.  The nationalizations have not discriminated by country; some of the countries affected were the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Argentina, and Chile.  In numerous cases, the former Bolivian Government has nationalized private interests in order to appease social groups protesting within Bolivia.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In November 2007, Bolivia became the first country ever to withdraw from ICSID.  In August 2010, the Bolivian Minister of Legal Defense of the State said that the former Bolivian Government would not accept ICSID rulings in the cases brought against them by the Chilean company Quiborax and Italian company Euro Telcom.  However, the Bolivian Government agreed to pay USD 100 million to Euro Telecom for its nationalization; this agreement was ratified by a Supreme Decree 692 on November 3, 2010.  Additionally, in 2014, a British company that owned the biggest electric generation plant in Bolivia (Guaracachi) won an arbitration case against Bolivia for USD 41 million.  In 2014, an Indian company won a USD 22.5 million international arbitration award in a dispute over the development of an iron ore project.  The Bolivian Government has appealed that award.

In another case, a Canadian mining company with significant U.S. interests failed to complete an investment required by its contract with the state-owned mining company.  The foreign company asserts it could not complete the project because the state mining company did not deliver the required property rights.  The foreign company entered into national arbitration (their contract does not allow for international arbitration) and in January 2011, the parties announced a settlement of USD 750,000 which the company says will be used to pay taxes, employee benefits, and pending debts — essentially leaving them without compensation for the USD 5 million investment they had indicated they had made.  They also retained responsibility for future liabilities.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Conflicting Bolivian law has made international arbitration in some cases effectively impossible.  Previous investment contracts between the Bolivian Government and the international companies granted the right to pursue international arbitration in all sectors and stated that international agreements, such as the ICSID and the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, must be honored.  However, the government claims these rights conflict with the 2009 Constitution, which states (Articles 320 and 366) that international arbitration is not recognized in any case and cannot proceed under any diplomatic claim, and specifically limits foreign companies’ access to international arbitration in the case of conflicts with the government.  The 2009 Constitution also states that all bilateral investment treaties must be renegotiated to incorporate relevant provisions of the new constitution.  The Investment Law of 2014 was enacted in late 2015.  Under the 2015 Arbitration Law (Law 708), international arbitration is not permitted when the dispute is against the government or a state-owned company.

A variety of companies of varying nationality were affected by the former government’s nationalization policy between 2006 and 2014.  In 2014, former President Morales announced there would be no more nationalizations.  The same year, one Brazilian company was nationalized, but that had been previously agreed to with the owner under the previous nationalization policy.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

In Bolivia, two institutions have arbitration bodies: the National Chamber of Commerce (CNC) and the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Santa Cruz (CAINCO).  In order to utilize these domestic arbitration bodies, the private parties must include arbitration within their contracts.  Depending on the contract between the parties, UNCITRAL or Bolivia’s Arbitration Law (No. 708) may be used.  Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards and judgments.   There are no statistics available regarding State-Owned Enterprise (SOE) involvement in investment disputes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Bolivia ranks above regional averages for resolving insolvency according to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report.  The average time to complete bankruptcy procedures to close a business in Bolivia is 20 months.  The Bolivian Commercial Code includes (Article 1654) three different categories of bankruptcy:

  1. No Fault Bankruptcy– when the owner of the company is not directly responsible for its inability to pay its obligations.
  2. At-Fault Bankruptcy– when the owner is guilty or liable due to the lack of due diligence to avoid harm to the company.
  3. Bankruptcy due to Fraud– when the owner intentionally tries to cause harm to the company.

In general, the application of laws related to commercial disputes and bankruptcy has been perceived as inconsistent, and charges of corruption are common.  Foreign creditors often have little redress beyond Bolivian courts, and judgments are generally more favorable to local claimants than international ones.  If a company declares bankruptcy, the company must pay employee benefits before other obligations.  Workers have broad-ranging rights to recover pay and benefits from foreign firms in bankruptcy, and criminal actions can be taken against individuals the Bolivian Government deems responsible for failure to pay in these matters.

No credit bureaus or credit monitoring authorities serve the Bolivian market.

In 2018, the Bolivian Government enacted a new law (No. 1055) called the Creation of Social Enterprises.  The law allows for employees of a company to assert ownership rights over companies under financial distress heading into bankruptcy.  Passage of the law was controversial, with numerous business chambers asserting that the law could incentivize employees and labor unions to undermine the performance of companies in order to force bankruptcy and gain control of company assets.

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 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 usually take 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 former government agreed to do away with the annual productivity inspections and reduce their frequency from every two to every five years.  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: https://www.senapi.gob.bo/normas. SENAPI also maintains an updated version of the services they provide, along with associated costs, at: https://www.senapi.gob.bo/propiedad-intelectual/tasas.

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.  Large quantities of counterfeit electrical appliances imported from China bearing well-known and clearly non-original brands are available for purchase in local markets.  There is also a flourishing market of textile products made in Bolivia and 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.   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.  Because of publicly-reported problems of counterfeit Covid-19 medicines in 2020, the Bolivian Police task force launched several raids to counter groups of counterfeit medicine smugglers These groups reportedly smuggled products through the border with Peru

Bolivia is listed on the Watch List of the U.S. Trade Representative’s 2021 Special 301 Report and is not named in its 2020 Review of Notorious Market for Counterfeiting and Piracy.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The government’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 in 2020 was around 35 percent of GDP.

From 2008-2019, the financial markets experienced high liquidity, which led to historically low interest rates.  However, liquidity has been more limited 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.  The resources gained from the sales were largely used to finance infrastructure projects.  A sovereign bond issuance of up to $3 billion was approved by the National Assembly for 2021 but had not yet occurred as of May 2021.

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.  The 2013 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 2020 (USD 29 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 28 billion) through December 2020, 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 was stable and healthy with delinquency rates at less than 2.0 percent in 2020. In 2020, delinquency rates rose after the government permitted clients to defer bank loan payments until June 2021 without penalty as a mitigating measure for the COVID-19 pandemic.  While delinquency rates still remain relatively low, there are concerns this measure could potentially harm the banking sector’s stability.

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 (Banco de Desarrollo Productivo) 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 partial control of the financial sector.  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 2 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 20,000 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%20152%202019.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.  The Bolivian Constitution stipulates that economic activity cannot damage the collective good (Article 47).

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).  Also in 2009, 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 former 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.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

Comply Chain (https://www.dol.gov/ilab/complychain/).

9. Corruption

Resources to Report Corruption

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

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.   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 2020 Transparency International corruption perception index ranked Bolivia as 124 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.  Protests in late 2019 surrounding fraudulent elections and the subsequent resignation of long-serving president Evo Morales did get violent, but none of the political violence targeted foreigners.  Outside of the volatile months of October and November 2019, while protests and blockades are frequent, they only periodically affect commerce.  In November 2019, however, election-related conflicts and protests led to two weeks of significant interruption to commerce in La Paz and elsewhere, directly affecting distribution of essential services or travel in and out of the city.  In 2020, strict quarantine and lockdown measures severely affected commerce economy-wide and caused numerous businesses to close or otherwise impeded business operations.  In addition, during approximately ten days in August 2020 during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, protestors blocked key highways, denying resident access to foodstuffs, fuel, and badly needed oxygen supplies.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Approximately two-thirds of Bolivia’s population is considered “economically active.”  Between 70 and 75 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.   Nevertheless, employees generally have more negotiating leverage in Bolivia than employers, and many employers choose to pay additional 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. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance and Development Finance Programs

DFC is currently available in Bolivia but no programs are currently active.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $40,895 2019 $41,193 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $556 2018 $556 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 -2 2017 NA BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 -0.4% 2019 0.4% 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 11,878 100% Total Outward 815 100%
Spain 2,637 22.3% Netherlands 346 42.5%
Sweden 1,995 16.8% Other Countries (not specified) 142 17%
Netherlands 1,253 10.6% Panama 63 7.72%
Peru 1,125 9.5% Brazil 61 7.52%
France 741 6.3% Spain 49 6.1%
“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 3,884 100% All Countries 246 100% All Countries 3,638 100%
United States 1,949 50.2% Other Countries (not specified) 98 39.9% United States 1,863 51.2%
 Other Countries (not specified) 473 14.8% United States 86 34.8% Other Countries (not specified) 476 13.1%
The Netherlands 473 12.2% Cayman Islands 62 25.3% The Netherlands 473 13.0%
Germany 143 3.7% International Organizations 210 5.8%
Canada 105 2.7% Germany 145 4.0%

14. Contact for More Information

Jeremy Slezak
Economic Officer
SlezakJD@state.gov

Brazil

Executive Summary

Brazil is the second largest economy in the Western Hemisphere behind the United States, and the ninth largest economy in the world (in nominal terms), according to the World Bank.  The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) named Brazil the sixth largest destination for global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows in 2019 with inflows of $72 billion, which increased 26 percent since Brazil announced its privatization plan that same year.  In recent years, Brazil received more than half of South America’s total incoming FDI and the United States is a major foreign investor in Brazil.  According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the United States had the second largest single-country stock of FDI by final ownership (UBO) representing 18 percent of all FDI in Brazil ($117 billion) behind only the Netherlands’ 23 percent ($147.7 billion) in 2019, the latest year with available data, while according to the Brazil Central Bank (BCB) measurements, U.S. stock was 23 percent ($145.1 billion) of all FDI in Brazil, the largest single-country stock by UBO for the same year. The Government of Brazil (GoB) prioritized attracting private investment in its infrastructure and energy sectors during 2018 and 2019.  The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 delayed planned privatization efforts.

The Brazilian economy returned to an expansionary trend in 2017, ending the deepest and longest recession in Brazil’s modern history.  However, the global coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 returned Brazil to recession after three years of modest recovery. The country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped 4.1 percent in 2020.  As of March 2021, analysts forecast growth of 3.29 percent for 2021.  The unemployment rate was 13.4 percent at the end of 2020.  The nominal budget deficit stood at 13.7 percent of GDP ($196.7 billion) in 2020 and is projected to end 2021 at around 4 percent depending on passage of the 2021 budget.  Brazil’s debt to GDP ratio reached a new record of 89.3 percent in 2020 with National Treasury projections of 94.5 percent by the end of 2021, while the Independent Financial Institution (IFI) of Brazil’s Senate projects 92.67 percent and the IMF estimates the ratio will finish 2021 at 92.1 percent.  The BCB lowered its target for the benchmark Selic interest rate from 4.5 percent at the end of 2019 to 2 percent at the end of 2020, and as of March 2021, the BCB anticipates the Selic rate to rise to 5 percent by the end of 2021.

President Bolsonaro took office on January 1, 2019. In late 2019, Congress passed and President Bolsonaro signed into law a much-needed pension system reform and made additional economic reforms a top priority.  Bolsonaro and his economic team have outlined an agenda of further reforms to simplify Brazil’s complex tax system and the onerous labor laws in the country, but the legislative agenda in 2020 was largely absorbed by response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, Brazil advanced a variety of legal and regulatory changes that contributed to its overall goal to modernize its economy

Brazil’s official investment promotion strategy prioritizes the automobile manufacturing, renewable energy, life sciences, oil and gas, and infrastructure sectors.  Foreign investors in Brazil receive the same legal treatment as local investors in most economic sectors; however, there are restrictions in the health, mass media, telecommunications, aerospace, rural property, and maritime sectors.  The Brazilian Congress is considering legislation to liberalize restrictions on foreign ownership of rural property.

Analysts contend that high transportation and labor costs, low domestic productivity, and ongoing political uncertainties hamper investment in Brazil.  Foreign investors also cite concerns over poor existing infrastructure, relatively rigid labor laws, and complex tax, local content, and regulatory requirements; all part of the extra costs of doing business in Brazil.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 94 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 124 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 62 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 81,731 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 9,130 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Brazil was the world’s sixth-largest destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in 2019, with inflows of $72 billion, according to UNCTAD.  The GoB actively encourages FDI – particularly in the automobile, renewable energy, life sciences, oil and gas, and transportation infrastructure sectors – to introduce greater innovation into Brazil’s economy and to generate economic growth. GoB investment incentives include tax exemptions and low-cost financing with no distinction made between domestic and foreign investors.  Foreign investment is restricted in the health, mass media, telecommunications, aerospace, rural property, maritime, and insurance sectors.

The Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (Apex-Brasil) plays a leading role in attracting FDI to Brazil by working to identify business opportunities, promoting strategic events, and lending support to foreign investors willing to allocate resources to Brazil.  Apex-Brasil is not a “one-stop shop” for foreign investors, but the agency can assist in all steps of the investor’s decision-making process, to include identifying and contacting potential industry segments, sector and market analyses, and general guidelines on legal and fiscal issues.  Their services are free of charge.  The website for Apex-Brasil is: http://www.apexbrasil.com.br/en

In 2019, the Ministry of Economy created the Ombudsman’s office to provide foreign investors with a single point of contact for concerns related to FDI.  The plan seeks to eventually streamline foreign investments in Brazil by providing investors, foreign and domestic, with a simpler process for the creation of new businesses and additional investments in current companies.  Currently, the Ombudsman’s office is not operating as a single window for services, but rather as an advisory resource for FDI.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

A 1995 constitutional amendment (EC 6/1995) eliminated distinctions between foreign and local capital, ending favorable treatment (e.g. tax incentives, preference for winning bids) for companies using only local capital.  However, constitutional law restricts foreign investment in healthcare (Law 8080/1990, altered by 13097/2015), mass media (Law 10610/2002), telecommunications (Law 12485/2011), aerospace (Law 7565/1986 a, Decree 6834/2009, updated by Law 12970/2014, Law 13133/2015, and Law 13319/2016), rural property (Law 5709/1971), maritime (Law 9432/1997, Decree 2256/1997), and insurance (Law 11371/2006).

Screening of FDI

Foreigners investing in Brazil must electronically register their investment with the Central Bank of Brazil (BCB) within 30 days of the inflow of resources to Brazil.  In cases of investments involving royalties and technology transfer, investors must register with Brazil’s patent office, the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI).  Investors must also have a local representative in Brazil. Portfolio investors must have a Brazilian financial administrator and register with the Brazilian Securities Exchange Commission (CVM).

To enter Brazil’s insurance and reinsurance market, U.S. companies must establish a subsidiary, enter into a joint venture, acquire a local firm, or enter into a partnership with a local company.  The BCB reviews banking license applications on a case-by-case basis. Foreign interests own or control 20 of the top 50 banks in Brazil, but Santander is the only major wholly foreign-owned retail bank.

Since June 2019, foreign investors may own 100 percent of capital in Brazilian airline companies.

While 2015 and 2017 legislative and regulatory changes relaxed some restrictions on insurance and reinsurance, rules on preferential offers to local reinsurers remain unchanged.  Foreign reinsurance firms must have a representation office in Brazil to qualify as an admitted reinsurer.  Insurance and reinsurance companies must maintain an active registration with Brazil’s insurance regulator, the Superintendence of Private Insurance (SUSEP) and maintain a minimum solvency classification issued by a risk classification agency equal to Standard & Poor’s or Fitch ratings of at least BBB-.

Foreign ownership of cable TV companies is allowed, and telecom companies may offer television packages with their service.  Content quotas require every channel to air at least three and a half hours per week of Brazilian programming during primetime.  Additionally, one-third of all channels included in any TV package must be Brazilian.

The National Land Reform and Settlement Institute administers the purchase and lease of Brazilian agricultural land by foreigners.  Under the applicable rules, the area of agricultural land bought or leased by foreigners cannot account for more than 25 percent of the overall land area in a given municipal district.  Additionally, no more than 10 percent of agricultural land in any given municipal district may be owned or leased by foreign nationals from the same country.  The law also states that prior consent is needed for purchase of land in areas considered indispensable to national security and for land along the border.  The rules also make it necessary to obtain congressional approval before large plots of agricultural land can be purchased by foreign nationals, foreign companies, or Brazilian companies with majority foreign shareholding.  In December 2020, the Senate approved a bill (PL 2963/2019; source:  https://www25.senado.leg.br/web/atividade/materias/-/materia/136853) to ease restrictions on foreign land ownership; however, the Chamber of Deputies has yet to consider the bill. Brazil is not yet a signatory to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA), but submitted its application for accession in May 2020.  In February 2021, Brazil formalized its initial offer to start negotiations.  The submission establishes a series of thresholds above which foreign sellers will be allowed to bid for procurements.  Such thresholds differ for different procuring entities and types of procurements.  The proposal also includes procurements by some states and municipalities (with restrictions) as well as state-owned enterprises, but it excludes certain sensitive categories, such as financial services, strategic health products, and specific information technologies.  Brazil’s submission still must be negotiated with GPA members.

By statute, a Brazilian state enterprise may subcontract services to a foreign firm only if domestic expertise is unavailable.  Additionally, U.S. and other foreign firms may only bid to provide technical services where there are no qualified Brazilian firms. U.S. companies need to enter into partnerships with local firms or have operations in Brazil in order to be eligible for “margins of preference” offered to domestic firms participating in Brazil’s public sector procurement to help these firms win government tenders.  Nevertheless, foreign companies are often successful in obtaining subcontracting opportunities with large Brazilian firms that win government contracts and, since October 2020, foreign companies are allowed to participate in bids without the need for an in-country corporate presence (although establishing such a presence is mandatory if the bid is successful).  A revised Government Procurement Protocol of the trade bloc Mercosul (Mercosur in Spanish), signed in 2017, would entitle member nations Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay to non-discriminatory treatment of government-procured goods, services, and public works originating from each other’s suppliers and providers.  However, none of the bloc’s members have yet ratified it, so it has not entered into force.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) December 2020 Economic Forecast Summary of Brazil summarized that, despite new COVID-19 infections and fatalities remaining high, the economy started to recover across a wide range of sectors by the end of 2020.  Since the publication, Brazil’s economy is faltering due to the continuing pandemic’s financial impact.  The strong fiscal and monetary policy response managed to prevent a sharper economic contraction, cushioning the impact on household incomes and poverty.  Nonetheless, fiscal vulnerabilities have been exacerbated by these necessary policy responses and public debt has risen.  Failure to continue structural reform progress could hold back investment and future growth.  As of March 2021, forecasts are for economic recovery in 2021 and high unemployment.  The OECD report recommended reallocating some expenditures and raising spending efficiency to improve social protections, and resuming the fiscal adjustments under way before the pandemic.  The report also recommended structural reforms to enhance domestic and external competition and improve the investment climate.

The IMF’s 2020 Country Report No. 20/311 on Brazil highlighted the severe impact of the pandemic in Brazil’s economic recovery but praised the government’s response, which averted a deeper economic downturn, stabilized financial markets, and cushioned income loss for the poorest.  The IMF assessed that the lingering effects of the crisis will restrain consumption while investment will be hampered by idle capacity and high uncertainty.  The IMF projected inflation to stay below target until 2023, given significant slack in the economy, but with the sharp increase in the primary fiscal deficit, gross public debt is expected to rise to 100 percent of GDP and remain high over the medium-term.  The IMF noted that Brazil’s record low interest rate (Selic) helped the government reduce borrowing costs, but the steepening of the local currency yield curve highlighted market concerns over fiscal risks.  The WTO’s 2017 Trade Policy Review of Brazil noted the country’s open stance towards foreign investment, but also pointed to the many sector-specific limitations (see above).  All three reports highlighted the uncertainty regarding reform plans as the most significant political risk to the economy. These reports are located at the following links:

Business Facilitation

A company must register with the National Revenue Service (Receita Federal) to obtain a business license and be placed on the National Registry of Legal Entities (CNPJ).  Brazil’s Export Promotion and Investment Agency (APEX) has a mandate to facilitate foreign investment.  The agency’s services are available to all investors, foreign and domestic.  Foreign companies interested in investing in Brazil have access to many benefits and tax incentives granted by the Brazilian government at the municipal, state, and federal levels.  Most incentives target specific sectors, amounts invested, and job generation.  Brazil’s business registration website can be found at: http://receita.economia.gov.br/orientacao/tributaria/cadastros/cadastro-nacional-de-pessoas-juridicas-cnpj .

Overall, Brazil dropped in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report from 2019 to 2020; however, it improved in the following areas: registering property; starting a business; and resolving insolvency.  According to Doing Business, some Brazilian states (São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro) made starting a business easier by allowing expedited business registration and by decreasing the cost of the digital certificate.  On March 2021, the GoB enacted a Provisional Measure (MP) to simplify the opening of companies, the protection of minority investors, the facilitation of foreign trade in goods and services, and the streamlining of low-risk construction projects.  The Ministry of Economy expects the MP, together with previous actions by the government, to raise Brazil by 18 to 20 positions in the ranking.  Adopted in September 2019, the Economic Freedom Law 13.874 established the Economic Freedom Declaration of Rights and provided for free market guarantees.  The law includes several provisions to simplify regulations and establishes norms for the protection of free enterprise and free exercise of economic activity.

Through the digital transformation initiative in Brazil, foreign companies can open branches via the internet.  Since 2019, it has been easier for foreign businesspeople to request authorization from the Brazilian federal government.  After filling out the registration, creating an account, and sending the necessary documentation, they can make the request on the Brazilian government’s Portal through a legal representative.  The electronic documents will then be analyzed by the DREI (Brazilian National Department of Business Registration and Integration) team.  DREI will inform the applicant of any missing documentation via the portal and e-mail and give a 60-day period to meet the requirements.  The legal representative of the foreign company, or another third party who holds a power of attorney, may request registration through this link: https://acesso.gov.br/acesso/#/primeiro-acesso?clientDetails=eyJjbGllbnRVcmkiOiJodHRwczpcL1wvYWNlc3NvLmdvdi5iciIsImNsaWVudE5hbWUiOiJQb3J0YWwgZ292LmJyIiwiY2xpZW50VmVyaWZpZWRVc2VyIjp0cnVlfQ%3D%3D     

Regulation of foreign companies opening businesses in Brazil is governed by article 1,134 of the Brazilian Civil Code  and article 1 of DREI Normative Instruction 77/2020 .  English language general guidelines to open a foreign company in Brazil are not yet available, but the Portuguese version is available at the following link: https://www.gov.br/economia/pt-br/assuntos/drei/empresas-estrangeiras .

For foreign companies that will be a partner or shareholder of a Brazilian national company, the governing regulation is DREI Normative Instruction 81/2020 DREI Normative Instruction 81/2020.  The contact information of the DREI is drei@economia.gov.br and +55 (61) 2020-2302.

References:

Outward Investment

Brazil does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad and Apex-Brasil supports Brazilian companies’ efforts to invest abroad under its “internationalization program”: http://www.apexbrasil.com.br/como-a-apex-brasil-pode-ajudar-na-internacionalizacao-de-sua-empresa .  Apex-Brasil frequently highlights the United States as an excellent destination for outbound investment.  Apex-Brasil and SelectUSA (the U.S. Government’s investment promotion office at the U.S. Department of Commerce) signed a memorandum of cooperation to promote bilateral investment in February 2014.

Brazil incentivizes outward investment.  Apex-Brasil organizes several initiatives aimed at promoting Brazilian investments abroad.  The Agency´s efforts comprised trade missions, business round tables, support for the participation of Brazilian companies in major international trade fairs, arranging technical visits of foreign buyers and opinion makers to learn about the Brazilian productive structure, and other select activities designed to strengthen the country’s branding abroad.

The main sectors of Brazilian investments abroad are financial services and assets (totaling 50.5 percent); holdings (11.6 percent); and oil and gas extraction (10.9 percent).  Including all sectors, $416.6 billion was invested abroad in 2019.  The regions with the largest share of Brazilian outward investments are the Caribbean (47 percent) and Europe (37.7 percent), specifically the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Regulation on investments abroad are contained in BCB Ordinance 3,689/2013  (foreign capital in Brazil and Brazilian capital abroad): https://www.bcb.gov.br/pre/normativos/busca/downloadNormativo.asp?arquivo=/Lists/Normativos/Attachments/48812/Circ_3689_v1_O.pdf

Sale of cross-border mutual funds are only allowed to certain categories of investors, not to the general public.  International financial services companies active in Brazil submitted to Brazilian regulators in late 2020 a proposal to allow opening these mutual funds to the general public, and hope this will be approved in mid 2021.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Brazil does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States.  In the 1990s, Brazil signed BITs with Belgium, Luxembourg, Chile, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela. However, the Brazilian Congress did not ratify any of these agreements.  In 2002, the Executive branch withdrew the agreements from Congress after determining that treaty provisions on international Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) were unconstitutional.

In 2015, Brazil developed a state-to-state Cooperation and Facilitation Investment Agreement (CFIA) which, unlike traditional BITs, does not provide for an ISDS mechanism.  CFIAs instead outline progressive steps for the settlement of “issue[s] of interest to an investor”:  1) an ombudsmen and a Joint Committee appointed by the two governments will act as mediators to amicably settle any dispute; 2) if amicable settlement fails, either of the two governments may bring the dispute to the attention of the Joint Committee; 3) if the dispute is not settled within the Joint Committee, the two governments may resort to interstate arbitration mechanisms.  The GOB has signed several CFIAs since 2015 with:  Mozambique (2015), Angola (2015), Mexico (2015), Malawi (2015), Colombia (2015), Peru (2015), Chile (2015), Iran (2016), Azerbaijan (2016), Armenia (2017), Ethiopia (2018), Suriname (2018), Guyana (2018), the United Arab Emirates (2019), Ecuador (2019), and India (2020). The following CFIAs are in force:  Mexico, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Peru.  A few CFIAs have received Congressional ratification in Brazil and are pending ratification by the other country:  Mozambique, Malawi, and Colombia (https://concordia.itamaraty.gov.br/ ).  Brazil also negotiated an intra-Mercosul Cooperation and Investment Facilitation Protocol (PCFI) similar to the CFIA in April 2017, which was ratified on December 21, 2018.  (See sections on responsible business conduct and dispute settlement.)

Brazil has a Social Security Agreement with the United States.  The agreement and the administrative arrangement were both signed in Washington on June 30, 2015 and entered into force on October 1, 2018.  Brazil signed a Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) with the United States in March 2007, which entered into force on May 15, 2013.  In September 2014, Brazil and the United States signed an intergovernmental agreement to improve international tax compliance and to implement the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).  This agreement went into effect in August 2015.

In October 2020, Brazil signed a Protocol on Trade Rules and Transparency with the United States, which has three annexes aimed at expediting processes involving trade:  I) Customs Administration and Trade Facilitation; II) Good Regulatory Practices; and III) Anti-corruption.  The protocol and annexes provide a foundation for reducing border bureaucracy, improving regulatory processes and stakeholder contribution opportunities, and supporting integrity in public institutions.

Brazil does not have a double taxation treaty with the United States, but Brazil does maintain tax treaties to avoid double taxation with the following 33 countries:  Austria, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Slovak Republic, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, and Venezuela.  Treaties with Singapore, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, and Uruguay are pending ratification.

Brazilian industry representatives have for years suggested a bilateral taxation treaty between Brazil and the United States would incentivize U.S. FDI.  A document produced by Brazil’s National Industry Confederation (CNI) and Amcham Brazil is available on this topic in Portuguese:  https://www.portaldaindustria.com.br/publicacoes/2019/10/acordo-para-evitar-dupla-tributacao-entre-o-brasil-e-os-estados-unidos-caminhos-para-uma-possivel-convergencia/

Brazil currently has pending tax reform legislation in Congress which is considered a priority by the government.  The current texts propose simplifying tax collection by unifying various taxes, and would generally maintain the tax burden at its current level which is high relative to other countries in the region.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

In the 2020 World Bank Doing Business report, Brazil ranked 124th out of 190 countries in terms of overall ease of doing business in 2019, a decrease of 15 positions compared to the 2019 report.  According to the World Bank, it takes approximately 17 days to start a business in Brazil. Brazil is seeking to streamline the process and decrease the amount to time it takes to open a small or medium enterprise (SME) to five days through its RedeSimples Program.  Similarly, the government has reduced regulatory compliance burdens for SMEs through the continued use of the SIMPLES program, which simplifies the collection of up to eight federal, state, and municipal-level taxes into one single payment.

The 2020 World Bank study noted Brazil’s lowest score was in annual administrative burden for a medium-sized business to comply with Brazilian tax codes at an average of 1,501 hours, a significant improvement from 2019’s 1,958 hour average, but still much higher than the 160.7 hour average of OECD high-income economies.  The total tax rate for a medium-sized business is 65.1 percent of profits, compared to the average of 40.1 percent in OECD high-income economies.  Business managers often complain of not being able to understand complex — and sometimes contradictory — tax regulations, despite having large local tax and accounting departments in their companies.

Tax regulations, while burdensome and numerous, do not generally differentiate between foreign and domestic firms.  However, some investors complain that in certain instances the value-added tax collected by individual states (ICMS) favors locally based companies who export their goods.  Exporters in many states report difficulty receiving their ICMS rebates when their goods are exported.  Taxes on commercial and financial transactions are particularly burdensome, and businesses complain that these taxes hinder the international competitiveness of Brazilian-made products.

Of Brazil’s ten federal regulatory agencies, the most prominent include:

  • ANVISA, the Brazilian counterpart to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has regulatory authority over the production and marketing of food, drugs, and medical devices;
  • ANATEL, the country’s telecommunications regulatory agency, which handles telecommunications as well as licensing and assigning of radio spectrum bandwidth (the Brazilian FCC counterpart);
  • ANP, the National Petroleum Agency, which regulates oil and gas contracts and oversees auctions for oil and natural gas exploration and production;
  • ANAC, Brazil’s civil aviation agency;
  • IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental licensing and enforcement agency; and
  • ANEEL, Brazil’s electricity regulator that regulates Brazil’s power sector and oversees auctions for electricity transmission, generation, and distribution contracts.

In addition to these federal regulatory agencies, Brazil has dozens of state- and municipal-level regulatory agencies.

The United States and Brazil conduct regular discussions on customs and trade facilitation, good regulatory practices, standards and conformity assessment, digital issues, and intellectual property protection.  The 18th plenary of the Commercial Dialogue took place in May 2020, and regular exchanges at the working level between U.S. Department of Commerce, Brazil’s Ministry of Economy, and other agencies and regulators occur throughout the year.

Regulatory agencies complete Regulatory Impact Analyses (RIAs) on a voluntary basis. The Senate approved a bill on Governance and Accountability (PLS 52/2013 in the Senate, and PL 6621/2016 in the Chamber) into Law 13,848 in June 2019.  Among other provisions, the law makes RIAs mandatory for regulations that affect “the general interest.”

The Chamber of Deputies, Federal Senate, and the Office of the Presidency maintain websites providing public access to both approved and proposed federal legislation.  Brazil is seeking to improve its public comment and stakeholder input process.  In 2004, the GoB opened an online “Transparency Portal” with data on funds transferred to and from federal, state, and city governments, as well as to and from foreign countries. It also includes information on civil servant salaries.

In 2020, the Department of State found that Brazil had met its minimum fiscal transparency requirements in its annual Fiscal Transparency Report.  The International Budget Partnership’s Open Budget Index ranked Brazil slightly ahead of the United States in terms of budget transparency in its most recent (2019) index.  The Brazilian government demonstrates adequate fiscal transparency in managing its federal accounts, although there is room for improvement in terms of completeness of federal budget documentation.  Brazil’s budget documents are publicly available, widely accessible, and sufficiently detailed.  They provide a relatively full picture of the GoB’s planned expenditures and revenue streams.  The information in publicly available budget documents is considered credible and reasonably accurate.

International Regulatory Considerations

Brazil is a member of Mercosul – a South American trade bloc whose full members include Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.  Brazil routinely implements Mercosul common regulations.

Brazil is a member of the WTO and the government regularly notifies draft technical regulations, such as potential agricultural trade barriers, to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Brazil has a civil legal system with state and federal courts.  Investors can seek to enforce contracts through the court system or via mediation, although both processes can be lengthy.  The Brazilian Superior Court of Justice (STJ) must accept foreign contract enforcement judgments for the judgments to be considered valid in Brazil.  Among other considerations, the foreign judgment must not contradict any prior decisions by a Brazilian court in the same dispute.  The Brazilian Civil Code regulates commercial disputes, although commercial cases involving maritime law follow an older Commercial Code which has been otherwise largely superseded.  Federal judges hear most disputes in which one of the parties is the Brazilian State, and also rule on lawsuits between a foreign state or international organization and a municipality or a person residing in Brazil.

The judicial system is generally independent.  The Supreme Federal Court (STF), charged with constitutional cases, frequently rules on politically sensitive issues.  State court judges and federal level judges below the STF are career officials selected through a meritocratic examination process.  The judicial system is backlogged, however, and disputes or trials of any sort frequently require years to arrive at a final resolution, including all available appeals.  Regulations and enforcement actions can be litigated in the court system, which contains mechanisms for appeal depending upon the level at which the case is filed.  The STF is the ultimate court of appeal on constitutional grounds; the STJ is the ultimate court of appeal for cases not involving constitutional issues.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Brazil is in the process of setting up a “one-stop shop” for international investors. According to its website:  “The Direct Investments Ombudsman (DIO) is a ‘single window’ for investors, provided by the Executive Secretariat of CAMEX.  It is responsible for receiving requests and inquiries about investments, to be answered jointly with the public agency responsible for the matter (at the Federal, State and Municipal levels) involved in each case (the Network of Focal Points).  This new structure allows for supporting the investor, by a single governmental body, in charge of responding to demands within a short time.”  Private investors have noted this is better than the prior structure, but does not yet provide all the services of a true “one-stop shop” to facilitate international investment.  The DIO’s website in English is: http://oid.economia.gov.br/en/menus/8

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Administrative Council for Economic Defense (CADE), which falls under the purview of the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for enforcing competition laws, consumer protection, and carrying out regulatory reviews of proposed mergers and acquisitions.  CADE was reorganized in 2011 through Law 12529, combining the antitrust functions of the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Finance.  The law brought Brazil in line with U.S. and European merger review practices and allows CADE to perform pre-merger reviews, in contrast to the prior legal regime that had the government review mergers after the fact.  In October 2012, CADE performed Brazil’s first pre-merger review.

In 2020, CADE conducted 471 total formal investigations, of which 76 related to cases that allegedly challenged the promotion of the free market.  It approved 423 merger and/or acquisition requests and did not reject any requests.

Expropriation and Compensation

Article 5 of the Brazilian Constitution assures property rights of both Brazilians and foreigners that own property in Brazil.  The Constitution does not address nationalization or expropriation.  Decree-Law 3365 allows the government to exercise eminent domain under certain criteria that include, but are not limited to, national security, public transportation, safety, health, and urbanization projects.  In cases of eminent domain, the government compensates owners at fair market value.

There are no signs that the current federal government is contemplating expropriation actions in Brazil against foreign interests.  Brazilian courts have decided some claims regarding state-level land expropriations in U.S. citizens’ favor.  However, as states have filed appeals of these decisions, the compensation process can be lengthy and have uncertain outcomes.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In 2002, Brazil ratified the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards.  Brazil is not a member of the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).  Brazil joined the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) in 2010, and its membership will expire in 2022.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Article 34 of the 1996 Brazilian Arbitration Act (Law 9307) defines a foreign arbitration judgment as any judgment rendered outside the national territory.  The law established that the Superior Court of Justice (STJ) must ratify foreign arbitration awards.  Law 9307, updated by Law 13129/2015, also stipulates that a foreign arbitration award will be recognized or executed in Brazil in conformity with the international agreements ratified by the country and, in their absence, with domestic law.  A 2001 Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (STF) ruling established that the 1996 Brazilian Arbitration Act, permitting international arbitration subject to STJ Court ratification of arbitration decisions, does not violate the Federal Constitution’s provision that “the law shall not exclude any injury or threat to a right from the consideration of the Judicial Power.”

Contract disputes in Brazil can be lengthy and complex.  Brazil has both a federal and a state court system, and jurisprudence is based on civil code and contract law.  Federal judges hear most disputes in which one of the parties is the State and rule on lawsuits between a foreign State or international organization and a municipality or a person residing in Brazil.  Five regional federal courts hear appeals of federal judges’ decisions.  The 2020 World Bank Doing Business report found that on average it took 801 days to litigate a breach of contract.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Brazil ratified the 1975 Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (Panama Convention) and the 1979 Inter-American Convention on Extraterritorial Validity of Foreign Judgments and Arbitration Awards (Montevideo Convention).  Law 9307/1996 amplifies Brazilian law on arbitration and provides guidance on governing principles and rights of participating parties.  Brazil developed a new Cooperation and Facilitation Investment Agreement (CFIA) model in 2015 (https://concordia.itamaraty.gov.br/ ), but it does not include ISDS mechanisms.  (See sections on bilateral investment agreements and responsible business conduct.)

Bankruptcy Regulations

Brazil’s commercial code governs most aspects of commercial association, while the civil code governs professional services corporations.  In December 2020, Brazil approved a new bankruptcy law (Law 14,112), which largely models UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration, and addresses criticisms that its previous bankruptcy legislation favored holders of equity over holders of debt.  The new law facilitates judicial and extrajudicial resolution between debtors and creditors, and accelerates reorganization and liquidation processes.  Both debtors and creditors are allowed to provide reorganization plans that would eliminate non-performing activities and sell-off assets, thus avoiding bankruptcy.  The new law also establishes a framework for cross-border insolvencies that recognizes legal proceedings outside of Brazil.  The World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report ranks Brazil 77th out of 190 countries for ease of “resolving insolvency.”

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The GoB extends tax benefits for investments in less developed parts of the country, including the Northeast and the Amazon regions, with equal application to foreign and domestic investors.  These incentives were successful in attracting major foreign plants to areas like the Manaus Free Trade Zone in Amazonas State, but most foreign investment remains concentrated in the more industrialized southeastern states in Brazil.

Individual states seek to attract private investment by offering tax benefits and infrastructure support to companies, negotiated on a case-by-case basis.  Competition among states to attract employment-generating investment leads some states to challenge such tax benefits as beggar-thy-neighbor fiscal competition.

While local private sector banks are beginning to offer longer credit terms, the state-owned Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) is the traditional Brazilian source of long-term credit as well as export credits.  BNDES provides foreign- and domestically owned companies operating in Brazil financing for the manufacturing and marketing of capital goods and primary infrastructure projects.  BNDES provides much of its financing at subsidized interest rates. As part of its package of fiscal tightening, in December 2014, the GoB announced its intention to scale back the expansionary activities of BNDES and ended direct Treasury support to the bank.  Law 13483, from September 2017, created a new Long-Term Lending Rate (TLP) for BNDES. On January 1, 2018, BNDES began phasing in the TLP to replace the prior subsidized loan rates.  After a five-year phase in period, the TLP will float with the market and reflect a premium over Brazil’s five-year bond yield (which incorporates inflation).  Although the GoB plans to reduce BNDES’s role further as it continues to promote the development of long-term private capital markets, BNDES continues to play a large role, particularly in concession financing, such as Rio de Janeiro’s water and sanitation privatization projects, in which BNDES can finance up to 65 percent of direct investments.

In December 2018, Brazil approved a new auto sector incentive package – Rota 2030 – providing exemptions from Industrial Product Tax (IPI) for research and development (R&D) spending.  Rota 2030 replaced the Inovar-Auto program which was found to violate WTO rules.  Rota 2030 increases standards for energy efficiency, structural performance, and the availability of assistive technologies; provides exemptions for investments in R&D and manufacturing process automation; incentivizes the use of biofuels; and funds technical training and professional qualification in the mobility and logistics sectors.  To qualify for the tax incentives, businesses must meet conditions including demonstrating profit, minimum investments in R&D, and no outstanding tax liabilities.

Brazil’s Special Regime for the Reinstatement of Taxes for Exporters, or Reintegra Program, provides a tax subsidy of two percent of the value of goods exported.

Brazil provides tax reductions and exemptions on many domestically-produced information and communication technology (ICT) and digital goods that qualify for status under the Basic Production Process (Processo Produtivo Básico, or PPB).  The PPB is product-specific and stipulates which stages of the manufacturing process must be carried out in Brazil in order for an ICT product to be considered produced in Brazil.  Brazil’s Internet for All program, launched in 2018, aims to ensure broadband internet to all municipalities by offering tax incentives to operators in rural municipalities.

Law 12.598/2012 offers tax incentives to firms in the defense sector.  The law’s principal aspects are to:  1) establish special rules for the acquisition, contract, and development of defense products and systems; 2) establish incentives for the development of the strategic defense industry sector by creating the Special Tax Regime for the Defense Industry (RETID); and, 3) provide access to financing programs, projects, and actions related to Strategic Defense Products (PED).

A RETID beneficiary, known as a Strategic Defense Company (EED), is accredited by the Ministry of Defense.  An EED is a legal entity that produces or develops parts, tools, and components to be used in the production or development of defense assets. It can also be a legal entity that provides services used as inputs in the production or development of defense goods.  RETID benefits include sale price credit and tax rate reduction for the manufacturing supply chain, including taxes on imported components.  Additionally, RETID provides exemption from certain federal taxes on the purchase of materials for the manufacture of defense products, strategic defense products (PRODE / PED) and services provided by strategic defense companies (EED).

In April 2020, the Brazilian Defense and Security Industry Association (ABIMDE) requested the Minister of Defense to consider implementing improvements to Law 12.598 by allowing all its members to:  1) have access to special bidding terms (TLE) for defense and security materials; and, 2) automatically utilize their RETID status, rather than being required to individually apply to the Ministry of Defense for certification, as is currently the process.  However, as of April 2021, the law has not been changed.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The federal government grants tax benefits to certain free trade zones.  Most of these free trade zones aim to attract investment to the country’s relatively underdeveloped North and Northeast regions.  The most prominent of these is the Manaus Free Trade Zone, in Amazonas State, which has attracted significant foreign investment, including from U.S. companies.  Constitutional amendment 83/2014 extended the status of Manaus Free Trade Zone until the year 2073.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Government Procurement Preferences:  The GoB maintains a variety of localization barriers to trade in response to the weak competitiveness of its domestic tech industry.  These include:

  1. Tax incentives for locally-sourced information and communication technology (ICT) goods and equipment (Basic Production Process (PPB), Law 8248/91 (amended by Law 13969/2019), and Portaria 87/2013); and
  2. Government procurement preferences for local ICT hardware and software (2014 Decrees 8184, 8185, 8186, 8194, and 2013 Decree 7903); and the CERTICS Decree 8186, which aims to certify that software programs are the result of development and technological innovation in Brazil.

At the end of 2019, Brazil adopted a New Informatic Law, which revised the tax and incentives regime for the ICT sector.  The regime is aligned with the requirements of the World Trade Organization (WTO), following complaints from Japan and the European Union that numerous Brazilian tax programs favored domestic products in contravention of WTO rules.

The New Informatic Law provides for tax incentives to manufacturers of ICT goods that invest in research, development, and innovation (RD&I) in Brazil.  In order to receive the incentives, the companies must meet a minimum nationalization requirement for production, but the nationalization content is reduced commensurate with increasing investment in R&D.  At least 60% of the production process is required to take place in Brazil to ensure eligibility.

The Institutional Security Cabinet (GSI) mandated the localization of all government data stored on the cloud during a review of cloud computing services contracted by the Brazilian government in Ordinance No. 9 (previously NC 14), made official in March 2018.  While it does allow the use of cloud computing for non-classified information, it imposes a data localization requirement on all use of cloud computing by the Brazil government.

Investors in certain sectors in Brazil must adhere to the country’s regulated prices, which fall into one of two groups: those regulated at the federal level by a federal company or agency and those set by sub-national governments (states or municipalities).  Regulated prices managed at the federal level include telephone services, certain refined oil and gas products (such as bottled cooking gas), electricity, and healthcare plans.  Regulated prices controlled by sub-national governments include water and sewage fees, and most fees for public transportation, such as local bus and rail services.  For firms employing three or more persons, Brazilian nationals must constitute at least two-thirds of all employees and receive at least two-thirds of total payroll, according to Brazilian Labor Law Articles 352 to 354. This calculation excludes foreign specialists in fields where Brazilians are unavailable.  There is a draft bill in Congress (PL 2456/19) to remove the mandatory requirement for national employment; however, the bill would maintain preferential treatment for companies that continue to employ a majority of Brazilian nationals.

Decree 7174/2010, which regulates the procurement of information technology goods and services, requires federal agencies and parastatal entities to give preferential treatment to domestically produced computer products and goods or services with technology developed in Brazil based on a complicated price/technology matrix.

Brazil’s Marco Civil, an Internet law that determines user rights and company responsibilities, states that data collected or processed in Brazil must respect Brazilian law, even if the data is subsequently stored outside the country.  Penalties for non-compliance could include fines of up to 10 percent of gross Brazilian revenues and/or suspension or prohibition of related operations. Under the law, Internet connection and application providers must retain access logs for specified periods or face sanctions.  Brazil’s Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados Pessoais (LGPD) went into effect in August 2020.  The LGPD governs the processing of the personal data of subjects in Brazil by people or entities, regardless of the type of processing, the country where the data is located, or the headquarters of the entity processing the data.  It also established a National Data Protection Authority (ANPD) to administer the law’s provisions, responsible for oversight and sanctions (which will go into effect August 2021), which can total up to R$50 million (approximately $9 million) per infringement.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Brazil has a system in place for mortgage registration, but implementation is uneven and there is no standardized contract.  Foreign individuals or foreign-owned companies can purchase real estate property in Brazil.  Foreign buyers frequently arrange alternative financing in their own countries, where rates may be more attractive.  Law 9514 from 1997 helped spur the mortgage industry by establishing a legal framework for a secondary market in mortgages and streamlining the foreclosure process, but the mortgage market in Brazil is still underdeveloped, and foreigners may have difficulty obtaining mortgage financing.  Large U.S. real estate firms are, nonetheless, expanding their portfolios in Brazil.

Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual property (IP) rights  holders in Brazil continue to face challenges.  Brazil has remained on the “Watch List” of the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Report since 2007.  For more information, please see:  https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/reports/2021/2021%20Special%20301%20Report%20(final).pdf.Brazil

Brazil has one physical market, located in Sao Paolo,  listed on USTR’s 2020 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy.  The Rua 25 de Marco area  is reportedly a distribution center for counterfeit and pirated goods throughout Sao Paulo.  Enforcement actions in this region continue.  Authorities used these enforcement actions as a basis to take civil measures against some of the stores. For more information, please see: https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/Press/Releases/2020%20Review%20of%20Notorious%20Markets%20for%20Counterfeiting%20and%20Piracy%20(final).pdf.

According to the National Forum Against Piracy, contraband, pirated, counterfeit, and stolen goods cost Brazil approximately $74 billion in 2019.  (http://www.fncp.org.br/forum/release/292 ) (Yearly average currency exchange rate: 1 USD = 3.946 R)

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)’s country profiles: http://www.wipo.int/directory/en 

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Brazil Central Bank (BCB) embarked in October 2016 on a sustained monetary easing cycle, lowering the Special Settlement and Custody System (Selic) baseline reference rate from a high of 14 percent in October 2016 to a record-low 2 percent by the end of 2020.  The downward trend was reversed by an increase to 2.75 percent in March 2021.  As of March 2021, Brazil’s banking sector projects the Selic will reach 5 percent by the end of 2021.  Inflation for 2020 was 4.52 percent, within the target of 4 percent plus/minus 1.5 percent.  The National Monetary Council (CMN) set the BCB’s inflation target at 3.75 percent for 2021, at 3.5 percent for 2022 and at 3.25 percent at 2023.  Because of a heavy public debt burden and other structural factors, most analysts expect the “neutral” policy rate will remain higher than target rates in Brazil’s emerging-market peers (around five percent) over the forecast period.

In 2020, the ratio of public debt to GDP reached 89.3 percent according to BCB, a new record for the country, although below original projections.  Analysts project that the debt/GDP ratio will be at or above92 percent by the end of 2021.

The role of the state in credit markets grew steadily beginning in 2008, with public banks now accounting for over 55 percent of total loans to the private sector (up from 35 percent).  Directed lending (that is, to meet mandated sectoral targets) also rose and accounts for almost half of total lending.  Brazil is paring back public bank lending and trying to expand a market for long-term private capital.

While local private sector banks are beginning to offer longer credit terms, state-owned development bank BNDES is a traditional source of long-term credit in Brazil.  BNDES also offers export financing.  Approvals of new financing by BNDES increased 40 percent in 2020 from 2019, with the infrastructure sector receiving the majority of new capital.

The São Paulo Stock Exchange (BOVESPA) is the sole stock market in Brazil, while trading of public securities takes place at the Rio de Janeiro market.  In 2008, the Brazilian Mercantile & Futures Exchange (BM&F) merged with the BOVESPA to form B3, the fourth largest exchange in the Western Hemisphere, after the NYSE, NASDAQ, and Canadian TSX Group exchanges.  In 2020, there were 407 companies traded on the B3 exchange.  The BOVESPA index increased only 2.92 percent in valuation during 2020, due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Foreign investors, both institutional and individuals, can directly invest in equities, securities, and derivatives; however, they are limited to trading those investments on established markets.

Wholly owned subsidiaries of multinational accounting firms, including the major U.S. firms, are present in Brazil.  Auditors are personally liable for the accuracy of accounting statements prepared for banks.

Money and Banking System

The Brazilian financial sector is large and sophisticated. Banks lend at market rates that remain relatively high compared to other emerging economies.  Reasons cited by industry observers include high taxation, repayment risk, concern over inconsistent judicial enforcement of contracts, high mandatory reserve requirements, and administrative overhead, as well as persistently high real (net of inflation) interest rates.  According to BCB data collected for final quarter of 2019, the average rate offered by Brazilian banks to non-financial corporations was 13.87 percent.

The banking sector in Brazil is highly concentrated with BCB data indicating that the five largest commercial banks (excluding brokerages) account for approximately 80 percent of the commercial banking sector assets, totaling $1.58 trillion as of the final quarter of 2019.  Three of the five largest banks (by assets) in the country – Banco do Brasil, Caixa Econômica Federal, and BNDES – are partially or completely federally owned.  Large private banking institutions focus their lending on Brazil’s largest firms, while small- and medium-sized banks primarily serve small- and medium-sized companies.  Citibank sold its consumer business to Itaú Bank in 2016, but maintains its commercial banking interests in Brazil.  It is currently the sole U.S. bank operating in the country.  Increasing competitiveness in the financial sector, including in the emerging fintech space, is a vital part of the Brazilian government’s strategy to improve access to and the affordability of financial services in Brazil.

On November 16, 2020, Brazil’s Central Bank implemented a twenty-four hour per day instant payment and money transfer system called PIX.  The PIX system is supposed to deconcentrate the banking sector, increase financial inclusion, stimulate competitiveness, and improve efficiency in the payments market.

In recent years, the BCB has strengthened bank audits, implemented more stringent internal control requirements, and tightened capital adequacy rules to reflect risk more accurately.  It also established loan classification and provisioning requirements. These measures apply to private and publicly owned banks alike.  In December 2020, Moody’s upgraded a collection of 28 Brazilian banks and their affiliates to stable from negative after the agency had lowered the outlook on the Brazilian system in April 2020 due to the economic unrest.  The Brazilian Securities and Exchange Commission (CVM) independently regulates the stock exchanges, brokers, distributors, pension funds, mutual funds, and leasing companies with penalties against insider trading.

Foreigners may find it difficult to open an account with a Brazilian bank.  The individual must present a permanent or temporary resident visa, a national tax identification number (CPF) issued by the Brazilian government, either a valid passport or identity card for foreigners (CIE), proof of domicile, and proof of income.  On average, this process from application to account opening lasts more than three months.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Brazil’s foreign exchange market remains small.  The latest Triennial Survey by the Bank for International Settlements, conducted in December 2019, showed that the net daily turnover on Brazil’s market for OTC foreign exchange transactions (spot transactions, outright forwards, foreign-exchange swaps, currency swaps, and currency options) was $18.8 billion, down from $19.7 billion in 2016.  This was equivalent to around 0.22 percent of the global market in 2019 versus 0.3 percent in 2016.

Brazil’s banking system has adequate capitalization and has traditionally been highly profitable, reflecting high interest rate spreads and fees.  Per an October 2020 Central Bank Financial Stability Report, despite the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic, all banks exceeded required solvency ratios, and stress testing demonstrated that the banking system has adequate loss-absorption capacity in all simulated scenarios.  Furthermore, the report noted 99.9 percent of banks already met Basel III requirements and possess a projected Common Equity Tier 1 (CET1) capital ratio above the minimum 7 percent required at the end of 2019.

There are few restrictions on converting or transferring funds associated with a foreign investment in Brazil.  Foreign investors may freely convert Brazilian currency in the unified foreign exchange market where buy-sell rates are determined by market forces.  All foreign exchange transactions, including identifying data, must be reported to the BCB.  Foreign exchange transactions on the current account are fully liberalized.

The BCB must approve all incoming foreign loans.  In most cases, loans are automatically approved unless loan costs are determined to be “incompatible with normal market conditions and practices.”  In such cases, the BCB may request additional information regarding the transaction.  Loans obtained abroad do not require advance approval by the BCB, provided the Brazilian recipient is not a government entity.  Loans to government entities require prior approval from the Brazilian Senate as well as from the Economic Ministry’s Treasury Secretariat and must be registered with the BCB.

Interest and amortization payments specified in a loan contract can be made without additional approval from the BCB.  Early payments can also be made without additional approvals if the contract includes a provision for them.  Otherwise, early payment requires notification to the BCB to ensure accurate records of Brazil’s stock of debt.

Remittance Policies

Brazilian Federal Revenue Service regulates withholding taxes (IRRF) applicable to earnings and capital gains realized by individuals and legal entities resident or domiciled outside Brazil.  Upon registering investments with the BCB, foreign investors are able to remit dividends, capital (including capital gains), and, if applicable, royalties.  Investors must register remittances with the BCB.  Dividends cannot exceed corporate profits.  Investors may carry out remittance transactions at any bank by documenting the source of the transaction (evidence of profit or sale of assets) and showing payment of applicable taxes.

Under Law 13259/2016 passed in March 2016, capital gain remittances are subject to a 15 to 22.5 percent income withholding tax, with the exception of capital gains and interest payments on tax-exempt domestically issued Brazilian bonds.  The capital gains marginal tax rates are: 15 percent up to $874,500 in gains; 17.5 percent for $874,500 to $1,749,000 in gains; 20 percent for $1,749,000 to $5,247,000 in gains; and 22.5 percent for more than $5,247,000 in gains.  (Note:  exchange rate used was 5.717 reais per dollar, based on March 30, 2021 values.)

Repatriation of a foreign investor’s initial investment is also exempt from income tax under Law 4131/1962.  Lease payments are assessed a 15 percent withholding tax.  Remittances related to technology transfers are not subject to the tax on credit, foreign exchange, and insurance, although they are subject to a 15 percent withholding tax and an extra 10 percent Contribution for Intervening in Economic Domain (CIDE) tax.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Brazil had a sovereign fund from 2008 – 2018, when it was abolished, and the money was used to repay foreign debt.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The GoB maintains ownership interests in a variety of enterprises at both the federal and state levels.  Typically, boards responsible for state-owned enterprise (SOE) corporate governance are comprised of directors elected by the state or federal government with additional directors elected by any non-government shareholders.  Although Brazil participates in many OECD working groups, it does not follow the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs.  Brazilian SOEs are prominent in the oil and gas, electricity generation and distribution, transportation, and banking sectors.  A number of these firms also see a portion of their shares publicly traded on the Brazilian and other stock exchanges.

Notable examples of majority government-owned and controlled firms include national oil and gas giant Petrobras and power conglomerate Eletrobras.  Both Petrobras and Eletrobras include non-government shareholders, are listed on both the Brazilian and American stock exchanges,  and are subject to the same accounting and audit regulations as all publicly traded Brazilian companies.

Privatization Program

Given limited public investment spending, the GoB has focused on privatizing state–owned energy, airport, road, railway, and port assets through long-term (up to 30 year) infrastructure concession agreements, although the pace of privatization efforts slowed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, Petrobras sold its natural gas distribution pipeline network, started the divestment of eight oil refineries, sold its controlling stake in Brazil’s largest retail gas station chain, and is in the process of selling its shares in regional natural gas distributors.  While the pandemic resulted in a slowdown in the refinery divestments, momentum is increasing once again as of early 2021.  Since 2016, foreign companies have been allowed to conduct pre-salt exploration and production activities independently, and no longer must include Petrobras as a minority equity holder in pre-salt oil and gas operations.  Nevertheless, the 2016 law still gives Petrobras right –of first refusal in developing pre-salt offshore fields and obligates operators to share a percentage of production with the Brazilian state.  The GoB supports legislation currently in Congress to further liberalize the development of pre-salt fields by removing Petrobras’ right-of-first refusal as well as production sharing requirements.

In March 2021, Brazil approved legislation to reform Brazil’s natural gas markets, which aims to create competition by unbundling production, transportation, and distribution of natural gas, currently dominated by Petrobras and regional gas monopolies.  Creation of a truly competitive market, however, will still require lengthy state-level regulatory reform to liberalize intrastate gas distribution, in large part under state-owned distribution monopolies.

Eletrobras successfully sold its six principal, highly-indebted power distributors, and the GoB intends to privatize Eletrobras through issuance of new shares that would dilute the government’s majority stake and in early 2021 submitted a legislative proposal to Congress to advance this process.

In March 2021, the GoB included the state-owned postal service Correios in its National Divestment Plan (PND).  As in the case of Eletrobras, privatization will require further Congressional legislation.

In 2016, Brazil created the Investment Partnership Program (PPI) to accelerate the concession of public works projects to private enterprise and the privatization of some state entities.  PPI takes on priority federal concessions in road, rail, ports, airports, municipal water treatment, electricity transmission and distribution, and oil and gas exploration and production.  Since 2016, PPI has auctioned off 200 projects, collecting $35 billion in auction bonuses and securing private investment commitments of $179 billion, including 28 projects, $1.43 billion in auction bonuses, and commitments of $8.14 billion in 2020.  The full list of PPI projects is located at: https://www.ppi.gov.br/schedule-of-projects

While some subsidized financing through BNDES will be available, PPI emphasizes the use of private financing and debentures for projects.  All federal and state-level infrastructure concessions are open to foreign companies with no requirement to work with Brazilian partners.

In 2008, the Ministry of Health initiated the use of Production Development Partnerships (PDPs) to reduce the increasing dependence of Brazil’s healthcare sector on international drug production and to control costs in the public healthcare system, which provides services as an entitlement enumerated in the constitution.  The healthcare sector accounts for 9 percent of GDP, 10 percent of skilled jobs, and more than 25 percent of research and development nationally.  PDP agreements provide a framework for technology transfer and development of local production by leveraging the volume purchasing power of the Ministry of Health. In the current administration, there is increasing interest in PDPs as a cost saving measure.  U.S. companies have both competed for these procurements and at times raised concerns about the potential for PDPs to be used to subvert intellectual property protections under the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Most state-owned and private sector corporations of any significant size in Brazil pursue corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.  Brazil’s new CFIAs (see sections on bilateral investment agreements and dispute settlement) contain CSR provisions.  Some corporations use CSR programs to meet local content requirements, particularly in information technology manufacturing.  Many corporations support local education, health, and other programs in the communities where they have a presence.  Brazilian consumers, especially the local residents where a corporation has or is planning a local presence, generally expect CSR activity.  Corporate officials frequently meet with community members prior to building a new facility to review the types of local services the corporation will commit to providing.  Foreign and local enterprises in Brazil often advance United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) as part of their CSR activity, and will cite their local contributions to SDGs, such as universal primary education and environmental sustainability.  Brazilian prosecutors and civil society can be very proactive in bringing cases against companies for failure to implement the requirements of the environmental licenses for their investments and operations.  National and international nongovernmental organizations monitor corporate activities for perceived threats to Brazil’s biodiversity and tropical forests and can mount strong campaigns against alleged misdeeds.

The U.S. diplomatic mission in Brazil supports U.S. business CSR activities through the +Unidos Group (Mais Unidos), a group of multinational companies established in Brazil, which support public and private CSR alliances in Brazil. Additional information can be found at: www.maisunidos.org

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Brazil has laws, regulations, and penalties to combat corruption, but their effectiveness is inconsistent.  Several bills to revise the country’s regulation of the lobbying/government relations industry have been pending before Congress for years.  Bribery is illegal, and a bribe by a Brazilian-based company to a foreign government official can result in criminal penalties for individuals and administrative penalties for companies, including fines and potential disqualification from government contracts.  A company cannot deduct a bribe to a foreign official from its taxes.  While federal government authorities generally investigate allegations of corruption, there are inconsistencies in the level of enforcement among individual states.  Corruption is problematic in business dealings with some authorities, particularly at the municipal level.  U.S. companies operating in Brazil are subject to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Brazil signed the UN Convention against Corruption in 2003 and ratified it in 2005. Brazil is a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and a participating member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery.  It was one of the founders, along with the United States, of the intergovernmental Open Government Partnership, which seeks to help governments increase transparency.

In 2020, Brazil ranked 94th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.  The full report can be found at:  https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/2020/index/nzl

From 2014-2021, the complex federal criminal investigation known as Operação Lava Jato (Operation Carwash) investigated and prosecuted a complex web of public sector corruption, contract fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion stemming from systematic overcharging for government contracts, particularly at parastatal oil company Petrobras.  The investigation led to the arrests and convictions of Petrobras executives, oil industry suppliers, including executives from Brazil’s largest construction companies, money launderers, former politicians, and political party operators.  Appeals of convictions and sentences continue to work their way through the Brazilian court system.  On December 25, 2019, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro signed a packet of anti-crime legislation into law, which included several anti-corruption measures.  The new measures include regulation of immunity agreements – information provided by a subject in exchange for reduced sentence – which were widely used during Operation Carwash.  The legislation also strengthens Brazil’s whistle blower mechanisms, permitting anonymous information about crimes against the public administration and related offenses.  Operation Carwash was dissolved in February 2021.  In March 2021, the OECD established a working group to monitor anticorruption efforts in Brazil.

In December 2016, Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht and its chemical manufacturing arm Braskem agreed to pay the largest FCPA penalty in U.S. history and plead guilty to charges filed in the United States, Brazil, and Switzerland that alleged the companies paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to government officials around the world.  The U.S. Department of Justice case stemmed directly from the Lava Jato investigation and focused on violations of the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. Details on the case can be found at: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/odebrecht-and-braskem-plead-guilty-and-agree-pay-least-35-billion-global-penalties-resolve

In January 2018, Petrobras settled a class-action lawsuit with investors in U.S. federal court for $3 billion, which was one of the largest securities class action settlements in U.S. history.  The investors alleged that Petrobras officials accepted bribes and made decisions that had a negative impact on Petrobras’ share value.  In September 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Petrobras would pay a fine of $853.2 million to settle charges that former executives and directors violated the FCPA through fraudulent accounting used to conceal bribe payments from investors and regulators.

Resources to Report Corruption

Petalla Brandao Timo Rodrigues
International Relations Chief Advisor
Brazilian Federal Public Ministry
contatolavajato@mpf.mp.br

Setor de Autarquias Sul (SAS), Quadra 01, Bloco A; Brasilia/DF

stpc.dpc@cgu.gov.br

https://www.gov.br/cgu/pt-br/anticorrupcao

Transparencia Brasil
R. Bela Cintra, 409; Sao Paulo, Brasil
+55 (11) 3259-6986
http://www.transparencia.org.br/contato

10. Political and Security Environment

Strikes and demonstrations occasionally occur in urban areas and may cause temporary disruption to public transportation.  Brazil has over 43,000 murders annually, with low rates of completion in murder investigations and conviction rates.

Non-violent pro- and anti-government demonstrations have occurred periodically in recent years.

Although U.S. citizens usually are not targeted during such events, U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Brazil are advised to take common-sense precautions and avoid any large gatherings or any other event where crowds have congregated to demonstrate or protest. For the latest U.S. State Department guidance on travel in Brazil, please consult www.travel.state.gov.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The Brazilian labor market is composed of approximately 100.1 million workers, including employed (86.2 million) and unemployed (13.9 million).  Among employed workers, 34 million (39.5 percent) work in the informal sector.  Brazil had an unemployment rate of 13.9 percent in the last quarter of 2020, although that rate was more than double (28.9 percent) for workers ages 18-24.  Low-skilled employment dominates Brazil’s labor market.  The nearly 40 million workers in the informal sector do not receive the full benefits formal workers enjoy under Brazil’s labor and social welfare system.  Since 2012, women have on average been unemployed at a higher rate (3.15 percentage points higher) than their male counterparts.  In 2020, the difference reached 4.5 percentage points.  Foreign workers made up less than one percent of the overall labor force, but the arrival of more than 260,000 economic migrants and refugees from Venezuela since 2016 has led to large local concentrations of foreign workers in the border state of Roraima and the city of Manaus.  Since April 2018, the government of Brazil, through Operation Welcome’s voluntary interiorization strategy, has relocated more than 49,000 Venezuelans away from the northern border region to cities with more economic opportunity.  Migrant workers from within Brazil play a significant role in the agricultural sector.

Workers in the formal sector contribute to the Time of Service Guarantee Fund (FGTS) that equates to one month’s salary over the course of a year. If a company terminates an employee, the employee can access the full amount of their FGTS contributions or 20 percent in the event they leave voluntarily.  Brazil’s labor code guarantees formal sector workers 30 days of annual leave and severance pay in the case of dismissal without cause.  Unemployment insurance also exists for laid off workers equal to the country’s minimum salary (or more depending on previous income levels) for six months.  The government does not waive labor laws to attract investment; they apply uniformly cross the country.

In April 2020, Provisional Measure 396/2020 (later ratified as Law 14020/2020) authorized employers to reduce working hours and wages in an effort to preserve employment during the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.  The law will maintain its validity only during the state of calamity caused by the pandemic and the reduction requires the employee’s concurrence.

Collective bargaining is common and there were 11,587 labor unions operating in Brazil in 2018.  Labor unions, especially in sectors such as metalworking and banking, are well organized in advocating for wages and working conditions and account for approximately 19 percent of the official workforce according to the Brazilian Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA).  In some sectors, federal regulations mandate collective bargaining negotiations across the entire industry.  A new labor law in November 2017 ended mandatory union contributions, which has reduced union finances by as much as 90 percent according to the Inter-Union Department of Statistics and Socio-economic Studies (DIEESE).  DIEESE reported a significant decline in the number of collective bargaining agreements reached in 2018 (3,269) compared to 2017 (4,378).

Employer federations also play a significant role in both public policy and labor relations.  Each state has its own federations of industry and commerce, which report respectively to the National Confederation of Industry (CNI), headquartered in Brasilia, and the National Confederation of Commerce (CNC), headquartered in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil has a dedicated system of labor courts that are charged with resolving routine cases involving unfair dismissal, working conditions, salary disputes, and other grievances.  Labor courts have the power to impose an agreement on employers and unions if negotiations break down and either side appeals to the court system.  As a result, labor courts routinely are called upon to determine wages and working conditions in industries across the country.  The labor courts system has millions of pending legal cases on its docket, although the number of new filings has decreased since November 2017 labor law reforms.

Strikes occur periodically, particularly among public sector unions. A strike organized by truckers’ unions protesting increased fuel prices paralyzed the Brazilian economy in May 2018, and led to billions of dollars in losses to the economy.

Brazil has ratified 97 International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions and is party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and major ILO conventions concerning the prohibition of child labor, forced labor, and discrimination.  For the past eight years (2010-2018), the Department of Labor, in its annual publication Findings on the Worst forms of Child Labor, has recognized Brazil for its significant advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.  On January 1, 2019, newly-elected President Jair Bolsonaro eliminated the Ministry of Labor and divided its responsibilities between the Ministries of Economy, Justice, and Social Development. The GoB, in 2020, inspected 266 properties, resulting in the rescue of 942 victims of forced labor.  Additionally, GoB officials removed 1,040 child workers from situations of child labor compared to 1,409 children in 2018.  Of these, 20 children were rescued from situations of slavery-like conditions, compared to 28 in 2018.

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

Programs of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) are available, although DFC reports that certain new authorities established by the BUILD Act of 2018, including equity investments, technical assistance, grants, and feasibility studies, may require a new bilateral Investment Incentive Agreement with the Government of Brazil.  DFC stated in 2019 its intent to invest in infrastructure and women entrepreneurship projects as its primary focus in Brazil.  Brazil has been a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) since 1992.  In October 2020, DFC announced $ 984 million in investments in Brazil, mostly focused on small and medium enterprises.  In October and November 2020, the DFC held two substantive discussions on the Investment Incentive Agreement (IIA) with over a dozen Brazilian government (GOB) agencies led by the Ministry of External Relations and the Ministry of Economy.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $1.43 trillion 2019 $1.84 trillion www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $145.1 billion 2018 $81.731 billion BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $21.956 2019 $4.617 billion BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 $34.6% 2019 34.9% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
[Select country, scroll down to “FDI Stock”- “Inward”, scan rightward for most recent year’s “as percentage of gross domestic product”]

* Source for Host Country Data: https://www.bcb.gov.br and https://www.ipea.gov.br/portal/

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (U.S. Dollars, Billions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 648.353 100% Total Outward 247.605 100%
The Netherlands 147.688 22.8% Cayman Islands 74.298 30%
United States 117.028 18.0% British Virgin Islands 56.184 22.7%
Spain 65.948 10.1% Bahamas 42.087 17%
Luxembourg 60.010 9.2% United States 20.177 8.1%
France 35.739 5.5% Luxembourg 10.630 4.3%
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 45,085 100% All Countries 36,161 100% All Countries 8,923 100%
United States 19,451 43% United States 15,754 44% United States 3,697 41%
Bahamas 6,631 15% Bahamas 6,573 18% Mexico 2,283 26%
Cayman Islands 4,727 10% Cayman Islands 4,378 12% Republic of Korea 863 10%
 Mexico 2,377 5% Luxembourg 2,026 6% Spain 391 4%
Luxembourg 2,211 5% Switzerland 1,433 4% Cayman Islands 349 4%

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section
U.S. Embassy Brasilia
BrasiliaECON2@State.gov
+55-61-3312-7000

Colombia

Executive Summary

With improving security conditions in metropolitan areas, a market of 50 million people, an abundance of natural resources, and an educated and growing middle-class, Colombia continues to be an attractive destination for foreign investment in Latin America. Colombia ranked 67 out of 190 countries in the “Ease of Doing Business” index of the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report.

The Colombian economy contracted for the first time in more than two decades in 2020, with the effects of COVID-19 and lower oil prices resulting in a 6.8 percent decline in GDP. Measures to alleviate the pandemic’s effects led to a temporary suspension of Colombia’s fiscal rule and the deficit surpassing eight percent of GDP for 2020, with a similar deficit expected in 2021.

Colombia’s legal and regulatory systems are generally transparent and consistent with international norms. The country has a comprehensive legal framework for business and foreign direct investment (FDI). The 2012 U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CTPA) has strengthened bilateral trade and investment. Colombia’s dispute settlement mechanisms have improved through the CTPA and several international conventions and treaties. Weaknesses include protection of intellectual property rights (IPR), as Colombia has yet to implement certain IPR-related provisions of the CTPA. Colombia became the 37th member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2020, bringing the obligation to adhere to OECD norms and standards in economic operations.

The Colombian government has made a concerted effort to develop efficient capital markets, attract investment, and create jobs. Restrictions on foreign ownership in specific sectors still exist. FDI inflows increased 25.6 percent from 2018 to 2019, with a third of the 2019 inflow dedicated to the extractives sector and another 21 percent to professional services and finance. Roughly half of the Colombian workforce in metropolitan areas is employed in the informal economy, a share that increases to four-fifths in rural areas. Unemployment ended 2020 at 17.3 percent, a 4.3 percentage point increase from a year prior.

Since the 2016 peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia has experienced a significant decrease in terrorist activity. Several powerful narco-criminal operations still pose threats to commercial activity and investment, especially in rural zones outside of government control.

Corruption remains a significant challenge. The Colombian government continues to work on improving its business climate, but U.S. and other foreign investors have voiced complaints about non-tariff, regulatory, and bureaucratic barriers to trade, investment, and market access at the national, regional, and municipal levels. Investors also note concern at a heavy reliance by the national competition and regulatory authority (SIC) on decrees to remedy perceived problems.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 92 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 67 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 68 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $8,264 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $6,510 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Colombian government actively encourages foreign direct investment (FDI). The economic liberalization reforms of the early 1990s provided for national treatment of foreign investors, lifted controls on remittance of profits and capital, and allowed foreign investment in most sectors. Colombia imposes the same investment restrictions on foreign investors that it does on national investors. Generally, foreign investors may participate in the privatization of state-owned enterprises without restrictions. All FDI involving the establishment of a commercial presence in Colombia requires registration with the Superintendence of Corporations and the local chamber of commerce. All conditions being equal during tender processes, national offers are preferred over foreign offers. Assuming equal conditions among foreign bidders, those with major Colombian national workforce resources, significant national capital, and/or better conditions to facilitate technology transfers are preferred.

ProColombia is the Colombian government entity that promotes international tourism, foreign investment, and non-traditional exports. ProColombia assists foreign companies that wish to enter the Colombian market by addressing specific needs, such as identifying contacts in the public and private sectors, organizing visit agendas, and accompanying companies during visits to Colombia. All services are free of charge and confidential. Priority sectors include business process outsourcing, software and IT services, cosmetics, health services, automotive manufacturing, textiles, graphic communications, and electric energy. ProColombia’s “Invest in Colombia” web portal offers detailed information about opportunities in agribusiness, manufacturing, and services in Colombia (www.investincolombia.com.co/sectors ). The Duque administration – including senior leaders at the Presidency, ProColombia, and the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Trade – continue to stress Colombia’s openness to foreign investors and aggressively market Colombia as an investment destination.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign investment in the financial, hydrocarbon, and mining sectors is subject to special regimes, such as investment registration and concession agreements with the Colombian government, but is not restricted in the amount of foreign capital. The following sectors require that foreign investors have a legal local representative and/or commercial presence in Colombia: travel and tourism agency services; money order operators; customs brokerage; postal and courier services; merchandise warehousing; merchandise transportation under customs control; international cargo agents; public service companies, including sewage and water works, waste disposal, electricity, gas and fuel distribution, and public telephone services; insurance firms; legal services; and special air services, including aerial fire-fighting, sightseeing, and surveying.

According to the Colombian constitution and foreign investment regulations, foreign investment in Colombia receives the same treatment as an investment made by Colombian nationals. Foreign investment is permitted in all sectors, except in activities related to defense, national security, and toxic waste handling and disposal. There are no performance requirements explicitly applicable to the entry and establishment of foreign investment in Colombia.

Foreign investors face specific exceptions and restrictions in the following sectors:

Media: Only Colombian nationals or legally constituted entities may provide radio or subscription-based television services. For National Open Television and Nationwide Private Television Operators, only Colombian nationals or legal entities may be granted concessions to provide television services. Foreign investment in national television is limited to a maximum of 40 percent ownership of an operator.

Accounting, Auditing, and Data Processing: To practice in Colombia, providers of accounting services must register with the Central Accountants Board and have uninterrupted domicile in Colombia for at least three years prior to registry. A legal commercial presence is required to provide data processing and information services in Colombia.

Banking: Foreign investors may own 100 percent of financial institutions in Colombia, but are required to obtain approval from the Financial Superintendent before making a direct investment of ten percent or more in any one entity. Foreign banks must establish a local commercial presence and comply with the same capital and other requirements as local financial institutions. Every investment of foreign capital in portfolios must be through a Colombian administrator company, including brokerage firms, trust companies, and investment management companies.

Fishing: A foreign vessel may engage in fishing activities in Colombian territorial waters only through association with a Colombian company holding a valid fishing permit. If a ship’s flag corresponds to a country with which Colombia has a complementary bilateral agreement, this agreement shall determine whether the association requirement applies for the process required to obtain a fishing license. The costs of fishing permits are greater for foreign flag vessels.

Private Security and Surveillance Companies: Companies constituted with foreign capital prior to February 11, 1994 cannot increase the share of foreign capital. Those constituted after that date can only have Colombian nationals as shareholders.

Transportation: Foreign companies can only provide multimodal freight services within or from Colombian territory if they have a domiciled agent or representative legally responsible for its activities in Colombia. International cabotage companies can provide cabotage services (i.e. between two points within Colombia) “only when there is no national capacity to provide the service.” Colombia prohibits foreign ownership of commercial ships licensed in Colombia. The owners of a concession providing port services must be legally constituted in Colombia, and only Colombian ships may provide port services within Colombian maritime jurisdiction, unless there are no capable Colombian-flag vessels.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The WTO most recently reviewed Colombia’s trade policy in June 2018. https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp472_e.htm 

Business Facilitation

New businesses must register with the chamber of commerce of the city in which the company will reside. Applicants also register using the Colombian tax authority’s (DIAN) portal at: www.dian.gov.co  to obtain a taxpayer ID (RUT). Business founders must visit DIAN offices to obtain an electronic signature for company legal representatives, and obtain – in-person or online – an authorization for company invoices from DIAN. In 2019, Colombia made starting a business a step easier by lifting a requirement of opening a local bank account to obtain invoice authorization. Companies must submit a unified electronic form to self-assess and pay social security and payroll contributions to the Governmental Learning Service (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje, or SENA), the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar, or ICBF), and the Family Compensation Fund (Caja de Compensación Familiar). After that, companies must register employees for public health coverage, affiliate the company to a public or private pension fund, affiliate the company and employees to an administrator of professional risks, and affiliate employees with a severance fund.

According to the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2020” report, recent reforms simplified starting a business, trading across borders, and resolving insolvency. According to the report, starting a company in Colombia requires seven procedures and takes an average of 10 days. Information on starting a company can be found at http://www.ccb.org.co/en/Creating-a-company/Company-start-up/Step-by-step-company-creation ; https://investincolombia.com.co/how-to-invest.html ; and http://www.dian.gov.co .

Outward Investment

Colombia does not incentivize outward investment nor does it restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Bilateral Investment Treaties and Free Trade Agreements: Colombia has free trade agreements or treaties with investment provisions with the United States, the European Union, the European Free Trade Association, MERCOSUR, CARICOM, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Mexico, Panama, Peru, the Republic of Korea, and Venezuela. Colombia has signed a trade agreement with the United Kingdom, but it is not yet in effect. Trade agreement negotiations are underway with Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore. Additionally, Colombia has stand-alone bilateral investment treaties with China, France, India, Japan, Peru, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

Bilateral Taxation Treaties: Colombia has active Agreements for the Elimination of Double Taxation in Income Tax Matters with the Andean Community of Nations, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, India, Mexico, Portugal, the Republic of Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. It has signed but not yet implemented additional treaties with France, Italy, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates, is currently negotiating agreements with Germany and the Netherlands, and has expressed interest in renewing negotiations with the United States. It has Agreements to Eliminate the Double Taxation of Air and Maritime Navigation Companies with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Germany, Italy, Panama, the United States, and Venezuela.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Colombian legal, accounting, and regulatory systems are generally transparent and consistent with international norms. The written commercial code and other laws cover broad areas, including banking and credit, bankruptcy/reorganization, business establishment/conduct, commercial contracts, credit, corporate organization, fiduciary obligations, insurance, industrial property, and real property law. The civil code contains provisions relating to contracts, mortgages, liens, notary functions, and registries. There are no identified private-sector associations or non-governmental organizations leading informal regulatory processes. The ministries generally consult with relevant actors, both foreign and national, when drafting regulations. Proposed laws are typically published as drafts for public comment, although sometimes with limited notice. Information on Colombia’s public finances and debt obligations is readily available and is published in a timely manner.

Enforcement mechanisms exist, but historically the judicial system has not taken an active role in adjudicating commercial cases. The Constitution establishes the principle of free competition as a national right for all citizens and provides the judiciary with administrative and financial independence from the executive branch. Colombia has transitioned to an oral accusatory system to make criminal investigations and trials more efficient. The new system separates the investigative functions assigned to the Office of the Attorney General from trial functions. Lack of coordination among government entities as well as insufficient resources complicate timely resolution of cases.

Colombia is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures (see http://www.businessfacilitation.org  and Colombia’s websites http://colombia.eregulations.org  and https://www.colombiacompra.gov.co). Foreign and national investors can find detailed information on administrative procedures for investment and income generating operations, including the number of steps, name, and contact details of the entities and people in charge of procedures, required documents and conditions, costs, processing time, and legal bases justifying the procedures.

International Regulatory Considerations

Colombia became the 37th member of the OECD in April 2020. Colombia is part of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The government generally notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. In August 2020, Colombia fully joined the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). Regionally, Colombia is a member of organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the Pacific Alliance, and the Andean Community of Nations (CAN).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Colombia has a comprehensive, civil law-based legal system. Colombia’s judicial system defines the legal rights of commercial entities, reviews regulatory enforcement procedures, and adjudicates contract disputes in the business community. The judicial framework includes the Council of State, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of Justice, and various departmental and district courts, which collectively are overseen administratively by the Superior Judicial Council. The 1991 Constitution provided the judiciary with greater administrative and financial independence from the executive branch. Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable through the different stages of legal court processes in Colombia. The judicial system in general remains hampered by time-consuming bureaucratic requirements.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Colombia has a comprehensive legal framework for business and FDI that incorporates binding norms resulting from its membership in the Andean Community of Nations and the WTO, as well as other free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties.

Colombia’s official investment portal explains procedures and relevant laws for those wishing to invest (see https://investincolombia.com.co/en/how-to-invest).

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Superintendence of Industry and Commerce (SIC), Colombia’s independent national competition authority, monitors and protects free economic competition, consumer rights, compliance with legal requirements and regulations, and protection of personal data. It also manages the national chambers of commerce. The SIC has been strengthened in recent years with the addition of personnel, including economists and lawyers. The SIC has recently investigated companies, including U.S.-based technology firms and Colombian banks, for failing to protect customer data. Other investigations include those related to pharmaceutical pricing, “business cartelization” among companies supplying public entities, and misleading advertising by a major brewing company. One U.S. gig-economy platform was temporarily barred from operating in Colombia in early 2020, although other similarly-situated companies remained; a court overturned the prohibition on appeal. U.S. companies have expressed concern about limited ability to appeal SIC orders and the SIC’s increasing reliance on orders to remedy perceived problems. Other U.S. companies have noted that SIC investigations can be drawn-out and opaque, similar to the judicial system in general.

Expropriation and Compensation

Article 58 of the Constitution governs indemnifications and expropriations and guarantees owners’ rights for legally-acquired property. For assets taken by eminent domain, Colombian law provides a right of appeal both on the basis of the decision itself and on the level of compensation. The Constitution does not specify how to proceed in compensation cases, which remains a concern for foreign investors. The Colombian government has sought to resolve such concerns through the negotiation of bilateral investment treaties and strong investment chapters in free trade agreements, such as the CTPA.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Colombia is a member of the New York Convention on Investment Disputes, the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency. Colombia is also party to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. The National and International Arbitration Statute (Law 1563), modeled after the UNCITRAL Model Law, has been in effect since 2012.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Domestic law allows contracting parties to agree to submit disputes to international arbitration, provided that: the parties are domiciled in different countries; the place of arbitration agreed to by the parties is a country other than the one in which they are domiciled; the subject matter of the arbitration involves the interests of more than one country; and the dispute has a direct impact on international trade. The law permits parties to set their own arbitration terms, including location, procedures, and the nationality of rules and arbiters. Foreign investors have found the arbitration process in Colombia complex and dilatory, especially with regard to enforcing awards, and slow and unresponsive at times. However, some progress has been made in the number of qualified professionals and arbitrators with ample experience on transnational transactions, arbitrage centers with cutting-edge infrastructure and administrative capacity, and courts that are progressively more accepting of arbitration processes.

There were several pending investment disputes in Colombia in 2020, including:

  • A project management consultant contract with a state-owned entity related to the refurbishment of an oil refinery. Claims arise out of a $2.4 billion liability imposed by the national comptroller general.
  • Two separate shareholder claims related to a Colombian bank that Colombia put under new management and ultimately seized in 1998.
  • Three separate claims related to ownership and mining rights related to the Constitutional Court’s decision to ban mining in a range of high-altitude wetlands.
  • Ownership of a mobile communications subsidiary, with claims arising out of the government’s order that certain assets revert to State control on expiration of a concession.
  • Majority shareholder claims arising out of the government’s decision to seize and liquidate an electricity provider.

According to the Doing Business 2020 report, the time from the moment a plaintiff files a lawsuit until actual payment and enforcement of the contract averages 1,288 days. Traditionally, most court proceedings are carried out in writing and only the evidence-gathering stage is carried out through hearings, including witness depositions, site inspections, and cross-examinations. The government has accelerated proceedings and reduced the backlog of court cases by allowing more verbal public hearings and creating alternative court mechanisms. The Code of General Procedure that entered into force in 2014 also establishes oral proceedings that are carried out in two hearings, and there are now penalties for failure to reach a ruling in the time limit set by the law. Enforcement of an arbitral award can take between six months and one and a half years; a regular judicial process can take up to seven years for private parties and upwards of 15 years in conflicts with the State. Thus, arbitration results are cheaper and much more efficient. According to the Doing Business report, Colombia has made enforcing contracts easier by simplifying and speeding up the proceedings for commercial disputes. In 2020, Colombia’s global ranking in the enforcing contracts category of the report held at 177.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Foreign judgments are recognized and enforced in Colombia once an application is submitted to the Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court. In 2012, Colombia approved the use of the arbitration process via adoption of new legislation (Law 1563) based on the UNCITRAL Model Law. The statute stipulates that arbitral awards are governed by both domestic law as well as international conventions (New York Convention, Panama Convention, etc.). This has made the enforcement of arbitral awards easier for all parties involved. Arbitration in Colombia is completely independent from judiciary proceedings, and, once arbitration has begun, the only competent authority is the arbitration tribunal itself. The CTPA protects U.S. investments by requiring a transparent and binding international arbitration mechanism and allowing investor-state arbitration for breaches of investment agreements if certain parameters are met. The judicial system is notoriously slow, leading many foreign companies to include international arbitration clauses in their contracts.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Colombia’s 1991 Constitution grants the government the authority to intervene directly in financial or economic affairs, and this authority provides solutions similar to U.S. Chapter 11 filings for companies facing liquidation or bankruptcy. Colombia’s bankruptcy regulations have two major objectives: to regulate proceedings to ensure creditors’ protection, and to monitor the efficient recovery and preservation of still-viable companies. This was revised in 2006 to allow creditors to request judicial liquidation, which replaces the previous forced auctioning option. Now, inventories are valued, creditors’ rights are considered, and either a direct sale takes place within two months or all assets are assigned to creditors based on their share of the company’s liabilities. The insolvency regime for companies was further revised in 2010 to make proceedings more flexible and allow debtors to enter into a long-term payment agreement with creditors, giving the company a chance to recover and continue operating. Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Colombia. In 2013, a bankruptcy law for individuals whose debts surpass 50 percent of their assets value entered into force.

Restructuring proceedings aim to protect the debtors from bankruptcy. Once reorganization has begun, creditors cannot use collection proceedings to collect on debts owed prior to the beginning of the reorganization proceedings. All existing creditors at the moment of the reorganization are recognized during the proceedings if they present their credit. Foreign creditors, equity shareholders (including foreign equity shareholders), and holders of other financial contracts (including foreign contract holders) are recognized during the proceeding. Established creditors are guaranteed a vote in the final decision. According to the Doing Business 2020 report Colombia is ranked 32nd for resolving insolvency and it takes an average of 1.7 years – the same as OECD high-income countries – to resolve insolvency; the average time in Latin America is 2.9 years.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Colombian government offers investment incentives such as income tax exemptions and deductions in specific priority sectors, including the so-called “orange economy” (creative industries), agriculture, and entrepreneurship. In 2020, the government announced additional incentive schemes that aim to attract large investments exceeding $350 million and create at least 250 local jobs, facilitate COVID-19 recovery, and generate investments in former conflict municipalities. Investment incentives through free trade agreements between Colombia and other nations include national treatment and most-favored-nation treatment of investors; establishment of liability standards assumed by countries regarding the other nation’s investors, including the minimum standard of treatment and establishment of rules for investor compensation from expropriation; establishment of rules for transfer of capital relating to investment; and specific tax treatment.

The government offers tax incentives to all investors, such as preferential import tariffs, tax exemptions, and credit or risk capital. Some fiscal incentives are available for investments that generate new employment or production in areas impacted by natural disasters and former conflict-affected municipalities. Companies can apply for these directly with participating agencies. Tax and fiscal incentives are often based on regional, sector, or business size considerations. Border areas have special protections due to currency fluctuations in neighboring countries which can impact local economies. National and local governments also offer special incentives, such as tax holidays, to attract specific industries.

The Colombian government introduced a variety of incentives for specific sectors as part of the 2019 tax reform. Among the incentives are:

  • Income from hotels built, renovated, or extended through January 1, 2029 in municipalities of less than 200,000 inhabitants will be taxed at nine percent for 20 years. The same facilities in larger municipalities will be taxed at nine percent for 10 years.
  • Income normally taxed at 33 percent that is invested in agricultural projects or orange (creative) economy initiatives will be tax free.
  • Income from the sale of electric power generated by wind, biomass, solar, geothermal, or tidal movement will be tax free, provided carbon dioxide emission certificates are sold in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol and 50 percent of the income from the certificate sale is invested in social projects benefiting the region where the power was generated.

Foreign investors can participate without discrimination in government-subsidized research programs, and most Colombian government research has been conducted with foreign institutions. Investments or grants to technological research and development projects are fully tax deductible in the year the investment was made. R&D incentives include Value-Added Tax (VAT) exemptions for imported equipment or materials used in scientific, technology, or innovation projects, and qualified investments may receive tax credits.

In a tax reform passed in 2016, the Colombian government created two tax incentives to support investment in the 344 municipalities most affected by the armed conflict (ZOMAC). Small and microbusinesses that invest in ZOMACs and meet a series of other criteria will be exempt from paying any taxes through 2021, pay 25 percent of the general rate through 2024, and 50 percent through 2027. Medium and large-sized businesses will pay 50 percent of their normal taxes through 2021 and 75 percent through 2024. The second component is entitled “works for taxes” (“Obras por Impuestos”), a program through which the private sector can directly fund social investments and infrastructure projects in lieu of paying taxes.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

To attract foreign investment and promote the importation of capital goods, the Colombian government uses a number of duty deferral programs. One example is free trade zones (FTZs). While DIAN oversees requests to establish FTZs, the Colombian government is not involved in their operations. Benefits under the FTZ regime include a single 20 percent tax rate (compared to 31 percent normally) and no customs value-added taxes or duties on raw material imports for use in the FTZ. Each FTZ must meet specific investment and direct job creation commitments, depending on their total assets, during the first three years.

Colombia also has initiated Special Economic Zones for Exports in the municipalities of Buenaventura, Cucuta, Valledupar, and Ipiales in order to encourage investment. These zones receive the same import benefits of FTZs, and operators are exempt from some payroll taxes and surcharges. Infrastructure projects in the zones are also exempt from some income taxes.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Performance requirements are not imposed on foreigners as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding investments. The Colombian government does not have performance requirements, local employment requirements, or require excessively difficult visa, residency, permission, or work permit requirements for investors. Under the CTPA, Colombia grants substantial market access across its entire services sector.

The SIC, under the Deputy Office for Personal Data Protection, is the Data Protection Authority (DPA) and has the legal mandate to ensure proper data protection. It has defined adequate data protection and responsibilities with respect to international data transfers. The SIC requires data storage facilities that hold personal data to comply with government security and privacy requirements, and data storage companies have one year to register. The SIC enforces the rules on local data storage within the country through audits/investigations and imposed sanctions.

Software and hardware are protected by IPR. There is no obligation to submit source code for registered software.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The 1991 Constitution explicitly protects individual rights against state actions and upholds the right to private property. Secured interests in real property, and to a lesser degree movable property, are recognized and generally enforced after the property is properly registered. In terms of protecting third-party purchasers, existing law is inadequate. The concepts of a mortgage, trust, deed, and other types of liens exist, as does a reliable system of recording such secured interests. Deeds, however, present some legal risk due to the prevalence of transactions that have never been registered with the Public Instruments Registry. According to a survey made shortly before the signing of the FARC peace accord, some eight million hectares of land – 14 percent of the country – had been abandoned or acquired illegally. The government is working to title these plots and has started a formalization program for land restitution. The 2020 Doing Business report ranked Colombia 62nd for ease of registering property.

Intellectual Property Rights

In Colombia, the granting, registration, and administration of intellectual property rights (IPR) are carried out by four primary government entities. The SIC acts as the Colombian patent and trademark office. The Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA) is in charge of issuing plant variety protections and data protections for agricultural products. The Ministry of Interior administers copyrights through the National Copyright Directorate (DNDA). The Ministry of Health and Social Protection handles data protection for products registered through the National Food and Drug Institute (INVIMA). Primary responsibility for enforcement resides with the Fiscalia General de la Republica (FGR), the Tax and Customs Authority (DIAN), and the Fiscal and Customs Police (POLFA).

The Intersectoral Intellectual Property Commission (CIPI) serves as the interagency technical body for IPR issues. Colombia aims to ratify the Treaty of Marrakesh in 2021, and CIPI has also mentioned progress toward ratification of the Beijing Treaty, the reactivation and update of the Anti-Piracy Agreement for Colombia, and the possible accession of Colombia to the Hague System on Industrial Designs. The last comprehensive interagency policy for IPR issues (Conpes 3533) was issued by the National Planning Department in 2008; the pandemic delayed its planned 2020 publication of a new national policy for IPR. Colombia is subject to Andean Community Decision 486 on trade secret protection, which is fully implemented domestically by the Unfair Competition Law of 1996.

Colombia provides a 20-year protection period for patents, a 10-year term for industrial designs, and 20- or 15-year protection for new plant varieties, depending on the species. Colombia has been on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Watch List every year since 1991, and in 2019 was upgraded from “Priority Watch List” to “Watch List” status.

The CTPA improved standards for the protection and enforcement of a broad range of IPR. Improvements include state-of-the-art protections for digital products such as software, music, text, and videos; stronger protection for U.S. patents, trademarks, and test data; and prevention of piracy and counterfeiting by criminalizing end-use piracy. However, Colombia has outstanding CTPA commitments related to IPR. Colombian officials continue discussing with the United States draft legislation regulating internet service providers on issues such as compulsory takedown of online content and the protection of intermediaries with “safe harbor” provisions for unintentional copyright infringement. The legislation has not yet been introduced to Congress. Colombia has not yet signed the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV 91). Colombia maintains that the existing Andean Community Decision 345 is in effect and equivalent to UPOV 91, but this is not an interpretation shared by the United States. On Colombia’s request, UPOV conducted a review and identified a non-conformity that Colombia asserts are addressed by two decrees, 2468 and 2687. Colombia is a member of the Inter-American Convention for Trademark and Commercial Protection.

Colombia reformed its copyright law under Decree 1915 of July 2018. The bill extends the term of copyright protection, imposes civil liability for circumvention of technological protection measures, and strengthens enforcement of copyright and related rights. On July 31, 2019 the Colombian Constitutional Court issued ruling C-345-19 that recognizes the constitutionality of statutory damages for copyright infringement.

Colombia’s success combating counterfeiting and IPR violations, and enforcement in the digital space, remains limited.  In March 2021, Colombia’s National Copyright Directorate (DNDA) imposed an order requiring internet providers to block IP addresses used to transmit pirated digital content, the first such order in Colombia.  Industry advocates called this an important precedent for combatting IP theft. A 2015 law increased penalties for those involved in running contraband, but more effective implementation is needed. Colombian authorities coordinate with the United States on investigations, but key agencies often do not have the requisite authorities or sufficient numbers of trained personnel to effectively inspect and seize merchandise and to investigate smugglers and counterfeiters. Despite high-profile seizures of counterfeit goods, such goods remain widely available in Colombia’s “San Andresitos” markets. No Colombian markets are listed in the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy.

U.S. stakeholders continue to raise concerns about Colombia’s regulation of the pharmaceutical sector, where regulatory barriers, a focus by the government on cost containment over health outcomes, delays in processing pharmaceutical registrations at INVIMA, and Congressional proposals to limit pharmaceutical IP restrict market entry and reduce the attractiveness of Colombia as a place to invest and do business.

Colombia is on the Watch List in USTR’s 2021 Special 301 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 Colombian Securities Exchange (BVC after its acronym in Spanish) is the main forum for trading and securities transactions in Colombia. The BVC is a private company listed on the stock market. The BVC, as a multi-product and multi-market exchange, offers trading platforms for the stock market, along with fixed income and standard derivatives. The BVC also provides listing services for issuers.

Foreign investors can participate in capital markets by negotiating and acquiring shares, bonds, and other securities listed by the Foreign Investment Statute. These activities must be conducted by a local administrator, such as trust companies or Financial Superintendence-authorized stock brokerage firms. Direct and portfolio foreign investments must be registered with the Central Bank. Foreigners can establish a bank account in Colombia as long as they have a valid visa and Colombian government identification.

The market has sufficient liquidity for investors to enter and exit sizeable positions. The central bank respects IMF Article VIII and does not restrict payments and transfers for current international transactions. The financial sector in Colombia offers credit to nationals and foreigners that comply with the requisite legal requirements.

Money and Banking System

In 2005, Colombia consolidated supervision of all aspects of the banking, financial, securities, and insurance sectors under the Financial Superintendence. Colombia has an effective regulatory system that encourages portfolio investment, and the country’s financial system is strong by regional standards. Commercial banks are the principal source of long-term corporate and project finance in Colombia. Loans rarely have a maturity in excess of five years. Unofficial private lenders play a major role in meeting the working capital needs of small and medium-sized companies. Only the largest of Colombia’s companies participate in the local stock or bond markets, with the majority meeting their financing needs either through the banking system, by reinvesting their profits, or through credit from suppliers.

Colombia’s central bank is charged with managing inflation and unemployment through monetary policy. Foreign banks are allowed to establish operations in the country, and must set up a Colombian subsidiary in order to do so. The Colombian central bank has a variety of correspondent banks abroad.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

There are no restrictions on transferring funds associated with FDI. Foreign investment into Colombia must be registered with the central bank in order to secure the right to repatriate capital and profits. Direct and portfolio investments are considered registered when the exchange declaration for operations channeled through the official exchange market is presented, with few exceptions. The official exchange rate is determined by the central bank. The rate is based on the free market flow of the previous day. Colombia does not manipulate its currency to gain competitive advantages.

Remittance Policies

The government permits full remittance of all net profits regardless of the type or amount of investment. Foreign investments must be channeled through the foreign exchange market and registered with the central bank’s foreign exchange office within one year in order for those investments to be repatriated or reinvested. There are no restrictions on the repatriation of revenues generated from the sale or closure of a business, reduction of investment, or transfer of a portfolio. Colombian law authorizes the government to restrict remittances in the event that international reserves fall below three months’ worth of imports. International reserves have remained well above this threshold for decades.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

In 2012, Colombia began operating a sovereign wealth fund called the Savings and Stabilization Fund (FAE), which is administered by the central bank with the objective of promoting savings and economic stability in the country. Colombia is not a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds. The fund can administer up to 30 percent of annual royalties from the extractives industry. Its primary investments are in fixed securities, sovereign and quasi-sovereign debt (both domestic and international), and corporate securities, with just eight percent invested in stocks. The government transfers royalties not dedicated to the fund to other internal funds to boost national economic productivity through strategic projects, technological investments, and innovation. In 2020, the government authorized up to 80 percent of the FAE’s USD 3.9 billion in assets to be lent to the Fund for the Mitigation of Emergencies (FOME) created in response to the pandemic.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Since 2015, the Government of Colombia has concentrated its industrial and commercial enterprises under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance. According to Ministry’s 2019 annual report, the number of state-owned companies is 105, with a combined value of USD 20 billion. The government is the majority shareholder of 39 companies and a minority shareholder in the remaining 66. Among the most notable companies with a government stake are Ecopetrol (Colombia’s majority state-owned and privately-run oil company), ISA (electricity distribution), Banco Agrario de Colombia, Bancoldex, and Satena (regional airline). SOEs competing in the Colombian market do not receive non-market-based advantages from the government. The Ministry of Finance normally updates their annual report on SOEs every June.

Privatization Program

Colombia has privatized state-owned enterprises under article 60 of the Constitution and Law Number 226 of 1995.  This law stipulates that the sale of government holdings in an enterprise should be offered to two groups:  first to cooperatives and workers’ associations of the enterprise, then to the general public.  During the first phase, special terms and credits have to be granted, and in the second phase, foreign investors may participate along with the general public.  A series of privatizations planned for 2020 were postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic.  The government views stimulating private-sector investment in roads, ports, electricity, and gas infrastructure as a high priority.  The government is increasingly turning to concessions and using public-private partnerships (PPPs) to secure and incentivize infrastructure development.

In order to attract investment and promote PPPs, Colombian modified infrastructure regulations to clarify provisions for frequently-cited obstacles to participate in PPPs, including environmental licensing, land acquisition, and the displacement of public utilities.  The law puts in place a civil procedure that facilitates land expropriation during court cases, allows for expedited environmental licensing, and clarifies that the cost to move or replace public utilities affected by infrastructure projects falls to private companies.  However, infrastructure development companies considering bidding on tenders have raised concerns about unacceptable levels of risk that result from a law (Ley 80) establishing a framework for public works projects.  Interpretations of Ley 80 do not establish a liability cap on potential judgments and view company officials equal to those with fiscal oversight authority when it comes to criminal liability for misfeasance.

Municipal enterprises operate many public utilities and infrastructure services.  These municipal enterprises have engaged private sector investment through concessions.  There are several successful concessions involving roads.  These kinds of partnerships have helped promote reforms and create a more attractive environment for private, national, and foreign investment.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

In 2020, the Colombian government released its second National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights for the period 2020-2022, which responds to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Colombia also adheres to the corporate social responsibility (CSR) principles outlined in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. CSR cuts across many industries and Colombia encourages public and private enterprises to follow OECD CSR guidelines. Beneficiaries of CSR programs include students, children, populations vulnerable to Colombia’s armed conflict, victims of violence, and the environment. Larger companies structure their CSR programs in accordance with accepted international principles. Companies in Colombia have been recognized on an international level for their CSR initiatives, including by the State Department.

Overall, Colombia has adequate environmental laws, is proactive at the federal level in enacting environmental protections, and does not waive labor or environmental regulations to attract investors. Colombian law also has provisions requiring consultations with indigenous communities before many large projects. However, the Colombian government struggles with enforcement, particularly in more remote areas. Geography, lack of infrastructure, and lack of state presence all play a role, as does a general shortage of resources in national and regional institutions. Environmental defenders face threats from narcotics traffickers, paramilitaries, and other illegal armed groups, particularly in areas with limited state presence. The Environmental Chapter of the CTPA requires Colombia to maintain and enforce environmental laws, protect biodiversity, and promote opportunities for public participation. Colombia participates in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

In parallel with its OECD accession, the Colombian government worked with the OECD in a series of assessments in order to develop and implement the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas, especially related to gold mining. The Colombian government faces challenges in formalizing illegal gold mining operations. Colombia ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury in 2018 and banned the use of mercury in mining. It has committed to phase out mercury use from all other industries by 2023. Colombia is still determining how to enforce laws to achieve this goal.

Buyers, sellers, traders, and refiners of gold may wish to conduct additional due diligence as part of their risk management regimes to account for the influx of illegally-mined Colombian gold into existing supply chains. Throughout the country, Colombian authorities have taken some steps to dismantle illegal gold mining operations that are responsible for negative environmental, criminal, and human health impacts, and often employ forced labor. The Colombian government has focused its efforts on transnational criminal elements involved in the production, laundering, and sale of illegally-mined gold, and the fraudulent documentation that is used to obscure the origin of illegally-mined gold. Colombia is actively pursuing new policies, proposing new legislation, and changing mechanisms to enforce laws against illegal gold mining.

Colombia has not signed the Montreux Document. In 2020, its National Organization for Accreditation (ONAC) and Institute for Technical Standards and Certification (ICONTEC) began ISO 18788 compliance certification processes for private security companies.

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Corruption, and the perception of it, is a serious obstacle for companies operating or planning to invest in Colombia. Analyses of the business environment, such as the WEF Global Competitiveness Index, consistently cite corruption as a problematic factor, along with high tax rates, inadequate infrastructure, and inefficient government bureaucracy. Transparency International’s latest “Corruption Perceptions Index” ranked Colombia 92nd out of 180 countries assessed and assigned it a score of 39/100, a slight improvement from the year prior. Customs, taxation, and public works contracts are commonly-cited areas where corruption exists.

Colombia has adopted the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and is a member of the OECD Anti-Bribery Committee. It also passed a domestic anti-bribery law in 2016. It has signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention and adopted the OAS Convention against Corruption. The CTPA protects the integrity of procurement practices and criminalizes both offering and soliciting bribes to/from public officials. It requires both countries to make all laws, regulations, and procedures regarding any matter under the CTPA publicly available. Both countries must also establish procedures for reviews and appeals by any entities affected by actions, rulings, measures, or procedures under the CTPA.

Resources to Report Corruption

Useful resources and contact information for those concerned about combating corruption in Colombia include the following:

  • The Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory is an interactive tool of the Colombian government aimed at promoting transparency and combating corruption available at http://www.anticorrupcion.gov.co/ 
  • The Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory is an interactive tool of the Colombian government aimed at promoting transparency and combating corruption available at http://www.anticorrupcion.gov.co/  • The National Civil Commission for Fighting Corruption, or Comisión Nacional Ciudadana para la Lucha Contra la Corrupción (CNCLCC), was established by Law 1474 of 2011 to give civil society a forum to discuss and propose policies and actions to fight corruption in the country. Transparencia por Colombia is the technical secretariat of the commission. http://ciudadanoscontralacorrupcion.org/es/inicio 
  • The National Civil Commission for Fighting Corruption, or Comisión Nacional Ciudadana para la Lucha Contra la Corrupción (CNCLCC), was established by Law 1474 of 2011 to give civil society a forum to discuss and propose policies and actions to fight corruption in the country. Transparencia por Colombia is the technical secretariat of the commission. http://ciudadanoscontralacorrupcion.org/es/inicio 
  • The Presidential Secretariat of Transparency advises and assists the president to formulate, design, and coordinate the implementation of public policy about transparency and anti-corruption. http://wsp.presidencia.gov.co/secretaria-transparencia/Paginas/default.aspx/ 

Government Agency:
Secretary of Transparency
Calle 7 No.6-54, Bogota (+57)1 562 9300
contacto@presidencia.gov.co

Watchdog Organization:
Transparencia Por Colombia (local chapter of Transparency International)
Cra. 45A No. 93 – 61, Barrio La Castellana, Bogota
(+57)1 610 0822
comunicaciones@transparenciacolombia.org.co

10. Political and Security Environment

Security in Colombia has improved significantly over recent years, most notably in large urban centers. Terrorist attacks and powerful narco-criminal group operations pose a threat to commercial activity and investment in some rural zones where government control is weak. In 2016, Colombia signed a peace agreement with the FARC to end half a century of confrontation. Congressional approval of that peace accord put in motion a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process, which granted the FARC status as a legal political organization and took over 13,000 combatants off the battlefield. Currently the peace negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN), which began in 2017, are suspended. This terrorist group continues a low-cost, high-impact asymmetric insurgency, including an attack on the Colombian police academy in 2019 that killed 22 cadets. The ELN often focuses attacks on oil pipelines, mines, roads, and electricity towers to disrupt economic activity and pressure the government. The ELN also extorts businesses in their areas of operation, kidnaps personnel, and destroys property of entities that refuse to pay for protection.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

An OECD economic survey of Colombia was published in October 2019. The report mentions progress on labor market reforms, but cites a weakening of the labor market given decelerating economic growth, stalled progress on labor force participation, and persistently high income inequality. At the end of 2020, 49.2 percent of the urban workforce was working in the informal economy. The overall unemployment rate at that time was 17.3 percent. Both figures represent deteriorations due to the economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic. Colombia has a wide range of skills in its workforce, including managerial-level employees who are often bilingual, but faces large skills gaps. Colombia has made strong efforts to incorporate Venezuelan migrants into the formal economy, most notably the February 2021 announcement of ten-year Temporary Protected Status for the country’s estimated 1.8 million Venezuelan migrants.

Labor rights in Colombia are set forth in its Constitution, the Labor Code, the Procedural Code of Labor and Social Security, sector-specific legislation, and ratified international conventions, which are incorporated into national legislation. Colombia’s Constitution guarantees freedom of association and provides for collective bargaining and the right to strike (with some exceptions). It also addresses forced labor, child labor, trafficking, discrimination, protections for women and children in the workplace, minimum wages, working hours, skills training, and social security. Colombia has ratified all eight of the International Labor Organization’s (ILO’s) fundamental labor conventions, and all are in force. Colombia has also ratified conventions related to hours of work, occupational health and safety, and minimum wage.

The 1991 Constitution protects the right to constitute labor unions. Pursuant to Colombia’s labor law, any group of 25 or more workers, regardless of whether they are employees of the same company or not, may form a labor union. Employees of companies with fewer than 25 employees may affiliate themselves with other labor unions. Colombia has a low trade union density (9.5 percent). Where unions are present, multiple affiliation sometimes poses challenges for collective bargaining. The largest and most influential unions are composed mostly of public-sector employees, particularly of the majority state-owned oil company and the state-run education sector. Only 6.2 percent of all salaried workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), according to the OECD. The Ministry of Labor has expressed commitment to working on decrees to incentivize sectoral collective bargaining and to strengthen union representation within companies and regulate strikes in the essential public services sector. Strikes, when held in accordance with the law, are recognized as legal instruments to obtain better working conditions, and employers are prohibited from using strike-breakers at any time during the course of a strike. After 60 days of strike action, the parties are subject to compulsory arbitration. Strikes are prohibited in certain “essential public services,” as defined by law, although Colombia has been criticized for having an overly-broad interpretation of “essential.”

Foreign companies operating in Colombia must follow the same hiring rules as national companies, regardless of the origin of the employer and the place of execution of the contract. No labor laws are waived in order to attract or retain investment. In 2010, Law 1429 eliminated the mandatory proportion requirement for foreign and national personnel; 100 percent of the workforce, including the board of directors, can be foreign nationals. Labor permits are not required in Colombia, except for minors of the minimum working age. Foreign employees have the same rights as Colombian employees. Employers may use temporary service agencies to subcontract additional workers for peaks of production. Employers must receive advance permission from the Ministry of Labor before undertaking permanent layoffs. The Ministry of Labor typically does not grant permission to lay off workers who have enhanced legal protections (for example, those with work-related injuries or union leaders). The Ministry of Labor has been cracking down on using temporary or contract workers for jobs that are not temporary in nature, although challenges remain in this area.

Reputational risks to investors come with a lack of effective and systematic enforcement of labor law, especially in rural sectors. Homicides of unionists (social leaders) remain a concern. In January 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a public report of review in response to a submission filed under Chapter 17 (the Labor Chapter) of the CTPA by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and five Colombian workers’ organizations that alleged failures on the part of the government to protect labor rights in line with CTPA commitments. In January 2018, the Department of Labor published the first periodic review of progress to address issues identified in the submission report. For additional information on labor law enforcement see:

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Colombia Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International
Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat;
UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($B USD) 2019 $299.1 2019 $323.6 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Colombia Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international
Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat;
UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $2,611 2019 $8,264 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $50 2019 $174 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/
international/direct-investment-
and-multinational-enterprises-
comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 4.8% 2019 4.6% UNCTAD data available at https://stats.unctad.org/
handbook/Economic
Trends/Fdi.html 

*Data from the Colombian Statistics Departments, DANE, (https://www.dane.gov.co/) and the Colombian central bank (http://www.banrep.gov.co). Note: U.S. FDI reported by Banco de la Republica is not historically adjusted.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Colombian data is not available from the IMF’s coordinated direct investment survey.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 39,471 100% All Countries 26,135 100% All Countries 13,336 100%
United States 24,784 63% United States 17,995 69% United States 6,790 51%
Luxembourg 4,848 12% Luxembourg 3,854 15% Japan 1,025 8%
Ireland 2,230 6% Ireland 2,165 8% Luxembourg 994 7%
Japan 1,125 3% UK 537 2% France 463 3%
UK 944 2% Brazil 249 1% UK 407 3%

14. Contact for More Information

U.S. Embassy Bogota
Economic Section
Carrera 45 #22B-45, Bogota, Colombia
(+57)1 275-2000
BogotaECONShared@state.gov 

Guyana

Executive Summary

Guyana is located on South America’s North Atlantic coast, bordering Venezuela, Suriname, and Brazil, and is the only English-speaking country on the continent. Guyana became an oil producing nation in 2019 and, with a population of 782,766, is poised to dramatically increase its per capita wealth. While it is currently the third poorest country in the western hemisphere, Guyana’s economy grew by 43.5 percent in 2020, the only country in the Caribbean to register positive GDP growth. Guyana’s gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to grow by 16.4 percent in 2021 with inflation expected to hover around 2 percent. The Government of Guyana (GoG) is taking steps to diversify the economy way from production of commodities such as gold, bauxite, rice and sugar, towards value added industries and services. The United States has been Guyana’s largest trading partner since 2019.

Guyana emerged from a 20-month extra-constitutional and electoral crisis on August 2, 2020 when opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) coalition presidential candidate Irfaan Ali was elected as president. This crisis began with a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly in December 2018 that brought down the then-ruling A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) coalition government. Subsequent to the vote, protracted litigation over the no-confidence motion and contested March 2020 national elections ended with certification of the PPP/C coalition victory and Ali’s swearing-in.

Despite global economic headwinds due to COVID-19, Guyana’s nascent oil production made it the fastest growing economy in the world while non-oil and gas GDP contracted by 6 percent. Guyana reopened its borders in October 2020 to all countries so long as travelers present a negative COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test obtained within 72 hours of their travel to Guyana.

Guyana’s medium-term prospects remain positive with the discovery of vast oil reserves in Guyana’s waters that will provide decades of substantial oil revenues. The GoG plans to overhaul the regulatory framework governing its sovereign wealth fund and has yet to tap into the fund, which is held at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. The National Budget of 2021 prioritizes education, health, infrastructure, and agriculture.

The Government of Guyana (GoG) actively encourages foreign direct investment (FDI) and offers tax concessions for priority projects through the Guyana Office for Investment (GO-INVEST). According to the Bank of Guyana’s Half Year Report for 2020, Guyana’s FDI increased from $826.4 million to $834.7 million. The growth in FDI was fueled mainly by developments within the oil and gas sector and its support industries. The GoG plans to table local content legislation before parliament in the first half of 2021. Until the details of this legislation are made publicly available the impact on oil and gas companies investing in Guyana remains unknown.

As of April 2021, the ExxonMobil-led consortium (which includes Hess and the China National Offshore Oil Company) drilling offshore has achieved an 80 percent success rate for its exploratory wells. In March 2021, Exxon announced that it now estimates the Guyana Suriname basin has a basin potential of twice the discovered resources, more than 18 billion barrels of oil.

Guyana offers foreign and domestic investors investment opportunities in agriculture, oil and gas, construction, wholesale and retail, health, transportation, and agro-processing. Opportunities exist within the services sector such as renewable energy, business process outsourcing (BPO), call centers, information technology services, hospitality, and tourism. Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America, creating unique potential for call centers and other service industries.

The GoG is revising its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), which serves as its overarching strategy guiding document for government priorities. The GoG’s 2021 priorities include a focus on agriculture, supporting emerging and value-added industries, improving the business climate, investing in sea defenses, and transitioning to renewable energy using gas as a transition fuel. One key concern remains high crime rates. Guyana also ranked 134 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s 2020 report on Ease of Doing Business. President Ali committed to improving the country’s Ease of Doing Business ranking by establishing a single window business registration system, reducing energy costs and facilitate faster approvals for permits.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 83 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 134 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country 2015 USD 178 million https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 6,630 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The GoG recognizes foreign direct investment (FDI) as critical for growing and diversifying the Guyanese economy. Guyanese law does not discriminate against foreign investors. Shortly after being sworn in, President Ali committed to institute an electronic single window application process to expedite business registration, permitting, and improve the country’s Ease of Doing Business ranking. The GoG has prioritized investments in the following sectors: agriculture, agro-processing, light manufacturing, renewable energy, tourism and information and communications technology (ICT). The Guyana Office for Investment (GO-INVEST) is the GoG’s primary vehicle for promoting FDI opportunities and assisting foreign corporations with their business registrations and applying for tax concessions. Companies and investors are encouraged to do their due diligence and have robust business plans completed before approaching GOINVEST.

The GoG expects to table local content legislation before Parliament in the second quarter of 2021, which will set baseline requirements for foreign firms to hire Guyanese and establish taxation standards to foster greater local participation in the oil and gas sector. The aim of this legislation is to promote long term investments in Guyana, build local capacity, and avoid the resource curse.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Guyana’s constitution protects the rights of foreigners to own property in Guyana. Foreign and domestic firms possess the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of commerce. Private entities are governed by the 1991 Companies Act (amended in 1995) under which they have the right to establish business enterprises and are free to acquire or dispose of interest in accordance with the law. Some key sectors like aviation, forestry, banking, mining, and tourism are heavily regulated and require licensing. The process to obtain licenses can be time consuming and may in some instances require ministerial approval.

The GoG prohibits foreign ownership of small-and-medium-scale mining (ASM) concessions. Foreign investors interested in participating in the industry at those levels may establish joint ventures with Guyanese nationals, under which the two parties agree to jointly develop a mining property. However, this type of relationship can carry a high level of risk because arrangements are governed only by private contracts and the sector’s regulatory agency, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), offers little recourse for ASM disputes. The U.S. Embassy strongly encourages investors to thoroughly conduct their due diligence when exploring business opportunities.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Guyana’s macro-economic fundamentals have remained stable over the past decade. The Ali administration is revising its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) to balance sustainable development goals with booming oil production. Developmental policies include incentives for priority areas, including education, health, renewable energy, agriculture, and agro-processing.

Government policy focuses on attracting inward FDI. The GoG applies national treatment to all economic activities, except for certain mining operations, although some foreign-owned companies conduct large-scale mining operations in the country. During its first months in office, the Ali administration took actions to improve the business environment such as repealing of taxes on corporate taxes on health, education, and construction materials. Incentives for FDI includes income tax holidays, and tariff and value-added tax (VAT) exemptions.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) published its most recent trade policy review of Guyana in 2015: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp420_e.htm 

Business Facilitation

All companies operating in Guyana must register with the Registrar of Companies. Registration fees are lower for companies incorporated in Guyana than those incorporated abroad.  Locally incorporated companies are subjected to a flat fee of approximately $300 and a company incorporated abroad is subject to a fee of approximately $400. Depending on the type of business, registration may take three weeks or more. Newly registered businesses are encouraged to visit the Guyana Revenue Authority and apply for a tax identification number (TIN). If a company employs Guyanese workers, the company must demonstrate compliance with the National Insurance Scheme (social security). Businesses in the sectors requiring specific licenses, such as mining, telecommunications, forestry, and banking must obtain operation licenses from the relevant authorities before commencing operations. Guyana has six municipal authorities which also assess municipal taxes: Anna Regina, Corriverton, Georgetown, Linden, New Amsterdam, and Rosehall.

GO-INVEST advises the GoG on the formulation and implementation of national investment policies and provides facilitation services to foreign investors, particularly in completing administrative formalities, such as commercial registration and applications for land purchases or leases.  Under the Status of Aliens Act, foreign and domestic investors have the same rights to purchase and lease land. However, the process to access licensing can be complex and many foreign companies have opted to partner with local companies which may assist with acquiring a license. The Investment Act specifies that there should be no discrimination between foreign and domestic private investors, or among foreign investors from different countries. The authorities maintain that foreign investors have equal access to opportunities arising from privatization of state-owned companies.

Resources

Guyana Deeds and Commercial Registry: https://dcra.gov.gy/ 
GO-INVEST: https://goinvest.gov.gy/ 
Guyana Revenue Authority: https://www.gra.gov.gy/ 

Outward Investment

While the GoG is focused on attracting inward investment into Guyana, there are no restrictions for domestic investors to invest abroad. GO-INVEST supports Guyanese investors and exporters looking to operate overseas.  In 2019, the Natural Resource Fund Act (NRF) was passed which created Guyana’s sovereign wealth fund. The Act provides the Minister of Finance with responsibility for the overall management of the fund.  The NRF is currently held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and, as of February 2021, has a balance of $246.5 million from its nascent oil revenues and royalty payments. The Ali administration plans to amend the existing Natural Resource Fund Act and has committed to leave all funds on deposit until a new regulatory framework is adopted. The GoG has not stated an official investment policy for the sovereign wealth fund as of March 2021.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are consistent with international norms. Guyana is a democratic state and a separation of powers exists among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.

As captured in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, bureaucratic procedures are cumbersome, often requiring the involvement of multiple ministries. Investors report having received conflicting messages from various officials, and difficulty determining where the authority for decision-making lies.  In the absence of adequate legislation, most decision-making remains centralized. An extraordinary number of issues continue to be resolved in the presidential cabinet, a process that is commonly perceived as opaque and slow. Attempts to reform Guyana’s many bureaucratic procedures have not succeeded in reducing red tape.

International Regulatory Considerations

Guyana has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since 1995 and adheres to Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs) guidelines. Guyana is also a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and is working to harmonize its regulatory systems with the rest of the CARICOM member states. Guyana is a member of the UNFCCC and reduces emissions from deforestation and forest degradation REDD+ initiative.

Guyana has laws on intellectual property rights and patents. However, a lack of enforcement offers few protections in practice and allows for the relatively uninhibited distribution and sale of illegally obtained content.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Guyana’s legal system is mixed following the combination of civil and common laws. Guyana’s judicial system operates independently from the executive branch. The Caribbean Court of Justice, located in Trinidad and Tobago, is Guyana’s highest court. Registered companies are governed by the Companies Act and contracts are enforced by Guyanese courts or through a mediator. Guyana has a commercial court in its High Court, which has both original and appellate jurisdiction.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Legislation exists in Guyana to support foreign direct investment, but the enforcement of these regulations continues to be inadequate. The objective of the Investment Act of 2004 and Industries and Aid and Encouragement Act of 1951 is to stimulate socio-economic development by attracting and facilitating foreign investment. Other relevant laws include: the Income Tax Act, the Customs Act, the Procurement Act of 2003, the Companies Act of 1991, the Securities Act of 1998, and the Small Business Act. Regulatory actions are still required for much of this legislation to be effectively implemented. The Companies Act provides special provisions for companies incorporated outside of Guyana called “external companies.” Companies should direct their inquiries about regulations on FDI to GO-INVEST.

Guyana has no known examples of executive interference in the court system that have adversely affected foreign investors. The judicial system is generally perceived to be slow and ineffective in enforcing legal contracts. The 2020 World Bank’s Doing Business Report states that it takes 581 days to enforce a contract in Guyana.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Competition Commission of Guyana was established under the 2006 Competition and Fair Trading Act. The Competition and Fair Trading act seeks to promote, maintain, and encourage competition; to prohibit the prevention, restriction, or distortion of competition, the abuse of dominant trade positions; and to promote the welfare and interests of consumers. The Competition Commission and Consumer Affairs Commission (CCAC) is responsible for investigating complaints by agencies and consumers, eliminating anti-competitive agreements, and may institute or participate in proceedings before a Court of Law.  For mergers and acquisitions within of the banking sector, the Bank of Guyana has ultimate oversight and approval.

Expropriation and Compensation

The government can expropriate property in the public interest under the 2001 Acquisition of Land for Public Purposes Act, although there are no recent cases of expropriation. There is adequate legislation to promote and protect foreign investment, however, enforcement is often ineffective. Many reports view Guyana’s judicial system as being slow and ineffective in enforcing legal contracts. All companies are encouraged to conduct due diligence and seek appropriate legal counsel for any potential questions prior to doing business in Guyana.

Dispute Settlement

Guyana is a party to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention). Additionally, Guyana has ratified the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention), which entered into force in December 2014.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Guyana does not have a bilateral investment treaty with the United States. Negotiations began in 1993 but broke down in 1995. Since then, the two countries have not conducted subsequent negotiations.

Double taxation treaties are in force with Canada (1987), the United Kingdom (1992), and CARICOM (1995). Other double taxation agreements remain under negotiation with India, Kuwait, and the Seychelles. The CARICOM-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement provides for the negotiation of a double taxation agreement, but no significant developments have occurred since March 2009.

There is one ongoing investment dispute involving a U.S. telecommunications company, which previously held a legal monopoly in Guyana, contesting its liability for back taxes.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

International arbitration decisions are enforceable under the 1931 Arbitration Act of British Guiana, as amended in 1998. The Act is based on the Geneva Convention for the Execution of Foreign Arbitral Awards of 1927. The GoG enforces foreign awards by way of judicial decisions or action, and such awards must be in line with the policies and laws of Guyana.

According to the 2020 World Bank’s Doing Business Report, resolving disputes in Guyana takes 581 days, and on average costs 27 percent of the value of the claim. According to many businesses, suspected corrupt practices and long delays make the courts an unattractive option for settling investment or contractual disputes, particularly for foreign investors unfamiliar with Guyana.

The GoG has set up a Commercial Court to expedite commercial disputes, but this court only has one judge presiding, and companies have reported that it is overwhelmed by a backlog of cases.  The Caribbean Court of Justice, based in Trinidad and Tobago, is Guyana’s court of final instance. In practice, most business disputes are settled by mediation which avoids a lengthy court battle and keeps costs low to both parties. Guyanese state-owned enterprises are not widely involved in investor disputes. To date, there are no complaints on the court process relating to judgments involving state owned enterprises.

Bankruptcy Regulations 

The 1998 Guyana Insolvency Act provides for the facilitation of insolvency proceedings.  The 2004 Financial Institutions Act gives the Central Bank power to take temporary control of financial institutions in trouble.  This Act provides legal authority for the Central Bank to take a more proactive role in helping insolvent local banks.

According to data collected by the World Bank Doing Business Report, resolving insolvency in Guyana takes three years on average and costs 28.5% of the debtor’s estate, with the most likely outcome being that the company will be sold piecemeal.  The average recovery rate is 18 cents on the dollar. Globally, Guyana ranks 163 out of 190 economies on the Ease of Resolving Insolvency Report.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Guyana offers an array of incentives to foreign and domestic investors alike in the form of exemption from various taxes, accelerated depreciation rates, full and unrestricted repatriation of capital, profits and dividends. The first point of contact in applying for tax concessions is GO-INVEST. The GoG utilizes investment incentives to advance its broader policy goals, such as boosting research and development, or spurring growth in a particular region.

Information on investment incentives in Guyana can be found on the following websites:

Guyana Office for Investment:   http://goinvest.gov.gy/investment/investment-guide/ 
The National Procurement & Tender Administration (NPTA):   http://www.npta.gov.gy/ 
National Industrial & Commercial Investment Limited:  http://www.privatisation.gov.gy 
Ministry of Finance:  https://finance.gov.gy/procurements 

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Guyana does not have free trade zones, however, the GoG is contemplating establishing free trade zones in Lethem, a Guyanese town on the Brazilian border that relies heavily on cross border commerce.

Guyana was the 53rd WTO member and first South American country to ratify the new Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).  The WTO Secretariat received Guyana’s instrument of acceptance on November 30, 2015.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

There are no data localization requirements in Guyana.  Foreign investors are not required to establish or maintain a certain amount of data storage within the country. There is no visa requirement for U.S. citizens to visit Guyana. There are no government-imposed conditions to invest. However, if seeking tax concessions, an entity will be bound to an investment agreement.

A requirement to hire locally at least 80 percent of employees is applied equally to domestic and foreign investment projects. This percentage, however, will likely change once the GoG enacts its new local content policy, likely in the second quarter of 2021.  Although no explicit government policy exits regarding performance requirements, some are written into contracts with foreign investors and could include the requirement of a performance bond.  Some contracts require a certain minimum level of investment. Investors are not required to source locally, nor must they export a certain percentage of output.  Foreign exchange is not rationed in proportion to exports, nor are there any requirements for national ownership or technology transfer. There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to provide source code. There are no measures to prevent or restrict companies from transmitting customer or business data. The government agencies involved for local data storage include the National Data Management Authority and the Office of the Prime Minister.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights are enforced but it is often time consuming to determine the rightful owner of a particular plot of land. Ownership of property can be unclear even among government entities and potential investors are encouraged to have a local lawyer review any potential property purchase before executing the deal.

Guyana has a dual registry system of property rights with distinct requirements, processes, and enforcement mechanisms.  The two types of registry systems are deeds (regulated by the Deeds and Commercial Registry) and title (regulated by the Land Registry) registries that operate in separate jurisdictions, which in theory helps avoid the problem of double entry and dual registration.  Companies often complain about Guyana’s property rights being overly bureaucratic and complex, with opaque regulations that overlap and compete. Some report that this affects the proper allocation, enforcement, and effectiveness of property rights, as well as the efficiency of property-based markets, such as real estate and financial markets (especially primary ones, such as mortgage markets).  As previously stated, the judicial system is generally perceived to be slow and ineffective in enforcing legal contracts. The GoG is the country’s largest landowner. Property can be reverted to squatters who have squatted for over 10 years, but in most instances the GoG repossesses the land.

Intellectual Property Rights

Upon independence in 1966, Guyana adopted British law on intellectual property rights (IPR). Guyana’s relevant laws governing intellectual property rights (IPR) are the 1956 Copyright Act and the 1973 Trademark Act and Patents and Design Act.  Local contacts report that numerous attempts to pass comprehensive reforms to this legislation have been unsuccessful. However, piecemeal modernization amendments contained in the 2005 Geographic Indication Act, the 2006 Competition and Fair Trading Act, the 2000 Business Names Registration Act, and the 1999 Deeds Registry Authority Act have offered additional protection to local products and companies.

No modern legislation exists to protect the foreign-registered rights of investors. However, investors are encouraged to seek a lawyer to register and/or make an application for intellectual property. In the case of trademarks, registration is done through writing to the registrar, which once accepted after advertisement in the official gazette, the registrar inserts the particulars and issues a registration bearing the seal of the patent office. Guyana joined the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and acceded to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property in 1994. Guyana has not ratified a bilateral IPR agreement with the United States. The previous government drafted IPR legislation, which has yet to be taken up in Parliament.

Many businesses report that the registration time for a patent or trademark may take in excess of six months. However, there is a lack of effective enforcement to protect intellectual property rights. Patent and trademark infringement are common, as is evident among local television broadcasts of pirated and rebroadcasted TV satellite signals. Guyana has seen seizures of counterfeited food items by the Guyana Foods and Drugs Analyst Department (GFDD). However, the GFDD is severely short staffed and unable to police all commerce effectively. Local news media sources report that piracy of foreign academic textbooks is common. Guyana’s laws have not been amended to fully conform to the requirements of the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement.

Guyana is not listed in the U.S. Trade Representative’s 2021 Special 301 Report or its 2020 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Guyana has its own stock market, which is supervised by the Guyana Association of Securities Companies and Intermediaries (GASCI).  Dividends earned from the local stock exchange are tax free.  Guyana’s local stock market performed well in 2020 with a 15 percent increase in its market capitalization.  Credit is available on market terms. The Central Bank respects IMF Article VIII with regard to payments and transfers for international transactions.

Money and Banking System

Guyana relies heavily on cash payments for most financial transactions, but credit cards and mobile payment options are increasingly common. The GoG’s monetary policy remains accommodative, aimed at achieving price stability and controlling liquidity within the economy. The financial sector is regulated by the Bank of Guyana (BOG), the country’s central bank.  The BOG is empowered under the 1995 Financial Institutions Act and the Bank of Guyana Act to regulate the financial sector.  Under these regulations a bank operating in Guyana must maintain high levels of liquidity and a strong deposit and asset base.

In the middle of 2020, licensed depository financial institutions’ (LDFIs’) capital levels continued to be high, while non-performing loans (NPLs) increased marginally during the first half of 2020. The capital adequacy ratio (CAR) remained well above the prudential benchmark of 8.0 percent at 30.7 percent. The stock of NPLs deteriorated to 10.6 percent of total loans. Stress testing was performed by the Central bank with preliminary results indicating that the banking industry’s and individual institutions’ shock absorptive capacities remained adequate under the various scenarios for foreign currency and liquidity. However, vulnerabilities were observed in the investment and credit portfolios. Guyana’s Banking Stability index strengthened from -0.22 in March 2020 to 0.15 in June 2020 attributed to improvement in liquidity. The commercial banking sector grew by 7.2 percent from March 2019 to March 2020. Foreign banks seeking to open operations in Guyana are encouraged to engage with the Bank of Guyana and GO-INVEST.

Guyana has six commercial banks.  Foreign banks can provide domestic services or enter the market with a license from the BoG.  There are no restrictions on a foreigner’s ability to establish a bank account.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Guyanese Dollar (GYD) is fully convertible and transferable, and generally stable in its value against the U.S. dollar. The Guyana dollar weighted mid-rate, relevant for official transactions, remained constant at GYD 208.50 as at half year 2020. Guyana employs a de jure float exchange rate.

No limits exist on inflows or repatriation of funds. However, regulations require that all persons entering and exiting Guyana declare all currency in excess of $10,000 to customs authorities at the port of entry. It is common practice for foreign investors to use subsidiaries outside of Guyana to handle earnings generated by exports.

Remittance Policies 

There is no limit on the acquisition of foreign currency, although the government limits the amount that several state-owned firms may keep for their own purchases.  Regulations on foreign currency denominated bank accounts in Guyana allow funds to be wired in and out of the country electronically without having to go through cumbersome exchange procedures.  Foreign companies operating in Guyana have not reported experiencing government-induced difficulties in repatriating earnings in recent years.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Guyana established a sovereign wealth fund, the Natural Resource Fund (NRF), in 2019, which is governed by the 2019 Natural Resources Act in accordance with the Santiago Principles. In December 2019, the Ministry of Finance and Bank of Guyana signed an operational agreement for the NRF . However, the Ali administration, noting the NRF’s passage under a previous government, has committed to repeal and replace the act to further insulate the NRF from potential political intervention. Until the NRF is amended the GoG does not expect to access the funds which has are held in the New York Federal Reserve Bank. As at March 10, 2021, the SWF held a balance of approximately $268 million.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Guyana has ten state-owned enterprises (SOEs) including: National Industrial and Commercial Investments Ltd. (NICIL), Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO), MARDS Rice Complex Ltd., National Insurance Scheme (NIS), Guyana Power and Light (GPL), Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB), Guyana National Newspapers Ltd. (GNNL), Guyana National Shipping Corporation (GNSC) and Guyana National Printers Ltd. (GNPL).

The private sector competes with SOEs for market share, credit, and business opportunities. It is common for SOEs in Guyana to experience political interventions, driven by boards of directors filled with political appointees. Procurement on behalf of SOEs may be passed through the National Procurement and Tender Administration or handled directly by the SOE.

The Public Corporation Act requires public corporations to publish an annual report no later than six months after the end of the calendar year. These reports must be audited by an independent auditor.

Privatization Program

In the 1990s, Guyana underwent significant privatization with the divestment of many sectors.  In 1993, the Privatisation Policy Framework Paper known as the “Privatisation White Paper” was tabled in Parliament and led to the creation of the Privatisation Unit (PU). Its function was to co-ordinate the implementation of the GoG’s privatization program and was tasked with:

  • Combining the functions of the Public Corporations Secretariat (PCS) and the National Industrial & Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL);
  • Preparing for the program strategy and annual program targets for privatization or liquidation Cabinet’s approval;
  • Implementing the privatization of SOEs and assets selected for inclusion in the program;
  • Participating in negotiations for the privatization of SOEs;
  • Reviewing offers and making recommendations to Cabinet on the terms and conditions for the sale of SOEs;
  • Preparing financial and administrative audits of SOEs not selected for privatization;
  • Developing a strategy to build public understanding and support for privatization;
  • Ensuring that transparency of the privatization program is strictly respected and followed;
  • Monitoring operations of privatized entities in accordance with the terms and conditions of each respective contract;
  • Preparing for Cabinet, broad guidelines on operating policies for privatization, develop action plans for implementation, conduct a public relations campaign and help to build national consensus in support of government’s program.

Foreign investors have equal access to privatization opportunities. However, there are many reports that the process is opaque and favors politically connected local businesses. Currently, the GoG is interested in privatizing at least a portion of GUYSUCO.

U.S. firms are generally given equal access to these projects through a public bidding process. However, many bidders continue to complain about the criteria and question their unsuccessful attempt at securing a contract.  In cases where international financial institution (IFI) funding has been involved in the project, such allegations have been credibly addressed. In cases where the project relied solely on GoG funds, redress has been more problematic to achieve.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Compared to responsible business conduct (RBC) norms in North America and Europe, Guyana-based businesses lag in adopting RBC policies and activities. Most companies conform to their business responsibilities outlined by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), including human rights and labor rights, information disclosure, environment, bribery, consumer interests, science and technology, competition, and taxation. Guyana’s laws align with the guidelines for RBC by the OECD. Despite these improvements, Guyana has human rights concerns, especially involving child labor in outlying regions.

Local companies have improved RBC as firms react to increased levels of competition, partly to compete or subcontract with companies in the oil and gas sector that emphasize it.  Guyanese consumers are increasingly aware of RBC principles as the population becomes more sensitized. The GoG has expressed hope that large multinational companies will lead the way on RBC practices, setting an example for smaller local firms to follow, particularly in the extractive industries sector.  Guyana joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) as a candidate country in October 2017.  Guyana is not a signatory of the Montreux Document.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

The law provides criminal penalties for corrupt practices by public officials. The relevant laws enacted include the Integrity Commission Act, State Assets Recovery Act, and the Audit Act. Several media outlets reported on government corruption in recent years and it remains a significant public concern.  Guyana has regulations to counter conflict of interests in the award of contracts. There are instances where the previous administration engaged in those practices, and it remains to be seen if the current administration will continue the trend; new administrations often seek legal action against members of previous administrations based on charges of fraudulent dealings. Media and civil society organizations continued to criticize the government for being slow to prosecute corruption cases.  The government passed legislation in 1997 that requires public officials to disclose their assets to an Integrity Commission prior to assuming office.  There are no significant compliance programs to detect bribery of government officials.

Widespread concerns remain about inefficiencies and corruption regarding the awarding of contracts, particularly with respect to concerns of collusion and non-transparency.  In his 2020 annual report, the Auditor General noted continuous disregard for the procedures, rules, and the laws that govern public procurement system.  There were reports of overpayments of contracts and procurement breaches.  Nevertheless, the country has made some improvements. According to Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Guyana ranked 83 out of 180 countries for perceptions of corruption, falling 2 spots in comparison to 2019.

Companies interested in doing business in Guyana may contact a “watchdog” organization (international, regional, local nongovernmental organization operating in the country/economy that monitors corruption, such as Transparency International) for more information:

Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc.
157 Waterloo Street
Second Floor Private Sector Commission Building
North Cummingsburg
Georgetown
+592 231 9586
infotransparencygy@gmail.com 

10. Political and Security Environment

Guyana has a high crime rate, and violence associated with drug and gold smuggling is on the rise. The country peacefully transitioned to a new government on August 2, 2020 after a 20 month-long extra-constitutional and electoral crisis, which saw few instances of politically-incited violence. The GoG has committed to electoral reform in the wake of the 2020 electoral crisis in order to avoid electoral impasses in the future.

The security environment in the country continues to be a concern for many businesses. Businesses considering investing in Guyana are strongly encouraged to develop adequate security systems.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Guyana’s labor market is tightening due to high investments in sectors driven by the oil and gas industry. In 2020, the total population aged 15 and above residing in Guyana was 602,795. In the first quarter of 2020, the labor force participation rate was 50.4 percent. Unemployment stood at 12.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020. A concerning trend is an increase in youth unemployment, jumping from 29.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 to 30.2 percent in first quarter of 2020. Guyana has witnessed an influx of Venezuelan migrants which predominantly work in mining areas and in the restaurant industry. Chinese firms continue to invest heavily in Guyana with many companies importing Chinese workers for most of their operations. The Ali administration has committed to implement local content legislation which may include a requirement for hiring a fixed percentage of nationals. Guyana has a national insurance scheme, but social safety net programs do not exist for the general population. Strikes are common in the sugar industry and may vary with the public sector during collective bargaining sessions.

Local legislation governing labor in Guyana includes the National Insurance Act, Guyana Labour Act, Occupation Health and Safety Act, and the Termination of Severance and Pay Act.  Guyana’s Human Development Index for 2020 increased to 0.67 from 0.682. Guyana’s literacy rate is estimated at 90%. There is an ongoing push for information and communications technology curriculum in Guyana’s schools to develop a talent pool for this industry.

Guyana has one of the highest emigration rates in the world for nationals with a university degree of 89 percent. A significant number of businesses report having challenges with staff recruitment and retention.  These issues are linked to a small pool of semi-skilled and skilled workers.  Companies entering Guyana should consider training and capacity building opportunities for their employees.

The 1997 Trade Union Recognition Act requires businesses operating in Guyana to recognize and collectively bargain with the trade union selected by a majority of its workers.  The government, on occasion, has unilaterally imposed wage increases. Guyana adheres to the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention, protecting worker rights.  The private sector has a minimum monthly wage of approximately $210.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $5.1 2019 Billion www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 179.5 178 Millions BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $8.3 20xx Millions BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 20xx $Amt 20xx xx% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html   

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

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Seth Wikas
Political and Economic Counselor

Benjamin Hulefeld
Economic and Commercial Officer

Richard Leo
Economic and Commercial Specialist

Embassy of the United States of America
100 Duke and Young Streets, Kingston
Georgetown, Guyana
Telephone: + (592) 225-4900-9 Ext. 4220 and Ext. 4213
Fax: + (592) 225-8597
Email:  commercegeorgetown@state.gov 
https://gy.usembassy.gov

Peru

Executive Summary

The government of Peru (GOP)’s sound fiscal management and support of macroeconomic fundamentals contributed to the country’s region-leading economic growth since 2002. However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a severe economic contraction of over 11 percent in 2020. In response, the GOP implemented a $39.5 billion stimulus plan in July 2020, which amounted to 19 percent of GDP. To finance the increased spending, the annual deficit grew to 8.9 percent of GDP in 2020, but the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) projects that it will stabilize to 4.8 percent of GDP in 2021. GOP’s debt as a percentage of GDP increased from 26.8 percent in 2019 to 35 percent in 2020. Peru’s COVID-19 response and the perseverance of its macroeconomic stability led the IMF to project that Peru will grow its GDP by 8.5 percent in 2021, the highest growth forecast in the region. Net international reserves remained strong at $73.9 billion and inflation averaged 1.8 percent in 2020. Private sector investment comprised more than two-thirds of Peru’s total investment in 2020.

Peru fosters an open investment environment, which includes strong protections for contractual rights and property. Peru is well integrated in the global economy including with the United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (PTPA), which entered into force in 2009. Through its investment promotion agency ProInversion, Peru seeks foreign investment in its infrastructure sector and free trade zones. Prospective investors would benefit from seeking local legal counsel in navigating Peru’s complex bureaucracy.

Corruption, social conflict, and congressional populist measures negatively affects Peru’s investment climate. Transparency International ranked Peru 94th out of 180 countries in its 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index. In 2020, Peru’s health minister and foreign minister resigned after admitting they irregularly received Sinopharm trial vaccines, along with former president Vizcarra. Social conflicts also adversely affect the investment climate. According to the Ombudsman, there were 145 active social conflicts in Peru as of January 2021 of which 66 were in the mining sector. Citing, in part, a recent congressional passage of populist measures, and the possibility of future executive-legislative tension, Fitch Ratings revised the rating outlook on Peru’s Long-Term Foreign- and Local-Currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDR) to negative from stable in December of 2020.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 94 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 76 of 190 https://www.doingbusiness.org/en/doingbusiness 
Global Innovation Index 2020 76 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $7,470 https://www.bea.gov/international/di1usdbal 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $6,740 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Peru seeks to attract investment – both foreign and domestic – in nearly all sectors.. Peru reported $2 billion in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in 2020 and seeks increased investment for 2021. It has prioritized $6 billion in public-private partnership projects in transportation infrastructure, electricity, education, broadband expansion, gas distribution, health, and sanitation.

Peru’s Constitution of 1993grants national treatment for foreign investors and permits foreign investment in almost all economic sectors. Under the Peruvian Constitution, foreign investors have the same rights as national investors to benefit from investment incentives, such as tax exemptions. In addition to the Constitution of 1993, Peru has several laws governing FDI including the Foreign Investment Promotion Law (Legislative Decree (DL) 662 of September 1991) and the Framework Law for Private Investment Growth (DL 757 of November 1991). Other important laws include the Private Investment in State-Owned Enterprises Promotion Law (DL 674) and the Private Investment in Public Services Infrastructure Promotion Law (DL 758). Article 6 of Supreme Decree No. 162-92-EF (the implementing regulations of DLs 662 and 757) authorized private investment in all industries except within natural protected areas and weapons manufacturing.

Peru and the United States benefit from the United States-Peru Free Trade Agreement (PTPA), which entered into force on February 1, 2009. The PTPA established a secure, predictable legal framework for U.S. investors in Peru. The PTPA protects all forms of investment. U.S. investors enjoy the right to establish, acquire, and operate investments in Peru on an equal footing with local investors in almost all circumstances. https://ustr.gov/trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements/peru-tpa

The GOP created the investment promotion agency ProInversion in 2002 to manage privatizations and concessions of state-owned enterprises and natural resource-based industries. The agency currently manages private concession processes in the energy, education, transportation, health, sanitation, and telecommunication sectors, and organizes international roadshow events to attract investors. Major recent and upcoming concessions include ports, water treatment plants, power generation facilities, mining projects, electrical transmission lines, oil and gas distribution, and telecommunications. Project opportunities are available on ProInversion’s website: https://www.proyectosapp.pe/default.aspx?ARE=1&PFL=0&sec=30. Companies are required to register all foreign investments with ProInversion.

The National Competitiveness Plan 2019 – 2030 outlines Peru’s economic growth strategy for the next decade and seeks to close the country’s $110 billion infrastructure gap. The plan was supplemented by a National Infrastructure Plan in July 2019, which identified 52 infrastructure projects keyed to critical sectors. Priority projects include two Lima metro lines, an expansion of Jorge Chavez International Airport, and multiple energy projects including electricity transmission lines. Peru reported in February 2021 that the energy projects had advanced significantly while many transport and agricultural projects suffered significant delays. Of note, the Ministry of Transportation prioritized the Fourth Metro Line and Central Highway, each multi-billion dollar projects, which were not included in the National Infrastructure Plan. Peru maintains an investment research portal to promote these infrastructure investment opportunities: https://www.mef.gob.pe/es/aplicativos-invierte-pe?id=5455

Although Peruvian administrations since the 1990s have supported private investments, Peru occasionally passes measures that some observers regard as a contravention of its open, free market orientation. In December 2011, Peru signed into law a 10-year moratorium on the entry of live genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for cultivation. In December 2020, the moratorium was extended an additional 15 years and will now remain enforced until 2035. Peru also implemented two sets of rules for importing pesticides, one for commercial importers, which requires importers to file a full dossier with technical information, and another for end-user farmers, which only requires a written affidavit.

Peru reformed its agricultural labor laws in 2020 impacting labor costs and tax incentives that could adversely affect investors in Peru’s agricultural sector. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated U.S. direct investment in the agriculture sector to reach $1.3 billion in 2021.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Peru’s Constitution (Article 6 under Supreme Decree No. 162-92-EF) authorizes foreign investors to carry out economic activity provided that investors comply with all constitutional precepts, laws, and treaties. Exceptions exist, including exclusion of foreign investment activities in natural protected reserves and military weapons manufacturing. Peruvian law requires majority Peruvian ownership in media; air, land and maritime transportation infrastructure; and private security surveillance services. Foreign interests cannot “acquire or possess under any title, mines, lands, forests, waters, or fuel or energy sources” within 50 kilometers of Peru’s international borders. However, foreigners can obtain concessions in these areas and in certain cases the GOP may grant a waiver. The GOP does not screen, review, or approve foreign direct investment outside of those sectors that require a governmental waiver.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) published a Trade Policy Review (HYPERLINK “https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp493_e.htm” https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp493_e.htm) on Peru in October 2019. The WTO commented that foreign investors received the same legal treatment as local investors in general, although Peru restricted foreign investment on property at the country’s borders, and in air transport and broadcasting. The report highlighted the government’s ongoing efforts to promote public-private partnerships (PPPs) and strengthen the PPP legal framework with Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) principles. The report noted that Peru maintained a regime open to domestic and foreign investment that fostered competition and equal treatment.

Peru aspires to become a member of the OECD and launched an OECD Country Program in 2014, comprising policy reviews and capacity building projects. The OECD published the Initial Assessment of its Multi-Dimensional Review in 2015 (https://www.oecd.org/countries/peru/multi-dimensional-review-of-peru-9789264243279-en.htm), finding that, in spite of economic growth, Peru “still faces structural challenges to escape the middle-income trap and consolidate its emerging middle class.” In every year since this study was published, Peru has enacted and implemented dozens of reforms to modernize its governance practices in line with OECD recommendations. Recent OECD studies on Peru include: Investing in Youth (April 2019), Digital Government (June 2019), Pension Systems (September 2019), Transport Regulation (February 2020), and Tax Transparency (April 2020). Peru has adhered to 45 of OECD’s 248 existing legal instruments, but its accession roadmap remains unclear.

Peru has not had a third-party investment policy review through the OECD or UNCTAD in the past three years.

Business Facilitation

The GOP does not have a regulatory system to facilitate business operations but the Institute for the Protection of Intellectual Property, Consumer Protection, and Competition (INDECOPI) reviews the enactment of new regulations by government entities that can place burdens on business operations. INDECOPI has the authority to block any new business regulation. INDECOPI also has a Commission for Elimination of Bureaucratic Barriers : https://www.indecopi.gob.pe/web/eliminacion-de-barreras-burocraticas/presentacion.

Peru allows foreign business ownership, provided that a company has at least two shareholders and that its legal representative is a Peruvian resident. Businesses must reserve a company name through the national registry, SUNARP, and prepare a deed of incorporation through a Citizen and Business Services Portal (https://www.serviciosalciudadano.gob.pe/). After a deed is signed, businesses must file with a public notary, pay notary fees of up to one percent of a company’s capital, and submit the deed to the Public Registry. The company’s legal representative must obtain a certificate of registration and tax identification number from the national tax authority SUNAT (www.sunat.gob.pe). Finally, the company must obtain a license from the municipality of the jurisdiction in which it is located. Depending on the core business, companies might need to obtain further government approvals such as: sanitary, environmental, or educational authorizations.

Outward Investment

The GOP promotes outward investment by Peruvian entities through the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism (MINCETUR). Trade Commission Offices of Peru (OCEX), under the supervision of Peru’s export promotion agency (PromPeru), are located in numerous countries, including the United States, and promote the export of Peruvian goods and services and inward foreign investment. The GOP does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Laws and regulations most relevant to foreign investors are enacted and implemented at the national level. Most ministries and agencies make draft regulations available for public comment. El Peruano, the state’s official gazette, publishes regulations at the national, regional, and municipal level. Ministries generally maintain current regulations on their websites. Rule-making and regulatory authority also exists through executive agencies specific to different sectors. The Supervisory Agency for Forest Resources and Wildlife (OSINFOR), the Supervisory Agency for Energy and Mining (OSINERGMIN), and the Supervisory Agency for Telecommunications (OSIPTEL), all of which report directly to the President of the Council of Ministers, can enact new regulations that affect investments in the economic sectors they manage. These agencies also have the right to enforce regulations with fines. Regulation is generally reviewed on the basis of scientific and data-driven assessments, but public comments are not always received or made public.

Accounting, legal, and regulatory standards are consistent with international norms. Peru’s Accounting Standards Council endorses the use of IFRS standards by private entities. Public finances and debt obligations, including explicit and contingent liabilities, are transparent and publicly available at the Ministry of Economy and Finance website: https://www.mef.gob.pe/es/estadisticas-sp-18642/deuda-del-sector-publico.

International Regulatory Considerations

Peru is a member of regional economic blocs. Under the Pacific Alliance, Peru looks to harmonize regulations and reduce barriers to trade with other members: Chile, Colombia, and Mexico. Peru is a member of the Andean Community (CAN), which issues supranational regulations – based on consensus of its members – that supersede domestic provisions.

Peru follows international food standard bodies, including: CODEX Alimentarius, World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) guidelines for Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) standards. When CODEX does not have limits or standards established for a product, Peru defaults to the U.S. maximum residue level or standard. Peru’s system is more aligned with the U.S. regulatory system and standards than with its other trading partners. Peru notifies all agricultural-related technical regulations to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) committee.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Peru uses a civil law system. Peru’s civil code includes a contract section and a general corporations law that regulates companies. Peru’s civil court resolves conflicts between companies. Companies can also access conflict resolution services in civil courts for conflicts and litigation for which a legal claim has been filed. Litigation processes in Peruvian courts are slow.

Peru has an independent judiciary. The executive branch does not interfere with the judiciary as a matter of policy. Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable through administrative process and the court system. Peru is in the process of reforming its justice system. The National Justice Board (Junta Nacional de Justicia), which began operating in January 2020, supervises the selection processes, appointments, evaluations, and disciplinary actions for judges.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Peru has a stable and attractive legal framework used to promote private investment. The 1993 Peruvian Constitution includes provisions that establish principles to ensure a favorable legal framework for private investment, particularly for foreign investment. A key principle is equal treatment to domestic and foreign investment. Some of the main private investment regulations include:

  • Legislative Decree 662 that approves foreign investment legal stability regulations,
  • Legislative Decree 757 that approves the private investment growth framework law, and
  • Supreme Decree 162-92-EF that approves private investment guarantee mechanism regulations

Peru’s legal system is available to investors. All laws relevant to foreign investment along with pertinent explanations and forms can be found on the ProInversion website: https://www.proinversion.gob.pe/modulos/LAN/landing.aspx?are=1&pfl=1&lan=9&tit=institucional .

Competition and Antitrust Laws

INDECOPI is the GOP agency responsible for reviewing competition-related concerns of a domestic nature. Congress published a mergers and acquisitions (M&A) control law in January 2021. The law requires INDECOPI to review and approve M&As involving companies, including multinationals, that have combined annual sales or gross earnings over $146 million in Peru and if the value of the sales or annual gross earnings in Peru of two or more of the companies involved in the proposed M&A operation exceed $22 million each.

A legislative decree issued in September 2018 (DL 1444) modified the public procurement law to allow government agencies to use government-to-government (G2G) agreements to facilitate procurement processes.  The GOP sees this G2G procurement model as a method for expediting priority infrastructure projects in a manner that is more transparent and less susceptible to corruption. The USG, however, does not have a mechanism to support Peru’s G2G contracts and the U.S. Embassy has raised concerns with the GOP that its use limits U.S. firms’ participation in infrastructure solicitations. Peru expanded the use of G2G agreements in 2020 to include large infrastructure projects including a $1.6 billion general reconstruction initiative (related to damages caused by the El Nino event of 2017) and a $5 billion Lima metro line project.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Peruvian Constitution states that Peru can only expropriate private property based on public interest, such as public works projects or for national security. Article 70 of the Constitution states that the State can only expropriate through a judicial process, prior mandate of the law, and after payment of compensation, which must include compensation for possible damage. Peruvian law bases compensation for expropriation on fair market value. Article 70 also guarantees the inviolability of private property.

Illegal expropriation of foreign investment has been alleged in the extractive industry. A U.S. company alleged indirect expropriation due to changes in regulatory standards. Landowners have also alleged indirect expropriation due to government inaction and corruption in “land-grab” cases that have, at times, been linked to local government endorsed projects.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention, and PTPA

Peru is a party to the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention) and to the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID convention). Disputes between foreign investors and the GOP regarding pre-existing contracts must still enter national courts, unless otherwise permitted, such as through provisions found in the PTPA. In addition, investors who enter into a juridical stability agreement may submit disputes with the government to national or international arbitration if stipulated in the agreement. Several private organizations – including the American Chamber of Commerce, the Lima Chamber of Commerce, and the Catholic University – operate private arbitration centers. The quality of such centers varies and investors should choose arbitration venues carefully.

The PTPA includes a chapter on dispute settlement, which applies to implementation of the Agreement’s core obligations, including labor and environment provisions. Dispute panel procedures set high standards of openness and transparency through the following measures: open public hearings, public release of legal submissions by parties, admission of special labor or environment expertise for disputes in these areas, and opportunities for interested third parties to submit views. The Agreement emphasizes compliance through consultation and trade-enhancing remedies and encourages arbitration and other alternative dispute resolution measures.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The PTPA provides investor-state claim mechanisms. It does not require that an investor exhaust local judicial or administrative remedies before a claim is filed. The investor may submit a claim under various arbitral mechanisms, including the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and ICSID Rules of Procedure, the ICSID Additional Facility Rules, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Arbitration Rules, or, if the disputants agree, any other arbitration institution or rules. Peru has paid previous arbitral awards; however, a U.S. court found in one case that Peru altered its tax code prior to payment, thus reducing interest payments.

In February 2016, a U.S. investor filed a Notice of Intent to pursue international arbitration against the GOP for violation of the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement. The investor, which refiled its claim in August 2016, holds agrarian land reform bonds that it argues the GOP has undervalued.

In September 2019, a U.S. investor filed an arbitration claim against the GOP over alleged interference over environmental permitting and contractual issues for a hydro power project.

In February 2020, a claimant filed an arbitration claim against Peru for violation of the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement regarding a tax and royalty dispute between its mining subsidiary and Peru’s tax authority SUNAT.

There is no recent history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The 1993 Constitution allows disputes among foreign investors and the government or state-controlled enterprises to be submitted to international arbitration.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Peru has a creditor rights hierarchy similar to that established under U.S. bankruptcy law, and monetary judgments are usually made in the currency stipulated in the contract. However, administrative bankruptcy procedures are slow and subject to judicial intervention. Compounding this difficulty are occasional laws passed to protect specific debtors from action by creditors that would force them into bankruptcy or liquidation. In August 2016, the GOP extended the period for bankruptcy from one to two years. Peru does not criminalize bankruptcy. World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report ranked Peru 90 of 190 countries for ease of “resolving insolvency.”

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Peru offers foreign and national investors legal and tax stability agreements to stimulate private investment. These agreements guarantee that the statutes on income taxes, remittances, export promotion regimes (such as drawbacks, or refunds of duties), administrative procedures, and labor hiring regimes in effect at the time of the investment contract will remain unchanged for that investment for 10 years. To qualify, an investment must exceed $10 million in the mining and hydrocarbons sectors or $5 million within two years in other sectors. An agreement to acquire more than 50 percent of a state-owned company’s shares in a privatization process may also qualify an investor for a legal or tax stability agreement, provided that the added investment will expand the installed capacity of the company or enhance its technological development.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Peru was accepted as a member of the Association of Free Zones of the Americas (AZFA) as well as the World Free Zone Organization (WFZO) in 2019. Peru has seven Special Economic Zones (SEZ): a Free Zone in Tacna, and Special Development Zones (SDZ) in Ilo, Matarani, Paita, Tumbes, Loreto and Puno (the last three are not in operation). Companies can become SEZ users through public auctions. This condition gives them access to tax benefits and customs advantages promoting entry, permanence, and exit facilitation procedures for goods and tax exemptions in the development of their activities. Benefits include:

Taxes

  • Income Tax exemption (rate outside of the SEZ is 29.5 percent)
  • General Sales Tax (IGV) exemption (rate outside of the SEZ is 16 percent)
  • Municipal Promotion Tax exemption (rate outside of the SEZ is 2 percent)
  • Excise Tax (ISC) exemption (rate outside of the SEZ goes from 2 to 30 percent depending on the product)
  • Ad Valorem tariff exemption when importing products from overseas (rates outside of the SEZ are 0, 6, and 11 percent); and
  • Exemption from all central, regional or municipal government taxes created in the future, except for social security (EsSalud) contributions and fees

Customs

  • Entry of machinery, equipment, raw materials and supplies from abroad is eligible to the suspension of import duties and taxes payments
  • Indefinite permanence of goods within the SEZ, as long as company maintains user status
  • Products manufactured in the SEZ can be exported directly without having to undergo a nationalization customs regime
  • Products manufactured in the SEZ can be entered into national territory under international agreements and conventions; and
  • Entry of goods into the SEZ is direct and does not require prior storage

MINCETUR Supreme Decree 005-2019 published in August 2019, implemented regulations for the SDZ of Tumbes, Ilo, Matarani and Paita. SDZ businesses can perform activities in seven economic sectors: industrial, logistics, repair/overhaul, telecommunications, information technology, scientific, technological research, and development. SDZs enjoy the same economic benefits as the SEZs. The MINCETUR Foreign Trade Facilitation Office oversees Peru’s free trade zones.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Under the PTPA, Peru made concessions beyond its commitments to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Peru does not maintain any measures that are inconsistent with Trade-Related Investment Measure (TRIM) requirements, according to a WTO Committee on Trade-Related Investment Measure notification dated August 19, 2010.

Current law limits foreign employees to 20 percent of the total number of employees in a local company (whether owned by foreign or national interests). However, under the PTPA, Peru does not to apply most of its nationality-based hiring requirements to U.S. professionals and specialty personnel.

A company’s combined salaries of foreign employees are limited to no more than 30 percent of its payroll. However, DL 689 from November 1991 provides a variety of exceptions to these limits. For example, a foreigner is not counted against a company’s total if they hold an immigrant visa, are an investor in the company, or are a national of a country that has a reciprocal labor or dual nationality agreement with Peru. The United States and Peru recognize dual nationality but do not have a formal agreement. The law exempts foreign banks, and international transportation companies from these hiring limits, as well as all firms located in free trade zones. Companies may apply for exemptions from the limitations for managerial or technical personnel.

The process to obtain a Peruvian visa or permit for residency or work can be cumbersome and lengthy.

Data Storage

Peru adopted the Personal Data Protection Law (Law Number 29733) 2011 and went into effect in 2013. A data controller who processes personal data must notify the National Authority for Personal Data Protection (ANPDP for its Spanish acronym), which maintains a public register. Personal data is defined as any information on an individual which identifies or makes him/her identifiable through reasonable means. Personal data includes: biometric data; data on racial and ethnic origin; political, religious, philosophical or moral opinions or convictions; personal habits; union membership; and information related to health or sexual preference. Unless otherwise exempted by statute, data controllers are generally required to obtain the consent of data subjects for the processing of personal data. Consent must be prior, informed, expressed, and unequivocal. A data controller may transfer personal data to places outside of Peru only if the recipients have adequate protection measures.

Data controllers must adopt technical, organizational, and legal measures to guarantee the security of personal data and avoid their alteration, loss, unauthorized processing or access. Peru’s law does not require any notifications to any data subject or any other entity upon a breach. Peru does not mandate special regulations be enacted for the processing of personal data of minors. The ANPDP is responsible for enforcement and can issue administrative sanctions/fines based upon whether the violation is mild, serious or very serious. The law provides a “principle for availability of recourse for the data subject” stating that any data subject must have the administrative and/or jurisdictional channel necessary to claim and enforce his/her rights when they are violated by the processing of his/her personal data. There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption.

In January 2020, Peru established the Digital Trust Framework (Urgency Decree 007-2020) which provides for personal data protection and transparency, consumer protection, and digital security. The law established the National Digital Secretariat under the Prime Minister’s Office as the overall coordinator and digital trust governing body but placed data protection and transparency under the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights MINJUS (The ANPDP falls under MINJUS). The order created a national data center as a digital platform to manage, direct, articulate, and supervise the operation, education, promotion, collaboration and cooperation of data nationwide.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report ranked Peru 55 of 190 for ease of “registering property.” Peru enforces property rights and interests.  Mortgages and liens exist, and the recording system is reliable, performed by SUNARP, the National Superintendency of Public Records. Foreigners and/or non-resident investors cannot own land within 50 km of a border.

Intellectual Property Rights

Peru is listed on the Watch List in the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR’s) 2021 Special 301 Report, and the Polvos Azules market is included on USTR’s the 2020 Notorious Markets List. The primary reasons for Watch List inclusion are the long-standing implementation issues with the intellectual property provisions of the PTPA, particularly with respect to establishing statutory damages for copyright infringement and trademark counterfeiting.

Peru’s legal framework provides for easy registration of trademarks, and inventors have been able to patent their inventions since 1994. Peruvian law does not provide pipeline protection for patents or protection from parallel imports. Peru’s Copyright Law is generally consistent with the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS).

Peruvian law provides the same protections for U.S. companies as Peruvian companies in all intellectual property rights (IPR) categories under the PTPA and other international commitments such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Peru joined the Global Patent Prosecution Highway Agreement (GPPH) with Japan effective in 2019. Peru is reinforcing its Patent Support System with the adoption of the WIPO Technology and Innovation Support Center (TISC) Program.

INDECOPI is a reliable partner for the U.S. government, the private sector, and civil society, having made good faith efforts to decrease the trademark and patent registration backlog and filing time. Although INDECOPI is the GOP agency charged with promoting and defending intellectual property rights, IPR enforcement also involves other GOP agencies and offices, including: the Public Ministry (Fiscalia), the Peruvian National Police (PNP), the Tax and Customs Authority (SUNAT), the Ministry of Production (PRODUCE), the Judiciary, and the Ministry of Health’s (MINSA’s) Directorate General for Medicines (DIGEMID).

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Peru allows foreign portfolio investment and does not place restrictions on international transactions. The private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments. Peruvian mutual funds managed $12.7 billion in December 2020. Private pension funds managed a total of $47.2 billion in December 2020.

The Lima Stock Exchange (BVL) is a member of the Integrated Latin American Market, which includes stock markets from Pacific Alliance countries (Peru, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico). As of July 2018, mutual funds registered in Pacific Alliance countries may trade in the Lima Stock Exchange.

The Securities Market Superintendent (SMV) regulates the securities and commodities markets. SMV’s mandate includes controlling securities market participants, maintaining a transparent and orderly market, setting accounting standards, and publishing financial information about listed companies. SMV requires stock issuers to report events that may affect the stock, the company, or any public offerings. Trading on insider information is a crime, with some reported prosecutions in past years. SMV must vet all firms listed on the Lima Stock Exchange or the Public Registry of Securities. SMV also maintains the Public Registry of Securities and Stock Brokers.

London Stock Exchange Group FTSE Russell downgraded Peru from Secondary Emerging Market to Frontier status in March 2020. In a statement, the BVL stated that the decision is not necessarily replicable among the other index providers adding that Morgan Stanley Capital International, which is considered a main benchmark for emerging markets, is not expected to reconsider the BVL’s status.

Money and Banking System

Peru’s banking sector is highly consolidated. Sixteen commercial banks account for 90 percent of the financial system’s total assets, valued at $164 billion in December of 2020. In 2020, three banks accounted for 72 percent of loans and 70 percent of deposits among commercial banks. Peru has a relatively low level of access to financial services at 50 percent, particularly outside Lima and major urban areas.

The Central Bank of Peru (BCRP) is an independent institution, free to manage monetary policy to maintain financial stability. The BCRP’s primary goal is to maintain price stability via inflation targeting between one to three percent. Year-end inflation reached 1.8 percent in 2020.

The banking system is considered generally sound, thanks to the GOP’s lessons learned during the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis. Non-performing bank loans accounted for 3.8 percent of gross loans as of December 2020, an increase from the three percent registered in 2019. The rapid implementation of the $39.5 billion BCRP loan guarantee program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic attenuated loan default risk, but banks are still expected to feel an impact on credit operations within sensitive sectors such as tourism, services, and retail.

Under the PTPA, U.S. financial service suppliers have full rights to establish subsidiaries or branches for banks and insurance companies. Peruvian law and regulations do not authorize or encourage private firms to adopt articles of incorporation or association to limit or restrict foreign participation. However, larger private firms often use “cross-shareholding” and “stable shareholder” arrangements to restrict investment by outsiders – not necessarily foreigners – in their firms. As close families or associates often control ownership of Peruvian corporations, hostile takeovers are practically non-existent. In the past few years, several companies from the region, China, North America, and Europe have begun actively buying local companies in power transmission, retail trade, fishmeal production, and other industries. While foreign banks are allowed to freely establish banks in the country, they are subject to the supervision of Peru’s Superintendent of Banks and Securities (SBS).

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

There were no reported difficulties in obtaining foreign exchange. Under Article 64 of the Constitution, the GOP guarantees the freedom to hold and dispose of foreign currency. Exporters and importers are not required to channel foreign exchange transactions through the Central Bank and can conduct transactions freely on the open market. Anyone may open and maintain foreign currency accounts in Peruvian commercial banks. Under the PTPA, portfolio managers in the United States are able to provide portfolio management services to both mutual funds and pension funds in Peru, including funds that manage Peru’s privatized social security accounts.

The Constitution guarantees free convertibility of currency. However, limited capital controls still exist as private pension fund managers (AFPs) are constrained by how much of their portfolio can be invested in foreign securities. The maximum limit is set by law (currently 50 percent since July 2011), but the BCRP sets the operating limit AFPs can invest abroad. Over the years, the BCRP has gradually increased the operating limit. Peru reached the 50 percent limit in September 2018.

The foreign exchange market mostly operates freely. Funds associated with any form of investment can be freely converted into any world currency. To quell “extreme variations” of the exchange rate, the BCRP intervenes through purchases and sales in the open market without imposing controls on exchange rates or transactions. Since 2014,BCRP has pursued de-dollarization to reduce dollar denominated loans in the market and purchased U.S. dollars to mitigate the risk that spillover from expansionary U.S. monetary policy might result in over-valuation of the Peruvian Sol relative to the U.S. dollar. In December 2020, dollar-denominated loans reached 22 percent, and deposits 32 percent.

The U.S. Dollar averaged PEN 3.49 per $1 in 2020.

Remittance Policies

Article 7 of the Legislative Decree 662 issued in 1991 provided that foreign investors may send, in freely convertible currencies, remittances of the entirety of their capital derived from investments, including the sale of shares, stocks or rights, capital reduction or partial or total liquidation of companies, the entirety of their dividends or proven net profit derived from their investments, and any considerations for the use or enjoyment of assets that are physically located in Peru, as registered with the competent national entity, without a prior authorization from any national government department or decentralized public entities, or regional or municipal Governments, after having paid all the applicable taxes.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Peru’s Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) manages the Fiscal Stabilization Fund which serves as a buffer for the GOP’s fiscal accounts in the event of adverse economic conditions. It consists of treasury surplus, concessional fees, and privatization proceeds, and is capped at four percent of GDP. The fund was nearly completely exhausted to finance increased spending in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, dropping from $5.5 billion at the end of 2019 to $1 million at the end of 2020. The Fund is not a party to the IMF International Working Group or a signatory to the Santiago Principles.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Peru wholly owns 35 state-owned enterprises (SOEs), 34 of which are under the parastatal conglomerate FONAFE. The list of SOEs under FONAFE can be found here: https://www.fonafe.gob.pe/empresasdelacorporacion . FONAFE appoints an independent board of directors for each SOE using a transparent selection process. There is no notable third-party analysis on SOEs’ ties to the government. The largest SOE is PetroPeru which refines oil, operates Peru’s main oil pipeline, and maintains a stake in select concessions. SOE ownership practices are generally consistent with OECD guidelines.

Privatization Program

The GOP initiated an extensive privatization program in 1991, in which foreign investors were encouraged to participate. Since 2000, the GOP has promoted multi-year concessions as a means of attracting investment in major projects, including a 30-year concession to a private group (Lima Airport Partners) to operate the Lima airport in 2000 and a 30-year concession to Dubai Ports World to improve and operate a new container terminal in the Port of Callao in 2006.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Peru has legal and regulatory frameworks to support responsible business conduct (RBC) standards. However, Peru does not have a holistic action plan or national standards for RBC, and there are still challenges of enforcement – particularly in remote regions of the country and with respect to informal workers, indigenous people, and other vulnerable groups. Many multinational companies already adhere to high standards for RBC. Several independent NGOs freely monitor and promote RBC. Standards for conduct on environmental, social, and governance issues are implemented through sector-specific regulation. The UN Working Group on Business & Human Rights is pressing Peru to join the Voluntary Principles on Human Rights and Security Initiative as part of its work towards implementing the UN Principles.

Given its importance to the Peruvian economy, the extractives sector has been a GOP priority for promoting RBC. Supreme Decree No. 042-2003-EM promotes social responsibility in the mining sector, encouraging local employment opportunities, support to communities’ projects, development activities, and purchase of local goods and services. The decree requires mining companies to publish an annual report on sustainable development activities. In 2012, Peru was listed as a compliant country under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), as the GOP and extractive industries openly publish all company payments and government revenues from oil, gas, and mining. The EITI Board found that Peru had made meaningful progress in meeting the EITI Standard in its first Validation in 2017. The EITI Board will review Peru for revalidation on October 1, 2021.

ProInversion serves as the National Point of Contact (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (MNE), to which Peru is an adherent. The NCP participates in activities with the NCP OECD Network located in 50 countries and is in permanent coordination with the OECD Responsible Business Conduct working group.

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Generally, corruption in Peru is widespread and systematic, affecting all levels of government and the whole of society, which, until recently, had developed a high tolerance to corruption. Embezzlement, collusion, bribery, extortion or fraud in the justice system, politics and public works, by high level authorities or key public officers is common. In public procurement, weak control and risk management systems, lack of ethical or integrity values among some public officials, lack of transparency and accountability in procurement processes, social tolerance of corruption, and minimal or no enforcement contribute to the problem. This embedded dynamic has eroded trust, credibility and integrity of public entities and engendered mistrust in the private sector.

Between 2019 and 2020, Peru improved three points and climbed 11 positions (to 94 among 189 countries) in Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index. This progress reflected GOP investigations and reforms over the past two years. The reforms included eliminating parliamentary immunity and creating a new judicial oversight body, but also the prohibition of convicted criminals from running for elected office and campaign finance reform.

It is illegal in Peru for a public official or an employee to accept any type of outside remuneration for the performance of his or her official duties. The law extends to family members of officials and to political parties. In 2019, Peru made the irregular financing of political campaigns a crime, carrying penalties up to eight years jail time. Peru has ratified both the UN Convention against Corruption and the Organization of American States Inter-American Convention against Corruption. Peru has signed the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions and has adopted OECD public sector integrity standards through the GOP’s National Integrity and Anticorruption Plan.

The Public Auditor (Contraloria) oversees public administration. In January 2017, the GOP passed legislative decrees extending the scope of civil penalties for domestic acts of bribery, including by NGOs, corporate partners, board members, and parent companies if its subsidiaries acted under authorization.  Penalties include an indefinite exclusion from government contracting and substantially increased fines. The Public Auditor also began auditing reconstruction projects in parallel to the project, rather than after project implementation, in an effort to improve transparency. It is also running parallel audits to the different government actions at all levels (central, regional, and local) to combat the COVID-19 crisis. In one of the largest transnational bribery scandals in Latin America, the Peruvian company admitted in a 2016 settlement with the United States, Brazil, and Switzerland that it had paid $29 million in bribery between 2004 and 2015. High-ranking officials from the last four Peruvian administrations have also been investigated in connection with the scandal, including former presidents. U.S. firms have reported problems resulting from corruption, usually in government procurement processes and in the judicial sector, with defense and police procurement generally considered among the most problematic.

In one of the largest transnational bribery scandals in Latin America, the Peruvian company admitted in a 2016 settlement with the United States, Brazil, and Switzerland that it had paid $29 million in bribery between 2004 and 2015. High-ranking officials from the last four Peruvian administrations have also been investigated in connection with the scandal, including former presidents. U.S. firms have reported problems resulting from corruption, usually in government procurement processes and in the judicial sector, with defense and police procurement generally considered among the most problematic.

Resources to Report Corruption

Secretary of Public Integrity of the Prime Minister Office and General Coordinator
Eloy Munive Pariona
Jr. Carabaya Cdra. 1 S/N – Lima,
(51) (1) 219-7000, ext. 1137
emunive@pcm.gob.pe

General Comptroller’s Office
Jr. Camilo Carrillo 114, Jesus Maria, Lima
(51) (1) 330-3000
contraloria@contraloria.gob.pe

ProEtica, the Peruvian chapter of Transparency International
Samuel Rotta
Executive Director
Calle Manco Capac 816, Miraflores, Lima
(51) (1) 446-8581, 446-8941, 446-8943
srotta@proetica.org.pe 

10. Political and Security Environment

According to the Ombudsman, there were 145 active social conflicts in Peru as of January 2021. Although political violence against investors is rare, protests are common. In many cases, protestors sought public services not provided by the government. Widespread protests in late 2020 across several agricultural producing regions resulted in the repeal and rewriting of the nation’s major agricultural law. Protests related to extractives activities stopped operations of Peru’s northern oil pipeline for nearly two months in 2018 and effectively closed Peru’s second largest copper mine, Las Bambas for a month in early 2019. In October 2019, protests erupted in the mining province of Arequipa over Peru’s approval of a construction license for a Mexican copper company, which indefinitely halted its $1.4 billion plan for a copper mine project.

Violence remains a concern in coca-growing regions. The Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso, “SL”) narco-terrorist organization continued to conduct a limited number of attacks in its base of operations in the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM) emergency zone, which includes parts of Ayacucho, Cusco, Huancavelica, Huanuco, and Junin regions. Estimates vary, but most experts and Peruvian security services assess SL membership numbers between 250 and 300, including 60 to 150 armed fighters. SL collects “revolutionary taxes” from those involved in the drug trade and, for a price, provides security and transportation services for drug trafficking organizations to support its terrorist activities.

At present, there is little government presence in the remote coca-growing zones of the VRAEM. The U.S. Embassy in Lima restricts visits by official personnel to these areas because of the threat of violence by narcotics traffickers and columns of the Shining Path. Information about insecure areas and recommended personal security practices can be found at http://www.osac.gov  or http://travel.state.gov.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Labor is abundant, although several large investment projects in recent years led to localized shortages of highly skilled workers in some fields. According to the National Bureau for Statistics (INEI), 75.3 percent of the labor force is informal. Unemployment was 7.4 percent in 2020. Unemployment is most prevalent among 14-24 year olds (14.7 percent unemployment in 2020). Additionally, 96 percent of unemployed people reside in urban areas.

Workers in Peru are usually paid monthly. Some workers, like formal miners, are relatively highly paid and also (per statute) receive a share of company profits up to a maximum total annual amount of 18 times their base monthly salary. The statutory monthly minimum wage is PEN 930/month ($266 USD). INEI estimated the poverty line to be PEN 344/month ($99) per person, although it varied by region due to different living costs. Many workers in the unregulated informal sector, most of them self-employed, make less than the minimum wage. Peru’s labor law provides for a 48-hour workweek and one day of rest, and requires companies to pay overtime for more than eight hours of work per day and additional compensation for work at night.

Peru does not have a specific unemployment insurance program, however, the “Compensation for Time of Service” (CTS) requirement mandates an employer pay one month’s salary of an employee per year of work into the employee’s CTS Account. When the employee stops working for the employer (willingly or not), she/he can access the CTS Account. In addition, a fired employee receives one month’s salary per year worked, up to a maximum of twelve months.

In 2020, the government announced implementation of a leave without pay policy to address employers’ inability to pay worker salaries due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To support furloughed workers, the government offered a PEN 760 ($217) monthly cash transfer, allowed workers near retirement to access a portion of their accrued national pension accounts, and covered them under EsSalud, the public health insurance system for formal workers.

Peru’s Decree Law 22342 from 1978 and Law 27360 from 2000 relaxed labor laws for the non-traditional exports (NTE) sector, which includes textiles and certain agricultural products. The laws allowed businesses in the NTE and agricultural sectors to employ workers indefinitely on consecutive short-term contracts, in contrast to the five-year limit on consecutive short-term contracts in place for other sectors. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor identified serious concerns that provisions may violate the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement by infringing on workers’ freedom of association. In December 2020, acting in response to unrelated agricultural worker protests, Congress repealed a 2019 Executive Order (Urgency Decree 043-2019) that had extended the exemptions until 2031.

Labor unions are independent of the government and employers. Approximately six percent of Peru’s private sector labor force was organized in 2017 (latest date available), with unionization highest in electricity, water, construction, and mining (from 39 percent to 22 percent) and generally low in the rest of the economy. The labor procedure law (No.29497) requires the resolution of labor conflicts in less than six months, allows unions or their representatives to appear in court on behalf of workers, requires proceedings to be conducted orally and video-recorded, and relieves the employee from the burden of proving an employer-employee relationship.

Either unions or management can request binding arbitration in contract negotiations. Strikes can be called only after approval by a majority of all workers (union and non-union), voting by secret ballot, and only in defense of labor rights. Unions in essential public services, as determined by the government, must provide a sufficient number of workers during a strike to maintain operations.

While the government has made improvements in recent years, it often does not dedicate sufficient personnel and resources to labor law enforcement. The Ministry of Labor created the National Labor Inspectorate Superintendent (SUNAFIL) in 2014 and oversees regional offices to represent the labor inspectorate nationally. In 2020, SUNAFIL had 800 labor inspectors. SUNAFIL labor inspectors also help identify and investigate cases of forced and child labor. Additional information on forced labor in Peru can be found in the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report: https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report-2019.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $203,527 2019 $226,848 https://data.worldbank.org/country/peru 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $2,776 2019 $7,470 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/di1usdbal 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $209 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/di1fdibal 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 50.1% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/pages/diae/
world%20investment%20report/
country-fact-sheets.aspx 

* Source for Host Country Data: Peru’s Central Bank of Reserve , ProInversion .

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

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Esteban Sandoval
Senior Economic Specialist
U.S. Embassy Peru
+51 1-618-2672
sandovalej@state.gov

Suriname

Executive Summary

The government of Suriname (GOS) officially supports and encourages business development through local and foreign investment. The overall investment climate favors U.S. investors with experience working in developing countries. To attract FDI, authorities have planned to update institutional and legal frameworks to protect investors and eliminate restrictions regarding investment income transfers and control related FDI flows. However, the World Trade Organization’s 2019 Trade Policy Review concluded that Suriname’s investment regime has not changed since its last review in 2013.  The report states that the overall regime, particularly the approval of FDI, may be discretionary rather than rules-based.

The extractives sector has historically attracted significant foreign direct investment, but numerous factors negatively impact the investment climate as a whole. These factors include an unclear process for awarding concessions and public tenders, corruption, institutional capacity constraints, and a lack of overall transparency. In January 2020, Apache and Total announced a “significant oil discovery” off the coast of Suriname, followed by similar discoveries in April 2020, July 2020, and January 2021. In December 2020, Malaysian national oil company Petronas and ExxonMobil announced a discovery of hydrocarbons in Suriname’s Block 52. Experts estimate that it will take 5-10 years to begin offshore oil production, assuming world oil prices support it. In 2020, the CEO of state-owned oil company Staatsolie estimated that the government of Suriname could earn $10-$15 billion over the course of 20 years if production reaches similar levels as in neighboring Guyana. U.S.-based Newmont Corporation and Canada-based IAMGOLD – the two major multinational gold companies in Suriname – continue to be the key players in Suriname’s gold mining sector, generating significant revenues for the government.

Public debt has increased. The government’s debt burden reached 75% of GDP in 2019, up from 43% in 2015. In November 2019, the National Assembly raised the country’s debt ceiling from 60% of GDP to 95% of GDP. In December 2019, Suriname completed a $125 million sovereign bond offering that allowed the government to take ownership of the Afobaka Hydroelectric Dam. In February 2020, the government admitted that it had taken $197 million from the Central Bank for imports, debt payments, and other unspecified purposes. This led to a steady decrease in the value of the Surinamese dollar, a reduction in foreign currency reserves, and a rise in the price of consumer goods. These developments prompted a series of downgrades from international credit rating agencies. In January 2020, Fitch downgraded Suriname’s Long-Term Foreign Currency Issuer Default Rating from B- to CCC. In April 2020, Standard & Poor lowered Suriname’s long-term sovereign credit rating from B+ to CCC+, while Moody’s changed its outlook on Suriname from stable to negative. The COVID-19 pandemic also damaged Suriname’s economy as health restrictions dampened economic activity, and a near total halt of international travel undermined a key source of foreign currency.

In May 2020, national elections brought a new political coalition to power. Assuming office in July 2020, the government of President Chandrikapersad Santokhi has sought to reverse the economic policies of his predecessor, with a particular focus on addressing the debt burden and diversifying the economy. His government opened negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to arrange a financial assistance package, while also starting talks with international bondholders to restructure Suriname’s repayment schedule. Since taking office, the Santokhi administration has depreciated the Surinamese dollar, raised taxes on fuel and high income-earners, passed a new law on foreign currency matters, amended the State Debt Act to allow the government to take on loans to address COVID-19, and begun reforms of Suriname’s large civil service sector, which constitutes one of the government’s top expenditures. Policy measures that have been announced but not yet enacted include the institution of a value-added tax and a reduction in Suriname’s generous electricity subsidies.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 94 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 162 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 x of XX https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 N/A https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 5,420 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Government of Suriname (GOS) officially supports and encourages business development through foreign and local investment. The overall investment climate favors U.S. investors with experience working in developing countries. Investment opportunities exist in mining, agriculture, the oil and gas sector, timber, fishing, financial technology and tourism.

With the exception of petroleum, Suriname has no sector-specific laws or practices that discriminate against foreign investors, including U.S. investors, by prohibiting, limiting or conditioning foreign investment. In the oil sector, the state oil company, Staatsolie, maintains sole ownership of all oil-related activities. Foreign investment is possible through exploration and product sharing contracts (PSCs) with Staatsolie. Five U.S. companies participate in PSCs as operators and/or as contract partners. A full list of PSCs can be found on Staatsolie’s website: https://www.staatsolie.com/en/staatsolie-hydrocarbon-institute/active-production-sharing-contracts/ 

In February 2021, the Government of Suriname announced that it will terminate its two existing investment entities, namely the Institute for Promoting Investments in Suriname (InvestSur) and the Investment and Development Corporation of Suriname (IDCS) in order to establish a new investment company. In March 2021, the National Assembly launched debate on a draft law to establish a State-owned investment company to be named the Suriname Investment Enterprise NV. The government also created an International Business Directorate at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to act as a first point of entry for foreign investors.

Suriname does not have a formal business roundtable or ombudsman aimed at investment retention or maintaining an ongoing dialogue with investors.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity.

There are no general limits on foreign ownership or control – statutory, de facto, or otherwise. No law requires that domestic nationals own a minimum percentage of domestic companies or that foreign nationals hold seats on the board. No law caps or reduces the percentage of foreign ownership of any private business enterprise.

Except for petroleum, there are no sector-specific restrictions applied to foreign ownership and control. Within the petroleum sector, the law limits ownership to Staatsolie, the state-owned oil company, which maintains sole ownership of all petroleum-related activities. Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) countries do enjoy favored status over other sources of foreign investment, but in practice international firms from beyond the CSME are not denied investment opportunities. An Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union aims to provide European companies better access to Suriname. Suriname has not yet ratified the EPA.

Government ministries screen inbound foreign investments intended for the sector of the economy that they oversee. Special commissions screen all necessary legal and financial documents. Screening criteria vary, but are intended to determine a proposed investment’s compliance with local law. The screening process is neither public nor transparent, and therefore could be considered a barrier to investment. The Department of International Business at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requests that prospective investors fill out an intake form. The intake form will enable its appraisal committee to conduct a quick scan and conclude whether the FDI in question fits the development goals of the government.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) conducted an investment policy review of Suriname in 2019: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp491_e.htm 

The Inter-American Development Bank published a report called Framework for Private Development in Suriname in 2013.The World Bank Group published Suriname Sector Competitiveness Analysis, focusing on the agribusiness and extractive sectors in 2017.

Business Facilitation

The Santokhi administration has emphasized its desire to diversify Suriname’s economy and deepen business ties with the United States, Europe, and others. In 2020, Suriname’s new government began publishing public tenders on the website of the Ministry of Public Works. The government created a Presidential Commission on the Surinamese Diaspora in an effort to explore possibilities for raising capital and increasing business ties with the Surinamese community in the Netherlands. In March 2021, the National Assembly launched debate on a draft law to establish a State-owned investment company to be named the Suriname Investment Enterprise NV. The government also created an International Business Directorate at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to act as a first point of entry for foreign investors.

There is no online registration system. Companies must register with the local Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which provides guidance on registration procedures. At the time of registration, the company needs a local notary’s assent to ratify the company bylaws. For non-residents, the notary also sends a request to the Foreign Exchange Commission for approval. Applicants must obtain a tax number at the registration office of the tax department. Applications then go to the Ministry of Justice and Police and finally to the President for approval. The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism launched the Suriname Electronic Single Window (SESW) in September 2019. Online submission and processing of documents required for import, transit of goods, and export is now possible. The World Bank’s Doing Business report indicates starting a business requires 66 days. The local Chamber of Commerce and Industry states it can take as little as 30 days.

Outward Investment

The Government does not promote or incentivize outward investment. Suriname’s outward investment is minimal.

The Government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad, but there are no specific mechanisms in place to promote the practice. Due to the small size of the local market, some domestic companies have expanded to CARICOM member states, such as Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Suriname does not use transparent policies and effective laws to foster competition. The previous National Assembly (2015-2020) indicated that it would vote on a draft competition law, but did not do so. The Competitiveness Unit of Suriname coordinates and monitors national competitiveness and is working towards establishing policies and suggesting legislation to foster competition. Current legislation on topics such as taxes, the environment, health, safety, and other matters are not purposely used to impede investment, but may still form obstacles. Employment protection legislation is among the most stringent in the world. Labor laws, for instance, prohibit employers from firing an employee without the permission of the Ministry of Labor once the employee has fulfilled his or her probationary period, which by law is limited to two months. Tax laws are criticized for overburdening the formal business sector, while a large informal sector goes untaxed. Public sector contracts and concessions are not always awarded in a clear and transparent manner. The current administration has announced its commitment to greater transparency in the public tendering process, and the Ministry of Public Works is publishing procurement notices on its website on a regular basis.

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

Rule-making and regulatory authority exist within relevant ministries at the national level. It is this level of regulation that is most relevant for foreign businesses. The government may consult with relevant stakeholders on regulations, but there is no required public process. The government presents draft laws and regulations to the Council of Minsters for discussion and approval. Once approved, the President’s advisory body, the State Council, considers the draft. If approved, the government presents a draft to the National Assembly for discussion, amendment, and approval, and then to the President for signature. Legislation only goes into effect with the signature of the President and after publication in the National Gazette.

Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are often outdated and therefore not transparent nor consistent with international norms. The National Assembly passed the Act on Annual Accounts in 2017 to create more fiscal transparency by requiring all companies, including state owned enterprises, to publish annual accounts based on the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). The law went into effect in 2020 for large companies, while it went into effect for small and medium sized companies (SMEs) in 2021. Small companies can use the IFRS for SMEs.

Suriname passed new legislation in October 2018 to professionalize and institute better standards in the accountancy profession. The legislation created the Suriname Chartered Accountants Institute (SCAI) and makes membership mandatory for accountants in Suriname. The board of the SCAI has the responsibility to monitor the quality of the profession and apply disciplinary measures.

Draft bills or regulations are discussed in view of the public, and relevant stakeholders may be consulted. The National Assembly has established the email address feedbackwetgeving@dna.sr  as a place where individuals can give their opinion on draft legislation.

There is no centralized online location similar to the Federal Register in the United States where key regulatory actions are published. However, the National Assembly publishes the actual text of adopted laws on its website.

It is unclear what the regulatory enforcement mechanisms that ensure the government follows administrative processes might be, as the processes have not been made accountable to the public. There is no public administration law. The Auditor General’s office is an independent body in charge of supervising the financial management of government funds. The Supreme Audit Institution reports to the National Assembly. The Central Accountant Service exercises control on administrative processes at the ministries and reports to the Ministry of Finance. There is no centralized online location where key regulatory actions or their summaries are published, similar to the Federal Register in the United States.

The minimum wage law was revised by State Decree on July 18, 2019. The government will determine the minimum wage biennially. Regulatory reform efforts announced in prior years have largely not been fully implemented. In January 2021, the government announced its intent to implement a value-added tax (VAT) by January 1, 2022.

Reforms such as the revised minimum wages had at most a modest impact due to inflation.

It is unclear what the regulatory enforcement mechanisms are, as the process has not been made public. Regulations are developed by ministries that have jurisdiction over the relevant area, in consultation with involved stakeholders.

The government’s executive budget proposal and enacted budget are easily accessible to the public. The previous government, led by President Desire Delano Bouterse, submitted an executive budget proposal for 2020, but the budget was not passed. The current administration, led by President Chandrikapersad Santokhi, submitted a draft amended budget for 2020, which the National Assembly passed in November 2020. Actual revenues and expenditures regularly deviate from the enacted budget, and the origin and level of accuracy of some information in the budget were not reliable. A full end-of-year report is not publicly available. The Supreme Audit Institution publishes a limited audit based on self-reporting by the ministries. The State Debt Management Office (SDMO) is responsible for the operational management of the public debt of the government. Data regarding public debt is published every three months in the Government Gazette of Suriname and on the SDMO website.

International Regulatory Considerations

As a member of CARICOM, Suriname has committed to regionally-coordinated regulatory systems.

Suriname uses national and international standards. Standards developed by other (international/regional) standardization bodies that Suriname utilizes include: ISO, Codex Alimentarius, International Electro Technical Commission, CROSQ, ASTM International, COPANT, SMIIC (Standards and Metrology Institute for Islamic Countries), NEN (Nederland Normalisatie Instituut), ETSI, GLOBAL GAP, etc..

Suriname is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) lists only one notification from Suriname in 2015.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Suriname’s legal system is based on the Dutch civil system. Judges uphold the sanctity of contracts and enforce them in accordance with their terms. When an individual or company disputes a signed contract, they have the right to take the case to court. The judiciary consistently upholds local law, applies it, and enforces it for local and international businesses.

Laws are defined in criminal, civil, and commercial codes and verdicts are based on the judge’s interpretation of those codes. There is no specialized commercial court. The commercial codes contain commercial legislation.

Historically, the judicial system has been considered to be independent of the executive branch. Most observers consider the judicial system to be procedurally competent, fair, reliable, and free of overt government interference. Due to a shortage of judges and administrative staff, processing of civil cases can be delayed. Last year, the Court of Justice appointed seven new judges to ease the delay in court cases. The number of judges is now 30.

Draft regulations may be reviewed by involved stakeholders and they may be given the opportunity to comment. Since October 2019, individuals have also had the option to comment on draft legislation via email at feedbackwetgeving@dna.sr. There is no formal, required public consultation process. Suriname has no general administrative law, so there are no special administrative tribunals. Judges of the regular courts also hear cases of administrative law.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The overall regime, and more particularly the approval of foreign direct investment (FDI), may be discretionary rather than rules-based, leading to heightened unpredictability and uncertainty, and associated risks of favoritism and corruption.

In March 2020, the previous National Assembly passed the Foreign Exchange Act, which placed constraints on the use of foreign currency in cash transactions and established a strict exchange rate for the Surinamese dollar. It also granted the government broad authorities to enforce the law, as well as the power to halt the import of “non-essential” goods. In May 2020, a judge suspended the law over questions concerning its constitutionality. In March 2021, the Santokhi govenrment revoked the law and submitted an amended version to the National Assembly for debate.

In April 2020, the previous National Assembly passed the COVID-19 State of Emergency Law, which granted the government broad powers to enforce COVID-19-related precautionary measures. It also created a $53 million fund to assist struggling businesses, and it allowed the government to take loans and advances from local institutions and consolidate them into a single mega-loan. The new National Assembly extended the law in August 2020 and extended it once again in February 2021.

In September 2020, the new National Assembly amended the State Debt Act and the COVID-19 State of Emergency Law. The changes in these laws allow the government to take out local and international loans in order to respond to the global pandemic. In November 2019, the previous National Assembly amended the State Debt Act in order to raise the government’s debt ceiling from 60% of GDP to 95% of GDP.

In February 2021, the Foreign Exchange Commission announced three new measures regarding exchange rate policy. First, exporters will be required to repatriate all their earned export revenues to Suriname, which also means that the buyer abroad will have to pay for the purchased goods through a Surinamese commercial bank. Second, exporters and foreign exchange offices will be required to exchange 30% of their income in foreign currency to the local currency, the Surinamese Dollar (SRD). Third, importers are required to pay for their imports via Surinamese commercial banks. The stated intention of this measure is to foreclose the possibility that exporters act as illegal “cambios” to finance imports and thus make illegal profits. It is also designed to combat trade-based money laundering.

Several criminal investigations of former government officials began in 2020. In February 2020, former Central Bank Governor Robert van Trikt was arrested on fraud charges. In August 2020, the new National Assembly officially indicted ex-Minister of Finance Gillmore Hoefdraad, which allowed the Attorney General to launch an investigation into alleged financial mismanagement conducted by Hoefdraad in collaboration with the ex-Governor of the Central Bank of Suriname, Robert van Trikt. In December 2020, the new National Assembly voted to indict former Vice President (and current National Assembly member) Ashwin Adhin, which allowed the Attorney General to pursue a criminal investigation for embezzlement, fraud, and destruction of government property. The cases remain ongoing.

There is no primary one-stop-shop website for investments that provide relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

There are no domestic agencies currently reviewing transactions for competition-related concerns. The previous National Assembly (2015-2020) considered draft laws on competition and consumer protection, but did not ultimately vote on them. According to the authorities, no date for enactment is foreseen. Both draft laws also cover state-owned enterprises. The CARICOM Competition Commission is based in Suriname, and it monitors potential anti-competitive practices for enterprises operating within the CARICOM Single Market and Economy.

Expropriation and Compensation

According to Article 34 of Suriname’s constitution, expropriation will take place “only for reasons of public utility” and with prior compensation. In practice, the government has no history of expropriations. However, Article 42 of Suriname’s constitution specifically refers to all natural resources as property of the nation, and states that the nation has inalienable rights to take possession of all natural resources to utilize them for the economic, social, and cultural development of Suriname.

There is no history of expropriation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Suriname is not a party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of other States (ICSID). Suriname has been a member of the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards since 1964, when the country was still a colony of the Netherlands. Upon becoming independent in 1975, Suriname automatically continued its membership in international conventions and treaties.

There is no specific domestic legislation providing enforcement of awards under the 1958 New York Convention or under the ICSID convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The government is a member state of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

Suriname has no BIT or FTA with an investment chapter with the United States.

There have been no publicly known investment disputes in the past 10 years involving a U.S person or other foreign investor. Every effort is made to settle investment disputes outside the court system or via arbitration.

Judgments of foreign arbitral awards are enforced by the local courts only if Suriname has a legal treaty of jurisprudence with the foreign country involved. If not, the foreign judgment can be brought before the Surinamese court for consideration as long as the court determines it has jurisdiction and doing so does not otherwise violate any Surinamese laws. With Suriname’s participation and membership in the Caribbean Court of Justice, judgments from this court are also binding for local courts. Cases have been successfully filed against Suriname before the Inter-American Court of Justice and the Organization of American States. Judgments from these courts have been upheld by the Surinamese legal system.

There is no known history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Suriname’s civil law includes options for arbitration. The government reactivated the Suriname Arbitration Institute (SAI) in August 2014 to offer arbitration and mediation services. The SAI collaborates with the Dutch Arbitration Institute.

The Mediation Council, pursuant to the Labor Mediation Act of 1946, promotes the peaceful settlement of disputes concerning labor issues and the prevention of such disputes in Suriname.

Local courts only recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards if doing so is stipulated in the contract or agreement and it does not contradict local law. Foreign arbitration is an accepted means of settling disputes between private parties, but only if local alternatives are exhausted.

There have been no publicly known investment disputes in which state-owned enterprises are involved. Court processes are, in general, considered transparent and non-discriminatory.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Suriname has bankruptcy legislation. Creditors, equity shareholders, and holders of other financial contracts, including foreign contract holders, have the right to file for liquidation of debts due to insolvency. In a case where there is a loan from a commercial bank, repayment of the bank loan takes precedence. Bankruptcy, in principle, is not criminalized. However, in cases where a board of directors encouraged a company to pursue bankruptcy to avoid creditors, courts have viewed this behavior as a criminal offense. In the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, Suriname stands at 139 in the ranking of 190 economies on the ease of resolving insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Under current regulations, foreign investors can benefit from both tax and non-tax based incentives. Tax-based incentives include a nine-year tax holiday that can be extended by one year if the investment is at least $13 million; accelerated depreciation of assets; and tax consolidation. Under the Raw Minerals Act, the government grants an exemption of duties for the import of raw materials from CARICOM member countries. Exemptions are also granted in the food industry, the soft drink industry, and the fruit juice industry. In 2011, the government eliminated import duties on computers and related items. The law accords special consideration on investments exceeding $50 million and investments in the exploration and exploitation of bauxite, hydrocarbons, gold, and radioactive minerals. Large investments in the mining sector are subject to extensive negotiations between the government and investors. The government maintains the ability to grant incentives that depart from the provisions in the 2001 Investment Law, for example, incentives related to the provisions of infrastructure. The government does not have a practice of issuing guarantees or jointly financing foreign direct investment projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Suriname does not have a free trade zone ore duty free zone.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

There are no policies that mandate hiring local employment; however, the Work Permits Act prohibits employers from employing foreigners without a work permit granted by the Ministry of Labor. Some large multinationals have specific agreements with the government mandating the hiring of local employees.

There are no policies requiring that senior management and board of directors should be Surinamese nationals.

There are no excessively onerous visa, residence, or work permit requirements inhibiting foreign investors’ mobility. Foreigners with short-term business in Suriname can apply online for an e-visa at: https://suriname.vfsevisa.com/ . Business visas require a letter of introduction from the business the applicant will be working with in Suriname. Foreigners who want to work in Suriname first need to apply for a residency permit at the Ministry of Justice and Police, after which they can apply for a work permit at the Ministry of Labor. The free movement of artists, university graduates, media workers, musicians, and athletes of CARICOM origin is arranged through CSME regulations. CSME regulations also provide for the free movement for those seeking to establish or conduct business within the community.

There are no government/authority-imposed conditions on permission to invest. In practice, large foreign investments, especially in the extractives sector, require approval from the relevant Ministry.

The government does not impose forced localization policies on foreign investors.

There are no enforcement procedures for performance requirements on investors.

The 2001 Investment Law authorizes the Minister of Finance to grant both tax and non-tax incentives for new investments and for the expansion of existing investments. Incentives for new investments are on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the Ministry of Finance. Incentives are available for both domestic and foreign investors, but investors must apply for these incentives before the initial investment is made.

Foreign IT providers are not required to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption.

There are no measures that prevent or unduly impede companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the country’s territory.

There are no mechanisms used to enforce any rules on local data storage within the country.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Interest in property is enforced. Mortgages and liens are common. Mortgages are registered with the Mortgage Office. However, no effective registration system exists for other types of liens.

Non-residents can request to lease land from the government if they have established a company under Surinamese law. However, the process from application to approval is lengthy.

The percentage of land in Suriname that lacks a clear land title remains unknown. There is no sustained effort by the government to identify property owners and register land titles. Article 1-1 of the L-1 decree, Principles of Land Policy, states that “all land, to which others have not proven their right to ownership, is domain of the State.” Furthermore, Article 41 of the Surinamese constitution states that wealth and resources are property of the nation and shall be used to promote economic, social, and cultural development. There is no effective demarcation of substantial land claims by indigenous people in the interior.

Unoccupied, legally-purchased property cannot be reverted to other owners, such as squatters.

Intellectual Property Rights

Suriname is a member of the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization; however, it has not ratified the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. Even though Suriname is party to multiple agreements, intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement is weak. The current legal framework mentions protection of copyright, trademarks, and patents; however, that legislation dates back to 1912 (amended in 2001). Although the National Assembly passed amendments to the Music Copyright Law of 1913 in March 2015, there is no enforcement. Infringement on rights and theft are not uncommon due to the absence of enforcement capacity. There is also no protection provided for industrial designs, utility models, geographical indications, layout designs of integrated circuits or undisclosed information.

No IPR-related laws or regulations have been enacted in the past year. A draft IPR bill had been pending under the previous National Assembly (2015-2020), but it did not receive a vote. Currently, patents and copyrights must be registered abroad due to a lack of local legislation.

In 2012, the Suriname Port Unit was established to improve port security and prevent the illegal use of sea containers in drug trafficking and transnational organized criminal activities, such as trafficking in chemicals used in the manufacture of drugs (precursors), smuggling of goods (including counterfeit goods), tax evasion, and possible terrorist acts.

Suriname is not mentioned in the United States Trade Representative’s 2021 Special 301 Report , nor is it named in its 2020 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The government does not promote portfolio investment.

There is a small self-regulating stock market with eleven companies registered. It meets twice a month but does not have an electronic exchange. There is no effective regulatory system to encourage and facilitate portfolio investment. At present, Suriname is facing liquidity shortfalls. Sufficient policies do exist to facilitate the free flow of financial resources.

As an IMF Article VIII member, Suriname has agreed to refrain from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.

Credit is allocated on market terms and at market rates. Foreign investors that establish businesses in Suriname are able to get credit on the local market, usually with a payment guarantee from the parent company. The private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments. Larger companies can obtain customized credit products. There is, however, a Central Bank regulation that limits a commercial bank’s credit exposure to a single client.

Money and Banking System

The private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments. Larger companies can obtain customized credit products

According to the IMF Article IV Consultation in 2019, the banking system faces pressing vulnerabilities.

Based on the latest (July 2019) data, the capital adequacy ratio for the banking system stood at 10.5 percent (above the 10 percent minimum requirement), but non-performing loans in the banking system remained high (12.5 percent of gross loans), and profitability was low (0.7 percent return on assets). Deposit and loan dollarization remain high.

Total estimated assets of Suriname’s largest banks:

DSB Bank (annual report, 2018): $1,007 million. DSB annual report 2019 is delayed due to COVID-19 and time needed to implement IFRS.

Hakrin Bank (annual report 28, 2019): $671.2 million

Republic Bank Limited (2020 annual report, Suriname-based assets): $396.5 million. (The Republic Bank Limited of Trinidad and Tobago acquired Royal Bank of Canada’s Suriname holdings in 2015.)

Finabank (annual report, 2019): $322.8 million

Suriname has a central bank system.

Foreign banks or branches are allowed to establish operations in Suriname. They are subject to the same measures and regulations as local banks. According to an IMF assessment in 2016, banks in Suriname are among those in the region that have lost their correspondent relationships. The IMF notes that though the loss of correspondent banking relationships has not reached systemic proportions, a critical risk still exists. According to the IMF’s Article IV Consultation report in 2019, there is a possibility of losing corresponding banking relationships given recent overseas investigations of potential money laundering via Suriname’s financial sector. The reputational risk to both local and foreign banks acting as their correspondents is substantial. In March 2021, Suriname announced that it had completed a National Risk Assessment to identify and assess its vulnerability to money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

There are no restrictions for foreigners to open a bank account. Banks require U.S. citizens to provide the information necessary to comply with the Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

There are no restrictions or limitations placed on foreign investors in converting, transferring, or repatriating funds associated with an investment, such as remittances of investment capital, earnings, loan or lease payments, or royalties. There can be shortages in the availability of U.S. cash dollars at local banks, which can affect businesses.

Funds associated with any form of investment can be freely converted into a usable currency at legal market clearing rates with the permission of the Foreign Exchange Commission. However, the criteria for obtaining permissions are opaque.

In September 2020, the Central Bank of Suriname (CBvS) announced the depreciation of the Surinamese Dollar (SRD). The previous official exchange rate was SRD7.52 to $1 dollar. The new sale rate was adjusted to SRD14.29 to $1 dollar. In March 2021, the CBvS announced that it had come to an agreement with the government to establish a minimum and maximum exchange rate for the U.S. dollar, namely that the rate must stay between SRD14.29 and SRD16.30 to $1. In addition to the official exchange rate, different rates are available unofficially in parallel exchange markets. Media reports indicate that exchange rate policy is a key component of Suriname’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund – negotiations which began in 2020.

Remittance Policies

There are no recent changes or plans to change investment remittance policies.

The waiting period on remittances can be relatively short for dividends; return on investments, interest, and principal on private foreign debt; lease payments; royalties; and management fees. The time needed to process the requests depends on the sector and the amount transferred. Transfers through the banking system can range from same day to one week waiting times, contingent upon approval by the Foreign Exchange Commission.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

On May 4, 2017, the National Assembly passed legislation establishing a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF). In August 2020, President Santokhi announced that the government would operationalize Suriname’s SWF, as the previous government had not instituted the necessary state decrees to do so. In December 2020, the government held talks with experts from Norway to learn more from the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund.

Suriname does not participate in the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State owned enterprises (SOEs) operate in the oil, agribusiness, mining, communications, travel, energy, and financial sectors. SOEs provide little information regarding their operations. Only a few produce annual reports accessible to the public. Staatsolie, Suriname’s state-owned oil company, has publicly available audited accounts. As of 2020, all state-owned enterprises will be required to publish annual accounts. Several have been accused of fraud or corrupt practices. In August 2020, President Santokhi installed a Presidential Committee on the Improper Use of Public Goods. The task of the committee is to conduct an inventory of goods purchased on behalf of the government, as well as semi-governmental entities and SOEs.

There is no public list of SOEs.

SOEs receive advantages when competing in the domestic market. These include access to government guarantees and government loans otherwise unavailable to private enterprises. Additionally, SOEs have access to land and raw materials inaccessible to private entities.

The government does not yet adhere to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs.

Privatization Program

The GoS did announce a privatization program largely in the agricultural sector, but the only privatization was the state-owned banana company in 2014. The official governing accord of the ruling coalition states that privatization of SOEs will be considered where appropriate, while President Santokhi has indicated that some SOEs will need to be privatized. However, no such privatizations have taken place under the new government.

Foreign investors can participate in privatization programs. In 2014, the Belgium multinational, UNIVEG, acquired a 90 percent stake in the state-owned banana company through a public, international bidding process. The European Commission assisted with the bidding process. UNIVEG later pulled out of Suriname. The Government took over the remaining 90 percent shares and $15 million debt of UNIVEG and is now the only share holder. As this is the only example of privatization within Suriname, no standard privatization or public bidding processes have been established by the government.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is a growing awareness of expectations of standards for responsible business conduct (RBC) among consumers and producers. Historically, Alcoa’s subsidiary, Suralco, took the lead on RBC in Suriname, and large multinationals such as Newmont continue to be the largest proponents of RBC. Some larger, state-owned and local companies also model RBC, including Staatsolie, Surinam Airways, Telesur, and the Fernandes Group of Companies, which holds the distribution rights for Coca-Cola, and the McDonalds franchise rights. In March 2020, a number of prominent local companies and business leaders established the SU4SU COVID-19 support fund, which has raised money and donated medical equipment and PPE to local health authorities to assist their efforts in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government has not taken systematic measures to encourage or promote RBC. Companies are allowed to develop their own policies and standards. The government does incorporate RBC in some of its partnerships and agreements with multinational firms. For example, recent agreements between Staatsolie and foreign companies for offshore drilling include stipulations regarding RBC. The government has no national point of contact or ombudsman for stakeholders to acquire information or raise concerns about RBC. The GOS has not conducted a National Action Plan on RBC and/or Business and Human Rights. It is not known if RBC policies are part of the government’s procurement decisions.

There are no alleged/reported human or labor rights concern related to RBC.

There have been no recent high profile controversial instances of private sector impact on human rights, though indigenous land rights in the interior is an ongoing issue.

The Labor Inspection Department from the Ministry of Labor supervises and enforces the observance of legal regulations regarding the conditions of employment and the protection of employees performing duties. Laws were enforced only in the formal sectors. Labor inspectors did not make regular occupational safety and health inspections. The government is drafting consumer and environmental protection laws. In March 2020, the National Assembly passed an Environment Framework Law.

Currently there is no legislation for corporate governance and executive compensation standards to protect shareholders. The Act on Annual Accounts will require companies to publish annual accounts based on the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) starting in 2020.

The Suriname Trade and Business Association has taken the lead in promoting RBC. The Suriname Conservation Foundation initiated a Green Partnership Program in 2020 signed by 14 enterprises, 13 of which are local, to stimulate awareness about a green economy and nature preservation. So far, no incidents have been reported indicating that those monitoring and or advocating around RBC cannot work freely.

The host government has not encouraged adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chain of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas. In March 2019, the government adopted legislation to join the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme in order to become a member of the World Diamond Council Association.

The host government has not encouraged adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chain of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas. Suriname became a member of the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative in 2017. There are no domestic transparency measures requiring the disclosure of payments made to governments and/or other RBC/BHR policies or practices.

Suriname is not a signatory of The Montreux Document on Private Military and Security companies, nor a supporter of the International Code of Conduct or Private Security Providers nor a participant in the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers Association (ICoCA).

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Suriname’s legal code penalizes corruption, but there is virtually no enforcement. Government officials are occasionally removed from assignments, but convictions are rare. On September 1, 2017, parliament passed anti-corruption legislation nearly 15 years after the initial draft bill was introduced to the National Assembly. An anti-corruption commission, which is mandated by the legislation, has not yet been installed. In August 2020, President Santokhi installed a Presidential committee to conduct an inventory of executive orders and determine what mechanisms need to be put in place to install an anti-corruption commission. Suriname ranks on 94 out of 180 countries on the Corruption Index of Transparency International.

Existing laws that deal with corruption do not extend to family members of officials, or to political parties.

There are currently no laws or regulations to counter conflicts of interest in awarding contracts or government procurement. The Ministry of Public Works announced that it will soon adopt stricter, but also flexible measures for transparency in tenders. Legal requirements for tenders will be examined. Non-legal requirements will be adjusted and introduced shortly. Civil servants and politicians will be prohibited from taking part in tenders.

The government does not encourage or require private companies to establish internal codes of conduct prohibiting bribery of public officials.

Local private companies do not use internal control, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials.

Suriname has signed and ratified the Inter-American Convention against Corruption. Suriname has not yet signed and ratified the UN Convention against Corruption. Suriname is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery.

There are no NGOs that focus exclusively on investigating corruption.

U.S. firms have identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI. Corruption is believed to be most pervasive in government procurement, the awarding of licenses and concessions, customs, and taxation.

Resources to Report Corruption

Fraud Department
Suriname Police Force( Korps Politie Suriname)
Havenlaan, Paramaribo, Suriname
(597) 404-943

10. Political and Security Environment

Since the conclusion of the interior war in 1992, Suriname has not seen politically motivated violence or civil disturbance.

In July 2019, illegal goldminers damaged property at the Rosebel goldmine after the company’s security personnel fatally shot an illegal goldminer. The mine was subsequently closed for one month, and then reopened.

Although there is political polarization in Suriname, past elections were considered to be free and fair by international observers, including national elections on May 25, 2020, which brought then-opposition parties into power.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

In general, both skilled and unskilled labor is available in the local market. Foreign workers are mainly active in the extractive industries and agricultural sector. Not only Haitians, but also an influx of Cubans have entered the workforce and are active in several sectors for lower wages. Documented foreign workers are protected by labor laws. According to the Statistical Bureau, the unemployment rate in 2019 was 11 percent. An estimated 15 percent of the working-age population worked in the informal economy.

Heavy equipment operators, welders, and other skilled workers in the extractive industries are in high demand. In recent years, Suriname recruited physicians and ER nurses from the Philippines to work in hospital emergency rooms. Because of the economic downturn in 2015-2016, the majority of these workers have left the country, resulting in a shortage of nurses and medical staff. Since 2005, Suriname has welcomed Cuban medical professionals on a rolling basis. In March 2020, Cuba sent 20 doctors and 30 nurses to Suriname to assist with the government’s COVID-19 response. In January 2021, the Minister of Public Health announced that approximately 40 of the almost 100 Cuban medical workers in Suriname had voluntarily agreed to return to Cuba.

There are no policies that require the hiring of nationals; however, the Work Permits Act prohibits employers from employing foreigners without a work permit granted by the Ministry of Labor.

Legislation makes it difficult for employers to respond to fluctuating market conditions. The Dismissal Permits Act prohibits employers from dismissing employees without permission from the Ministry of Labor. Collective redundancy for organizational or economic reasons is permitted in cases such as the closure or decline of a business. Generally, when an employee is laid off, unions negotiate with the employer regarding a package and duration of social benefits. Labor organizations sometimes object to work based on contracts as opposed to full time, ongoing employment.

Labor laws are not waived to attract or retain investment. As Suriname has no special economic zones, foreign trade zones, or free ports with alternative labor policies, all entities are subject to existing legislation.

Collective bargaining agreements are widespread in both the private and public sector. Data regarding the percentage of the economy covered by collective bargaining agreements is unavailable. Employees of most large multi-national firms are unionized.

Labor dispute mechanisms are in place and freely used for mediation and arbitration.

Strikes that pose an investment risk are rare.

Suriname is a member of the International Labor Organization and recognizes international labor law in its domestic legislation. In 2018, Suriname made a moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. The government ratified International Labor Organization Convention 138 concerning the minimum age for admission to employment, acceded to the Protocol to the Forced Labor Convention, and amended the Law on Labor for Children and Young People, raising the minimum age of work to 16 years.

In June 2019, the National Assembly adopted the family protection law regarding maternity and paternity leave. In July 2019, the National Assembly approved an update of the Minimum Wage Act which set the minimum wage at SRD 8.40 per hour, effective July 10. Every two years, starting 2020, a National Wage Board will advise on a new minimum wage to the Minister of Labor. Pending draft bills in 2020 under the previous National Assembly (2015-2020) included the Draft Working Conditions Act of 2019, the Draft Equal Treatment Act, a draft law on violence and sexual harassment, and a draft law on working hours regulation.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International
Source of Data: BEA; IMF;
Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $3,731 2019 $3,697 www.worldbank.org/en/country  www.cbvs.sr
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international
Source of data: BEA; IMF;
Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 20xx N/A 20xx N/A BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 20xx N/A 20xx N/A BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/
international/direct-investment-
and-multinational-enterprises-
comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 20xx N/A 20xx N/A UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/
handbook/Economic
Trends/Fdi.html

* Source for Host Country Data: Central Bank of Suriname

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Data not available.

Note: Suriname does not release foreign direct investment data publicly. The IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS) has no information on Suriname. There are no tax haven sources of inward FDI.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Data not available.

Note: Portfolio investment data are not available in Suriname on the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey. The host government does not publish portfolio investment data.

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Officer
U.S. Embassy Paramaribo
(597) 556-700