Argentina

Executive Summary

Argentina presents investment and trade opportunities, particularly in agriculture, energy, health, infrastructure, information technology, and mining. However, economic uncertainty, interventionist policies, high inflation, and persistent economic stagnation have prevented the country from maximizing its potential. Argentina fell into recession in 2018, the same year then-President Mauricio Macri signed a three-year $57 billion Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Efforts to rationalize spending contributed to Macri’s defeat by the Peronist ticket of Alberto Fernandez and former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (CFK) in 2019. The new administration took office on December 10, 2019 and reversed fiscal austerity measures, suspended the IMF program, and declared public debt levels unsustainable. The COVID-19 pandemic deepened the country´s multi-year economic recession. This led the government to intensify price, capital, and foreign trade controls, rolling back some of the market driven polices of the previous administration. After recording its ninth sovereign default in May 2020, the government of Argentina restructured international law bonds for $65 billion and domestic law bonds for $42 billion. The debt restructuring provides financial relief of $37.7 billion during the period 2020-2030, lowering average interest payments from 7 percent to 3 percent. In August 2020, the government formally notified the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of its intent to renegotiate $45 billion due to the Fund from the 2018 Stand-by Arrangement. In 2020, the Argentine peso (official rate) depreciated 29 percent, inflation reached 36 percent, the poverty rate reached 42 percent, and the economy contracted 10 percent.

The Fernandez administration’s economic agenda during 2020 focused on restructuring the country’s sovereign debt and addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The government increased taxes on foreign trade, further tightened capital controls, and initiated or renewed price control programs. The administration also expanded fiscal expenditures, which were primarily directed at mitigating the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Citing a need to preserve Argentina’s diminishing foreign exchange reserves and raise government revenues for social programs, the Fernandez administration passed a sweeping “economic emergency” law in December 2019, that included a 35 percent advance income tax plus a 30 percent tax on purchases of foreign currency and all individual expenses incurred abroad, whether in person or online.

After the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Argentina on March 3, 2020, the country imposed a strict nationwide quarantine on March 20, which became one of the longest in the world. The confinement measures were relaxed starting in the second semester of 2020, although multiple restrictions remained in place. Hotel and lodging, travel and tourism, and entertainment activities were deeply affected and were still not fully operational as of March 2021. According to estimates from the Argentine Small and Medium-Sized Confederation´s (CAME), 90,700 retail stores and 41,200 businesses permanently closed in Argentina during 2020, accounting for more than 185,300 jobs losses. As a result of the confinement measures, economic activity dropped 10 percent during 2020 compared to 2019, reaching levels similar to the 2002 economic crisis.

The Argentine government issued a series of economic relief measures, primarily focusing on the informal workers that account for 40 percent of the labor force as well as small and medium size enterprises (SMEs). The government prohibited employers from terminating employment until April 2021 and mandated a double severance payment until December 31, 2021. The government also prohibited the suspension of utility services (water, natural gas, electricity, mobile and land line services, and internet and cable TV) for failure to pay. The government’s ninth sovereign default and self-declared insolvency has limited its access to international credit, obligating it to finance pandemic-related stimulus measures and COVID-19 vaccine purchases via money printing, which may hamper its efforts to restrain inflation and maintain a stable exchange rate in the near term. The government is expected to further expand fiscal expenditures ahead of mid-term elections in October 2021.

Both domestic and foreign companies frequently point to a high and unpredictable tax burden and rigid labor laws, which make responding to changing macroeconomic conditions more difficult, as obstacles to further investment in Argentina. In July 2020, the government passed a teleworking law which imposed restrictive regulations on remote work. The law discourages companies from granting workplace flexibility and lowering labor costs via telework. In 2019, Argentina ranked 36 out of 41 countries evaluated in the Competitiveness Ranking of the World Economic Forum (WEF), which measures how productively a country uses its available resources.

As a MERCOSUR member, Argentina signed a free trade and investment agreement with the European Union (EU) in June 2019. Argentina has not ratified the agreement yet. In May 2020, Argentina proposed slowing the pace and adjusting the negotiating parameters of MERCOSUR’s ongoing trade liberalization talks with South Korea, Canada, and other partners to help protect vulnerable populations and account for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Argentina previously ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement on January 22, 2018. Argentina and the United States continue to expand bilateral commercial and economic cooperation, specifically through the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), the Commercial Dialogue, and under the Growth in the Americas initiative, in order to improve and facilitate public-private ties and communication on trade, investment, energy, and infrastructure issues, including market access and intellectual property rights. More than 300 U.S. companies operate in Argentina, and the United States continues to be the top investor in Argentina with more than USD $10.7 billion (stock) of foreign direct investment as of 2019.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 78 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 126 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 80 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 10.7 billion https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 11,130 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 Argentina has identified its top economic priorities for 2021 as resolving its debt situation with the IMF, controlling inflation, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by providing financial aid to the most vulnerable sectors of society. When the Fernandez administration took office in late 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Worship became the lead governmental entity for investment promotion.  The Fernandez administration does not have a formal business roundtable or other dialogue established with international investors, although it does engage with domestic and international companies.

Market regulations such as capital controls, trade restrictions, and price controls enhance economic distortion that hinders the investment climate in the country.

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

Argentina has a National Investment and Trade Promotion Agency that provides information and consultation services to investors and traders on economic and financial conditions, investment opportunities, and Argentine laws and regulations. The agency also provides matchmaking services and organizes roadshows and trade delegations. Upon the change of administration, the government placed the Agency under the direction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to improve coordination between the Agency and Argentina´s foreign policy. The Under Secretary for Trade and Investment Promotion of the MFA works as a liaison between the Agency and provincial governments and regional organizations. The new administration also created the National Directorate for Investment Promotion under the Under Secretary for Trade and Investment Promotion, making the Directorate responsible for promoting Argentina as an investment destination. The Directorate´s mission also includes determining priority sectors and projects and helping Argentine companies expand internationally and/or attract international investment.

The agency’s web portal provides information on available services ( https://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/ ). The 23 provinces and the City of Buenos Aires also have their own provincial investment and trade promotion offices.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

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

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

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

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

Other Investment Policy Reviews

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

Business Facilitation

In 2019, stemming from the country’s deteriorating financial and economic situation, the Argentine government re-imposed capital controls on business and consumers, limiting their access to foreign exchange.  Strict capital controls and increases in taxes on exports and imports the Argentine government instituted at the end of 2019 have generated uncertainty in the business climate.

With the stated aim of keeping inflation under control and avoiding production shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government increased market interventions in 2020, creating further market distortions that may deter investment. Argentina currently has two consumer goods price control programs, “Precios Cuidados, a voluntary program established in 2014, and “Precios Máximos, an emergency program established in March 2020. The Argentine Congress also passed the Shelves Law (No. 27,545), which regulates the supply, display, and distribution of products on supermarket shelves and virtual stores. Key articles of the Law are still pending implementing regulations. Private companies expressed concern over the final regulatory framework of the Law, which could affect their production, distribution, and marketing business model.

In August 2020, the government issued an edict freezing prices for telecommunication services (mobile and land), cable and satellite TV, and internet services until December 2020, later extending the measure into 2021. In Argentina’s high inflation environment, companies sought a 20 to 25 percent increase, however, the regulator allowed the telecom sector a five percent rate increase as of January 2021. The health sector was also subject to limits on price increases. In February 2021, the Secretary of Trade took administrative action against major consumer firms and food producers for purportedly causing supermarket shortages by withholding production and limiting distribution. Companies are currently contesting this decision. In March 2021, the Secretary of Domestic Trade issued Resolution 237/2021 establishing a national registry to monitor the production levels, distribution, and sales of private companies. If companies fail to comply, they could be subject to fines or closure. Tighter import controls imposed by the Fernandez administration have affected the business plans of private companies that need imported inputs for production. The private sector noted increased discretion on the part of trade authorities responsible for approving import licenses.

The Ministry of Production eased bureaucratic hurdles for foreign trade through the creation of a Single Window for Foreign Trade (“VUCE” for its Spanish acronym) in 2016. The VUCE centralizes the administration of all required paperwork for the import, export, and transit of goods (e.g., certificates, permits, licenses, and other authorizations and documents). The Argentine government has not fully implemented the VUCE for use across the country. Argentina subjects imports to automatic or non-automatic licenses that are managed through the Comprehensive Import Monitoring System (SIMI, or Sistema Integral de Monitoreo de Importaciones), established in December 2015 by the National Tax Agency (AFIP by its Spanish acronym) through Resolutions 5/2015 and 3823/2015. The SIMI system requires importers to submit detailed information electronically about goods to be imported into Argentina. Once the information is submitted, the relevant Argentine government agencies can review the application through the VUCE and make any observations or request additional information. The list of products subject to non-automatic licensing has been modified several times since the beginning of the SIMI system. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government reclassified goods needed to combat the health emergency previously subject to non-automatic import licenses to automatic import licenses. Approximately 1,500 tariff lines are currently subject to non-automatic licenses.

The Argentine Congress approved an Entrepreneurs’ Law in March 2017, which allows for the creation of a simplified joint-stock company (SAS, or Sociedad por Acciones Simplificada) online within 24 hours of registration. However, in March 2020, the Fernandez administration annulled the 24-hour registration system. Industry groups said this hindered the entrepreneurship ecosystem by revoking one of the pillars of the Entrepreneurs´ Law.

In December 2020, the government issued the regulatory framework for the Knowledge Based-Economy Law, which was passed in October 2020. The Law establishes tax benefits for entrepreneurs until December 2029. The complete list of activities included in the tax benefit can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do;jsessionid=56625A2FC5152F34ECE583158D581896?id=346218 .

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

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

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

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

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

The Ministry of Productive Development offers attendance-based courses and online training for businesses. The training menu can be viewed at: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion/capacitacion .

Outward Investment

The National Directorate for Investment Promotion under the Under Secretary for Trade and Investment Promotion at the MFA assists Argentine companies in expanding their business overseas, in coordination with the National Investment and Trade Promotion Agency. Argentina does not have any restrictions regarding domestic entities investing overseas, nor does it incentivize outward investment.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Secretary of Strategic Affairs under the Cabinet is in charge of transparency policies and the digitalization of bureaucratic processes as of December 2019.

Argentine government authorities and a number of quasi-independent regulatory entities can issue regulations and norms within their mandates. There are no informal regulatory processes managed by non-governmental organizations or private sector associations. Rulemaking has traditionally been a top-down process in Argentina, unlike in the United States where industry organizations often lead in the development of standards and technical regulations.  The Constitution establishes a procedure that allows for citizens to draft or propose legislation, which is subject to Congressional and Executive approval before being passed into law.

Ministries, regulatory agencies, and Congress are not obligated to provide a list of anticipated regulatory changes or proposals, share draft regulations with the public, or establish a timeline for public comment. They are also not required to conduct impact assessments of the proposed legislation and regulations.

All final texts of laws, regulations, resolutions, dispositions, and administrative decisions must be published in the Official Gazette ( https://www.boletinoficial.gob.ar ), as well as in the newspapers and the websites of the Ministries and agencies. These texts can also be accessed through the official website Infoleg ( http://www.infoleg.gob.ar/ ), overseen by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. Interested stakeholders can pursue judicial review of regulatory decisions.

In September 2016, Argentina enacted a Right to Access Public Information Law (27,275) that mandates all three governmental branches (legislative, judicial, and executive), political parties, universities, and unions that receive public funding are to provide non-classified information at the request of any citizen. The law also created the Agency for the Right to Access Public Information to oversee compliance.

During 2017, the government introduced new procurement standards including electronic procurement, formalization of procedures for costing-out projects, and transparent processes to renegotiate debts to suppliers. The government also introduced OECD recommendations on corporate governance for state-owned enterprises to promote transparency and accountability during the procurement process. The regulation may be viewed at:   http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do?id=306769 .

http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do?id=306769 .

In April 2018, Argentina passed the Business Criminal Responsibility Law (27,041) through Decree 277. The decree establishes an Anti-Corruption Office in charge of outlining and monitoring the transparency policies with which companies must comply to be eligible for public procurement.

Under the bilateral Commercial Dialogue, Argentina and the United States discuss good regulatory practices, conducting regulatory impact analyses, and improving the incorporation of public consultations in the regulatory process. Similarly, under the bilateral Digital Economy Working Group, Argentina and the United States shared best practices on promoting competition, spectrum management policy, and broadband investment and wireless infrastructure development.

The Argentine government has sought to increase public consultation in the rulemaking process; however, public consultation is non-binding and has been done in an ad-hoc fashion. In 2017, the Government of Argentina issued a series of legal instruments that seek to promote the use of tools to improve the quality of the regulatory framework. Amongst them, Decree 891/2017 for Good Practices in Simplification establishes a series of tools to improve the rulemaking process. The decree introduces tools on ex-ante and ex-post evaluation of regulation, stakeholder engagement, and administrative simplification, amongst others. Nevertheless, no formal oversight mechanism has been established to supervise the use of these tools across the line of ministries and government agencies, which make implementation difficult and severely limit the potential to adopt a whole-of-government approach to regulatory policy, according to a 2019 OECD publication on Regulatory Policy in Argentina.

Some ministries and agencies developed their own processes for public consultation by publishing drafts on their websites, directly distributing the draft to interested stakeholders for feedback, or holding public hearings.

In November 2017, the Government of Argentina launched a new website to communicate how the government spends public funds in a user-friendly format ( https://www.argentina.gob.ar/economia/transparencia/presupuesto ).

The Argentine government also made an effort to improve citizens’ understanding of the budget, through the citizen’s budget “Presupuesto Ciudadano” website: https://www.economia.gob.ar/onp/presupuesto_ciudadano/seccion6.php . The initiative aligns with the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) and UN Resolution 67/218 on promoting transparency, participation, and accountability in fiscal policy.

Argentina requires public companies to adhere to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Argentina is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures.

International Regulatory Considerations

Argentina is a founding member of MERCOSUR and has been a member of the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI for Asociación Latinoamericana de Integración) since 1980.  Once any of the decision-making bodies within MERCOSUR agrees on applying a certain regulation, each of the member countries has to incorporate it into its legislation according to its own legislative procedures. Once a regulation is incorporated in a MERCOSUR member’s legislation, the country has to notify MERCOSUR headquarters.

Argentina has been a member of the WTO since 1995, and it ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement in January 2018. Argentina notifies technical regulations, but not proposed drafts, to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.  Argentina submitted itself to an OECD regulatory policy review in March 2018, which was released in March 2019.  The Fernandez administration has not actively pursued OECD accession.  Argentina participates in all 23 OECD committees.

Additionally, the Argentine Institute for Standards and Certifications (IRAM) is a member of international and regional standards bodies including the International Standardization Organization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the Pan-American Commission on Technical Standards (COPAM), the MERCOSUR Association of Standardization (AMN), the International Certification Network (i-Qnet), the System of Conformity Assessment for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components (IECEE), and the Global Good Agricultural Practice network (GLOBALG.A.P.).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Argentina follows a Civil Law system. In 2014, the Argentine government passed a new Civil and Commercial Code that has been in effect since August 2015. The Civil and Commercial Code provides regulations for civil and commercial liability, including ownership of real and intangible property claims. The current judicial process is lengthy and suffers from significant backlogs. In the Argentine legal system, appeals may be brought from many rulings of the lower court, including evidentiary decisions, not just final orders, which significantly slows all aspects of the system. The Justice Ministry reported in December 2018 that the expanded use of oral processes had reduced the duration of 68 percent of all civil matters to less than two years.

According to the Argentine constitution, the judiciary is a separate and equal branch of government. In practice, there are continuous instances of political interference in the judicial process. Companies have complained that courts lack transparency and reliability, and that the Argentine government has used the judicial system to pressure the private sector. Media revelations of judicial impropriety and corruption feed public perception and undermine confidence in the judiciary.

Many foreign investors prefer to rely on private or international arbitration when those options are available. Claims regarding labor practices are processed through a labor court, regulated by Law 18,345 and its subsequent amendments and implementing regulations by Decree 106/98. Contracts often include clauses designating specific judicial or arbitral recourse for dispute settlement.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

According to the Foreign Direct Investment Law 21,382 and Decree 1853/93, foreign investors may invest in Argentina without prior governmental approval, under the same conditions as investors domiciled within the country. Foreign investors are free to enter into mergers, acquisitions, greenfield investments, or joint ventures. Foreign firms may also participate in publicly-financed research and development programs on a national treatment basis. Incoming foreign currency must be identified by the participating bank to the Central Bank of Argentina (www.bcra.gob.ar).

All foreign and domestic commercial entities in Argentina are regulated by the Commercial Partnerships Law (Law No. 19,550) and the rules issued by the commercial regulatory agencies. Decree 27/2018 amended Law 19,550 to eliminate regulatory barriers and reduce bureaucratic burdens, expedite and simplify processes in the public domain, and deploy existing technological tools to better focus on transparency. Full text of the decree can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/305000-309999/305736/norma.htm All other laws and norms concerning commercial entities are established in the Argentina Civil and Commercial Code, which can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/235000-239999/235975/norma.htm 

Further information about Argentina’s investment policies can be found at the following websites:

Ministry of Productive Development ( https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion )

Ministry of Economy ( https://www.argentina.gob.ar/economia )

The Central Bank of the Argentine Republic ( http://www.bcra.gob.ar/ )

The National Securities Exchange Commission (https://www.argentina.gob.ar/cnv)

The National Investment and Trade Promotion Agency (https://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/)

Investors can download Argentina’s investor guide through this link: ( https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-086VB27JBjN0x0NmM4Y09GODA/view )

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The National Commission for the Defense of Competition and the Secretariat of Domestic Trade, both within the Ministry of Productive Development, have enforcement authority of the Competition Law (Law 25,156). The law aims to promote a culture of competition in all sectors of the national economy. In May 2018, the Argentine Congress approved a new Defense of Competition Law (Law 27,442), which would have, among other things, established an independent competition agency and tribunal. The new law incorporates anti-competitive conduct regulations and a leniency program to facilitate cartel investigation. The full text of the law can be viewed at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do?id=310241 . The Government of Argentina, however, has thus far not taken steps to establish the independent agency or tribunal. In February 2021, a bill introducing amendments to the Defense of Competition Law was passed by the Senate and is currently under study in the Lower House. The main changes are related to the removal of the “Clemency Program,” which encourages public reports of collusive and cartel activities, and the elimination of public hearings to appoint members of the Competition Office. The private sector has expressed concern over this bill, stating these changes are contrary to transparency standards embodied in the Law.

In September 2014, Argentina amended the 1974 National Supply Law to expand the ability of the government to regulate private enterprises by setting minimum and maximum prices and profit margins for goods and services at any stage of economic activity. Private companies may be subject to fines and temporary closure if the government determines they are not complying with the law. Although the law is still in effect, the U.S. Government has not received any reports of it being applied since December 2015.  However, the Fernandez administration has expressed its potential use in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March 2020, the Government of Argentina enacted the Supermarket Shelves Law (Law 27,545) that states that any single manufacturer and its associated brands cannot occupy more than 30 percent of a retailer’s shelf space devoted to any one product category.  The law’s proponents claim it will allow more space for domestic SME-produced products, encourage competition, and reduce shortages. U.S. companies have expressed concern over the pending regulations, seeking clarification about issues such as whether display space percentages would be considered per brand or per production company, as it could potentially affect a company’s production, distribution, and marketing business model.

Expropriation and Compensation

Section 17 of the Argentine Constitution affirms the right of private property and states that any expropriation must be authorized by law and compensation must be provided. The United States-Argentina BIT states that investments shall not be expropriated or nationalized except for public purposes upon prompt payment of the fair market value in compensation.

Argentina has a history of expropriations under previous administrations. The most recent expropriation occurred in March 2015 when the Argentine Congress approved the nationalization of the train and railway system. A number of companies that were privatized during the 1990s under the Menem administration were renationalized under the Kirchner administrations. Additionally, in October 2008, Argentina nationalized its private pension funds, which amounted to approximately one-third of total GDP, and transferred the funds to the government social security agency.

In May 2012, the Fernandez de Kirchner administration nationalized oil and gas company Repsol-YPF. Most of the litigation between the Government of Argentina and Repsol was settled in 2016.  An American hedge fund still holds a claim against YPF and is in litigation in U.S. courts.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Argentina is signatory to the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards, which the country ratified in 1989. Argentina is also a party to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention since 1994.

There is neither specific domestic legislation providing for enforcement under the 1958 New York Convention nor legislation for the enforcement of awards under the ICSID Convention. Companies that seek recourse through Argentine courts may not simultaneously pursue recourse through international arbitration.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The Argentine government officially accepts the principle of international arbitration. The United States-Argentina BIT includes a chapter on Investor-State Dispute Settlement for U.S. investors.

In the past ten years, Argentina has been brought before the ICSID in 54 cases involving U.S. or other foreign investors. Argentina currently has three pending arbitration cases filed against it by U.S. investors. For more information on the cases brought by U.S. claimants against Argentina, go to: https://icsid.worldbank.org/en/Pages/cases/AdvancedSearch.aspx #.

Local courts cannot enforce arbitral awards issued against the government based on the public policy clause. There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

Argentina is a member of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

Argentina is also a party to several bilateral and multilateral treaties and conventions for the enforcement and recognition of foreign judgments, which provide requirements for the enforcement of foreign judgments in Argentina, including:

Treaty of International Procedural Law, approved in the South-American Congress of Private International Law held in Montevideo in 1898, ratified by Argentina by law No. 3,192.

Treaty of International Procedural Law, approved in the South-American Congress of Private International Law held in Montevideo in 1939-1940, ratified by Dec. Ley 7771/56 (1956).

Panama Convention of 1975, CIDIP I: Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration, adopted within the Private International Law Conferences – Organization of American States, ratified by law No. 24,322 (1995).

Montevideo Convention of 1979, CIDIP II: Inter-American Convention on Extraterritorial Validity of Foreign Judgments and Arbitral Awards, adopted within the Private International Law Conferences – Organization of American States, ratified by law No. 22,921 (1983).

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms can be stipulated in contracts. Argentina also has ADR mechanisms available such as the Center for Mediation and Arbitrage (CEMARC) of the Argentine Chamber of Trade. More information can be found at: http://www.intracen.org/Centro-de-Mediacion-y-Arbitraje-Comercial-de-la-Camara-Argentina-de-Comercio—CEMARC–/#sthash.RagZdv0l.dpuf .

Argentina does not have a specific law governing arbitration, but it has adopted a mediation law (Law 24.573/1995), which makes mediation mandatory prior to litigation. Some arbitration provisions are scattered throughout the Civil Code, the National Code of Civil and Commercial Procedure, the Commercial Code, and three other laws. The following methods of concluding an arbitration agreement are non-binding under Argentine law: electronic communication, fax, oral agreement, and conduct on the part of one party. Generally, all commercial matters are subject to arbitration. There are no legal restrictions on the identity and professional qualifications of arbitrators. Parties must be represented in arbitration proceedings in Argentina by attorneys who are licensed to practice locally. The grounds for annulment of arbitration awards are limited to substantial procedural violations, an ultra petita award (award outside the scope of the arbitration agreement), an award rendered after the agreed-upon time limit, and a public order violation that is not yet settled by jurisprudence when related to the merits of the award. On average, it takes around 21 weeks to enforce an arbitration award rendered in Argentina, from filing an application to a writ of execution attaching assets (assuming there is no appeal). It takes roughly 18 weeks to enforce a foreign award. The requirements for the enforcement of foreign judgments are set out in section 517 of the National Procedural Code.

No information is available as to whether the domestic courts frequently rule in cases in favor of state-owned enterprises (SOE) when SOEs are party to a dispute.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Argentina’s bankruptcy law was codified in 1995 in Law 24,522. The full text can be found at: http://www.infoleg.gov.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/25000-29999/25379/texact.htm .

Under the law, debtors are generally able to begin insolvency proceedings when they are no longer able to pay their debts as they mature. Debtors may file for both liquidation and reorganization. Creditors may file for insolvency of the debtor for liquidation only. The insolvency framework does not require approval by the creditors for the selection or appointment of the insolvency representative or for the sale of substantial assets of the debtor. The insolvency framework does not provide rights to the creditor to request information from the insolvency representative, but the creditor has the right to object to decisions by the debtor to accept or reject creditors’ claims. Bankruptcy is not criminalized; however, convictions for fraudulent bankruptcy can carry two to six years of prison time.

Financial institutions regulated by the Central Bank of Argentina (BCRA) publish monthly outstanding credit balances of their debtors; the BCRA National Center of Debtors (Central de Deudores) compiles and publishes this information. The database is available for use of financial institutions that comply with legal requirements concerning protection of personal data. The credit monitoring system only includes negative information, and the information remains on file through the person’s life. At least one local NGO that makes microcredit loans is working to make the payment history of these loans publicly accessible for the purpose of demonstrating credit history, including positive information, for those without access to bank accounts and who are outside of the Central Bank’s system. Equifax, which operates under the local name “Veraz” (or “truthfully”), also provides credit information to financial institutions and other clients, such as telecommunications service providers and other retailers that operate monthly billing or credit/layaway programs.

The World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report ranked Argentina 111 out of 190 countries for the effectiveness of its insolvency law, remaining unchanged compared to 2019 ranking. The report notes that it takes an average of 2.4 years and 16.5 percent of the estate to resolve bankruptcy in Argentina.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

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

The Argentine government offers a number of investment promotion programs at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels to attract investment to specific economic sectors such as capital assets and infrastructure, innovation and technological development, and energy, with no discrimination between national or foreign-owned enterprises. Some of the investment promotion programs require investments within a specific region or locality, industry, or economic activity. Some programs offer refunds on Value-Added Tax (VAT) or other tax incentives for local production of capital goods. The Investment and International Trade Promotion Agency provides cost-free assessment and information to investors to facilitate operations in the country. Argentina’s investment promotion programs and regimes can be found at: https://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/es/inversores , https://www.investargentina.org.ar/, and https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion .

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

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Productive Development launched several financial assistance programs for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) affected by the pandemic. More information can be found at: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion/medidas-pymes-covid .

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

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

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

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

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

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

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Argentina establishes percentages of local content in the production process for manufacturers of mobile and cellular radio communication equipment operating in Tierra del Fuego province.  Resolution 66/2018 maintains the local content requirement for products such as technical manuals, packaging, and labeling. The percentage of local content required ranges from 10 percent to 100 percent depending on the process or item. In cases where local supply is insufficient to meet local content requirements, companies may apply for an exemption that is subject to review every six months. A detailed description of local content percentage requirements can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do;jsessionid=0CA1B74C2D7EC353E66F1CC6CFD8B41D?id=255494 .

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

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

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

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

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

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

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

Intellectual Property Rights

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

The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) 2021 Special 301 Report listed Argentina on the Priority Watch List. Trading partners on the Priority Watch List present the most significant concerns regarding inadequate or ineffective IP protection or enforcement or actions that otherwise limit market access for persons relying on IP protection. For a complete version of the 2020 Report, see: https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/2020_Special_301_Report.pdf .

Argentina continues to present long-standing and well-known challenges to intellectual property (IP)-intensive industries, including those from the United States.  A key deficiency in the legal framework for patents is the unduly broad limitations on patent eligible subject matter.  Pursuant to a highly problematic 2012 Joint Resolution establishing guidelines for the examination of patents, Argentina rejects patent applications for categories of pharmaceutical inventions that are eligible for patentability in other jurisdictions, including in the United States.  Additionally, to be patentable, Argentina requires that processes for the manufacture of active compounds disclosed in a specification be reproducible and applicable on an industrial scale.  Stakeholders assert that Resolution 283/2015, introduced in September 2015, also limits the ability to patent biotechnological innovations based on living matter and natural substances.  These measures have interfered with the ability of companies investing in Argentina to protect their IP and may be inconsistent with international norms.

Another ongoing challenge to the innovative agricultural chemical and pharmaceutical sectors is inadequate protection against the unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorized disclosure, of undisclosed test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for products in those sectors.  Finally, Argentina struggles with a substantial backlog of patent applications resulting in long delays for innovators seeking patent protection in the market.  Government-wide hiring restrictions that remain in place, going back to a hiring freeze in 2018, have resulted in a limited number of patent examiners.  Argentina did not extend the Patent Prosecution Highway signed between the National Institute of Industrial Property’s (INPI) and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which expired in March 2020.

Enforcement of IP rights in Argentina continues to be a challenge, and stakeholders report widespread unfair competition from sellers of counterfeit and pirated goods and services.  La Salada in Buenos Aires remains the largest counterfeit market in Latin America and is cited in USTR’s 2020 Review of Notorious Markets for Piracy and Counterfeiting.  Argentine police generally do not take ex officio actions, prosecutions can stall and languish in excessive formalities, and, when a criminal case does reach final judgment, criminal infringers rarely receive deterrent sentences. Hard goods counterfeiting and optical disc piracy are widespread, and online piracy continues to grow due to nearly nonexistent criminal enforcement against such piracy.  As a result, IP enforcement online in Argentina consists mainly of right holders trying to convince Argentine internet service providers to agree to take down specific infringing works, as well as attempting to seek injunctions in civil cases, both of which can be time-consuming and ineffective.  Right holders also cite widespread use of unlicensed software by Argentine private enterprises and the government.

Argentina made limited progress in IP protection and enforcement in a year marked by a severe economic recession aggravated by the consequences of the confinement measures taken to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic.  The pressing economic situation led to an increase of counterfeit products sales in informal markets once the confinement measures were relaxed in the second semester of 2020. Online sales of counterfeit products, especially apparel and footwear spiked amidst the pandemic. The Argentine Confederation of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises noted an increase of national production of counterfeit sportswear. Flight and border crossing restrictions applied during the COVID-19 health emergency prevented purchases of counterfeit products from China, Paraguay and Bolivia.

INPI began accepting electronic filing of patent, trademark, and industrial designs applications in 2018. During 2020, the agency successfully transitioned to an all-electronic filing system.  Argentina continued to improve procedures for trademarks, with INPI reducing the time for a trademark opposition from an average of 3.5 years to one year.  On trademarks, the law provides for a fast-track option that reduces the time to register a trademark to four months.

Argentina formally created the Federal Committee to Fight Against Contraband, Falsification of Trademarks, and Designations, formalizing the work on trademark counterfeiting under the National Anti-Piracy Initiative launched in 2017.  In November 2020, Argentina and the United States held a virtual bilateral meeting under the Innovation and Creativity Forum for Economic Development, part of the U.S.-Argentina Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, to continue discussions and collaboration on IP topics of mutual interest.  The United States intends to monitor all the outstanding issues for progress and urges Argentina to continue its efforts to create a more attractive environment for investment and innovation.

For 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 Argentine Constitution sets as a general principle that foreign investors have the same status and the same rights as local investors. Foreign investors have free access to domestic and international financing.

Argentina’s economic recession began in 2018 and deepened further in 2019 after the presidential primary election. To slow the outflow of dollars from its reserves, in September 2019 the Argentine Central Bank introduced tight capital controls prohibiting transfers and payments that are likely in conflict with IMF Article VIII and tightened them thereafter. The Argentine government also implemented price controls and trade restrictions. In December 2019, the Fernandez administration passed an economic emergency law that created new taxes, increased export duties, and delegated broad powers to the Executive Branch, with the objectives of increasing social spending for the most vulnerable populations and negotiating revised terms for Argentina’s sovereign debt. These measures deteriorated the investment climate for local and foreign investors.

In April 2020, the government issued a decree postponing debt payments (both interest and principal) of dollar-denominated debt issued under local law until December 31, 2020. In May 2020, Argentina recorded its ninth sovereign default.

The government of Argentina restructured international law bonds for $65 billion and domestic law bonds for $42 billion in September 2020 bringing financial relief of $37.7 billion over the period 2020-2030. In August 2020, the government of Argentina formally notified the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of its intent to renegotiate $45 billion due to the Fund from the 2018 Stand-By Arrangement starting in 2021.

The Argentine Securities and Exchange Commission (CNV or Comisión Nacional de Valores) is the federal agency that regulates securities markets offerings. Securities and accounting standards are transparent and consistent with international norms. Foreign investors have access to a variety of options on the local market to obtain credit. Nevertheless, the domestic credit market is small – credit is 16 percent of GDP, according to the World Bank. To mitigate the recessionary impact of the COVID-19 crisis, the government introduced low-cost lending credit lines (carrying negative real interest rates), and the Central Bank reduced banks’ minimum reserve requirements to encourage banks to expand credit, particularly to SMEs. The Buenos Aires Stock Exchange is the organization responsible for the operation of Argentina’s primary stock exchange, located in Buenos Aires city. The most important index of the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange is the MERVAL (Mercado de Valores).

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

Money and Banking System

Argentina has a relatively sound banking sector based on diversified revenues, well-contained operating costs, and a high liquidity level. Argentina’s banking sector has been resilient in the face of a multi-year economic contraction. Supported by government measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, credit to the private sector in local currency (for both corporations and individuals) increased 10 percent in real terms in 2020. Non-performing private sector loans constitute less than four percent of banks’ portfolios. However, the performance of the financial system has largely been driven by a series of temporary counter-cyclical measures, namely subsidized government-backed loans for small businesses. The banking sector is well positioned due to macro and micro-prudential policies introduced since 2002 that have helped to reduce asset-liability mismatches. The sector is highly liquid and its exposure to the public sector is modest, while its provisions for bad debts are adequate.

Private banks have total assets of approximately ARS 6.1 billion (USD $65 billion). Total financial system assets are approximately ARS 9.9 billion (USD $105 billion). The Central Bank of Argentina acts as the country’s financial agent and is the main regulatory body for the banking system.

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

In November 2020, the Central Bank launched a new payment system, “Transfers 3.0,” seeking to reduce the use of cash. This system will boost digital payments and further financial inclusion in Argentina, expanding the reach of instant transfers to build an open and universal digital payment ecosystem.

The Central Bank has enacted a resolution recognizing cryptocurrencies and requiring that they comply with local banking and tax laws. No implementing regulations have been adopted. Block chain developers report that several companies in the financial services sector are exploring or considering using block chain-based programs externally and are using some such programs internally.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Beginning in September 2019 and throughout 2020, the Argentine government and Central Bank issued a series of decrees and norms regulating and restricting access to foreign exchange markets.

As of October 2019, the Central Bank (Notice A6815) limits cash withdrawals made abroad with local debit cards to foreign currency bank accounts owned by the client in Argentina. Pursuant to Notice A6823, cash advances made abroad from local credit cards are limited to a maximum of USD $50 per transaction.

As of September 2020, and pursuant to Notice A7106, Argentine individuals can purchase no more than USD $200 per month on a rolling monthly basis. However, purchases abroad with credit and debit cards will be deducted from the USD $200 per month quota. While no limit on credit/debit card purchases is imposed, if the monthly expenses surpass the USD $200 limit, the deduction will be carried over to subsequent months until the amount acquired is completed. Also, the regulation prohibits individual recipients of government assistance programs and high-ranking federal government officials from purchasing foreign exchange. Purchases above the USD $200 limit require Central Bank approval. Pursuant to Public Emergency Law 27,541, issued December 23, 2019, all dollar purchases and individual expenses incurred abroad, in person or online, including international online purchases from Argentina, paid with credit or debit cards will be subject to a 30 percent tax. Pursuant to AFIP Resolution 4815 a 35 percent withholding tax in advance of the payment of income and/or wealth tax is also applied.

Non-Argentine residents are required to obtain prior Central Bank approval to purchase more than USD $100 per month, except for certain bilateral or international organizations, institutions and agencies, diplomatic representation, and foreign tribunals.

Companies and individuals need to obtain prior clearance from the Central Bank before transferring funds abroad. In the case of individuals, if transfers are made from their own foreign currency accounts in Argentina to their own accounts abroad, they do not need to obtain Central Bank approval.

Per Notice A6869 issued by the Central Bank in January 2020, companies will be able to repatriate dividends without Central Bank authorization equivalent to a maximum of 30 percent of new foreign direct investment made by the company in the country. To promote foreign direct investment the Central Bank announced in October 2020 (Notice A7123) that it will allow free access to the official foreign exchange market to repatriate investments as long as the capital contribution was transferred and sold in Argentine Pesos through the foreign exchange market as of October 2, 2020 and the repatriation takes place at least two years after the transfer and settlement of those funds.

Exporters of goods are required to transfer the proceeds from exports to Argentina and settle in pesos in the foreign currency market. Exporters must settle according to the following terms: exporters with affiliates (irrespective of the type of good exported) and exporters of certain goods (including cereals, seeds, minerals, and precious metals, among others) must convert their foreign currency proceeds to pesos within 15 days (or 30 days for some products) after the issuance of the permit for shipment; other exporters have 180 days to settle in pesos. Despite these deadlines, exporters must transfer the funds to Argentina and settle in pesos within five business days from the actual collection of funds. Argentine residents are required to transfer to Argentina and settle in pesos the proceeds from services exports rendered to non-Argentine residents that are paid in foreign currency either in Argentina or abroad, within five business days from collection of funds.

Payment of imports of goods and services from third parties and affiliates require Central Bank approval if the company needs to purchase foreign currency. Since May 2020, the Central Bank requires importers to submit an affidavit stating that the total amount of payments associated with the import of goods made during the year (including the payment that is being requested). The total amount of payments for importation of goods should also include the payments for amortizations of lines of credit and/or commercial guarantees.

In September 2020, the Central Bank limited companies’ ability to purchase foreign currency to cancel any external financial debt (including other intercompany debt) and dollar denominated local securities offerings. Companies were granted access to foreign currency for up to 40 percent of the principal amount coming due from October 15, 2020 to December 31, 2020. For the remaining 60 percent of the debt, companies had to file a refinancing plan with the Central Bank. In February 2021, the Central Bank extended the regulation to include debt maturing up to December 31, 2021. Indebtedness with international organizations or their associated agencies or guaranteed by them and indebtedness granted by official credit agencies or guaranteed by them are exempted from this restriction.

The Central Bank (Notice A7001) prohibited access to the foreign exchange market to pay for external indebtedness, imports of goods and services, and saving purposes for individuals and companies that have made sales of securities with settlement in foreign currency or transfers of these to foreign depositary entities within the last 90 days. They also should not make any of these transactions for the following 90 days.

Pre-cancellation of debt coming due abroad in more than three business days requires Central Bank approval to purchase dollars.

Per Resolution 36,162 of October 2011, locally registered insurance companies are mandated to maintain all investments and cash equivalents in the country. The Central Bank limits banks’ dollar-denominated asset holdings to 5 percent of their net worth.

In January 2020, the Central Bank presented its monetary policy framework showing that monetary and financial policies will be subject to the government’s objective of addressing current social and economic challenges. In particular, the Central Bank acknowledged that it would continue to provide direct financial support to the government (in foreign and domestic currency) as external credit markets remain closed. The Central Bank determined that a managed exchange rate is a valid instrument to avoid sharp fluctuations in relative prices, international competitiveness, and income distribution. The Central Bank also noted the exchange rate policy should also facilitate the preemptive accumulation of international reserves.

Remittance Policies

In response to the economic crisis in Argentina, the government introduced capital controls in September 2019 and tightened them in 2020.  Under these restrictions, companies in Argentina (including local affiliates of foreign parent companies) must obtain prior approval from the Central Bank to access the foreign exchange market to purchase foreign currency and to transfer funds abroad for the payment of dividends and profits.  In January 2020, the Central Bank amended the regime for the payment of dividends abroad to non-residents. The new regime allows companies to access the foreign exchange market to transfer profits and dividends abroad without prior authorization of the Central Bank, provided the following conditions are met:

  1. Profits and dividends are be declared in closed and audited financial statements.
  2. The dividends in foreign currency should not exceed the dividends determined by the shareholders’ meeting in local currency.
  3. The total amount of dividends to be transferred cannot exceed 30 percent of the amount of new capital contributions made by non-residents into local companies since January 2020.
  4. The resident entity must be in compliance with filing the Central Bank Survey of External Assets and Liabilities.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Argentine government does not maintain a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

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

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

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

State-owned enterprises purchase and supply goods and services from the private sector and foreign firms. Private enterprises may compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to market share, products/services, and incentives. Private enterprises also have access to financing terms and conditions similar to SOEs. SOEs are subject to the same tax burden and tax rebate policies as their private sector competitors. SOEs are not currently subject to firm budget constraints under the law and have been subsidized by the central government in the past. Between 2016 and 2019, the Government of Argentina reduced subsidies in the energy, water, and transportation sectors. However, in 2019 the Government postponed its subsidy reduction program and redesigned it several times, citing pressing macroeconomic issues. During 2020 subsidies increased to maintain a tariff freeze on public services given the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 budget targets a reduction in subsidies in an effort to contain spending. Argentina does not have regulations that differentiate treatment of SOEs and private enterprises. Argentina has observer status under the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement and, as such, SOEs are subject to the conditions of Argentina’s observance.

Argentina does not have a specified ownership policy, guideline or governance code for how the government exercises ownership of SOEs. The country generally adheres to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs. The practices for SOEs are mainly in compliance with the policies and practices for transparency and accountability in the OECD Guidelines. In 2018, the OECD released a report evaluating the corporate governance framework for the Argentine SOE sector relative to the OECD Guidelines, which can be viewed here: http://www.oecd.org/countries/argentina/oecd-review-corporate-governance-soe-argentina.htm .

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

Privatization Program

The current administration has not developed a privatization program.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is an increasing awareness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and responsible business conduct (RBC) among both producers and consumers in Argentina. RBC and CSR practices are welcomed by beneficiary communities throughout Argentina. There are many institutes that promote RBC and CSR in Argentina, the most prominent being the Argentine Institute for Business Social Responsibility ( http://www.iarse.org/ ), which has been working in the country for more than 18 years and includes among its members many of the most important companies in Argentina.

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

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

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

In February 2019, the Argentine government joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).  Argentina published its first report in 2020 ( https://eiti.org/document/argentina-2018-eiti-report ).

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Argentina’s legal system incorporates several measures to address public sector corruption. The foundational law is the 1999 Public Ethics Law (Law 25,188), the full text of which can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do?id=60847 . A March 2019 report by the OECD’s Directorate for Public Governance underscored, however, that the law is heterogeneously implemented across branches of the government and that the legislative branch has not designated an application authority, approved an implementing regulation, or specified sanctions. It also noted that Argentina has a regulation on lobbying, but that it only applies to the executive branch, and only requires officials to disclose meetings with lobbyists. With regards to political parties, the report noted anonymous campaign donations are banned, but 90 percent of all donations in Argentina are made in cash, making it impossible to identify donors. Furthermore, the existing regulations have insufficient controls and sanctions, and leave gaps with provincial regulations that could be exploited.

Within the executive branch, the government institutions tasked with combatting corruption include the Anti-Corruption Office (ACO), the National Auditor General, and the General Comptroller’s Office. Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, and the Ministry of Justice’s ACO is responsible for analyzing and investigating federal executive branch officials based on their financial disclosure forms—which require the disclosure of assets directly owned by immediate family members. The ACO is also responsible for investigating corruption within the federal executive branch or in matters involving federal funds, except for funds transferred to the provinces. While the ACO does not have authority to independently prosecute cases, it can refer cases to other agencies or serve as the plaintiff and request that a judge initiate a case.

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

Official corruption remains a serious challenge in Argentina. In its March 2017 report, the OECD expressed concern about Argentina’s enforcement of foreign bribery laws, inefficiencies in the judicial system, politicization and perceived lack of independence at the Attorney General’s Office, and lack of training and awareness for judges and prosecutors. According to the World Bank’s worldwide governance indicators, corruption remains an area of concern in Argentina. In the latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Argentina ranked 78 out of 180 countries in 2020, dropping 12 places compared to 2019. Allegations of corruption in provincial as well as federal courts remained frequent. Few Argentine companies have implemented anti-foreign bribery measures beyond limited codes of ethics.

In September 2016, Congress passed a law on public access to information. The law explicitly applies to all three branches of the federal government, the public justice offices, and entities such as businesses, political parties, universities, and trade associations that receive public funding. It requires these institutions to respond to citizen requests for public information within 15 days, with an additional 15-day extension available for “exceptional” circumstances. Sanctions apply for noncompliance. As mandated by the law, the executive branch created the Agency for Access to Public Information in 2017, an autonomous office that oversees access to information. In early 2016, the Argentine government reaffirmed its commitment to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), became a founding member of the Global Anti-Corruption Coalition, and reengaged the OECD Working Group on Bribery.

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

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

Resources to Report Corruption

Felix Pablo Crous
Director
Government of Argentina Anti-Corruption Office
Oficina Anticorrupción, 25 de Mayo 544, C1002ABL, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires.
Phone: +54 11 5300 4100
Email:  anticorrupcion@jus.gov.ar  and http://denuncias.anticorrupcion.gob.ar/ 

Poder Ciudadano (Local Transparency International Affiliate)
Piedras 547, C1070AAK, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires
Phone: +54 11 4331 4925 ext. 225
Fax: +54 11 4331 4925
Email: comunicaciones@poderciudadano.org 
Website: http://www.poderciudadano.org 

10. Political and Security Environment

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

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

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

Union disputes and politicized worker movements are common in CABA and the Provinces. In 2019 and early 2020, foreign-owned diamond mining companies in Neuquén were targeted by work stoppages and insider attacks in failed attempts to intimidate and force employers to increase salaries and benefits. These protesters were seemingly allowed to act without fear of response from local police forces, even after direct requests for assistance had been made. The companies believe the unions and protesters feel emboldened by the government’s stance towards Western companies and were forced to shut down operations for weeks in December 2019 and January 2020, in fear of the safety of their personnel at the local headquarters.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Argentine workers are among the most highly-educated and skilled in Latin America. Foreign investors often cite Argentina’s skilled workforce as a key factor in their decision to invest in Argentina. Argentina has relatively high social security, health, and other labor taxes, however, high labor costs are among foreign investors’ most often cited operational challenges. The unemployment rate reached 11 percent in 2020, according to official statistics. The government estimated unemployment for workers below 29 years old as more than double the national rate. Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, analysts estimate informality stands between 20 to 40 percent.

During 2020, the Argentine government implemented measures to alleviate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and employment. The government introduced measures to stimulate the economy and employment through public works and price limits; to protect workers in the workplace by promoting telework and offering leave for workers; and to support jobs and worker income by prohibiting employers from terminating employment. The government also facilitated social dialogue between the private sector and unions. The government has postponed implementation of Argentina’s ambitious Teleworking Contracts Regime, Law 27555, passed by Congress on July 30, 2020 and ratified by President Fernandez on August 14, 2020. This law provides the legal framework for teleworking in employment settings that allow it. However, it is so restrictive that many businesses have said that it deters telework.

Labor laws are comparatively protective of workers in Argentina, and investors cite labor-related litigation as an important factor increasing labor costs in Argentina. For example, one of the first measures passed by President Fernandez after he took office was Decree 34/2019 which established that employees dismissed without cause have the right to double the legal severance payment, the measure was extended until December 31, 2021 through Decree 39/2021. There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in the Foreign Trade Zones. Organized labor plays an important role in labor-management relations and in Argentine politics. Under Argentine law, the Ministry of Labor recognizes one union per sector per geographic unit (e.g., nationwide, a single province, or a major city) with the right to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement for that sector and geographic area. Roughly 40 percent of Argentina’s formal workforce is unionized. The Ministry of Labor ratifies collective bargaining agreements. Collective bargaining agreements cover workers in a given sector and geographic area whether they are union members or not, so roughly 70 percent of the workforce was covered by an agreement. While negotiations between unions and industry are generally independent, the Ministry of Labor often serves as a mediator. Argentine law also offers recourse to mediation and arbitration of labor disputes.

During 2020, the Ministry of Labor registered 840 labor and collective bargaining agreements. These agreements covered approximately 5.1 million workers. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a large number of the agreements focused on the inability of workers to come to their workplace due to social distancing measures and the inability of employers to terminate employment during the crisis.

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

The Fernandez government does not intend to pursue a broad labor reform bill, preferring instead to allow firms and workers to negotiate any adjustments to labor conditions through the collective bargaining process. The Ministry of Labor has indicated interest in proposing a “gig economy” bill (ley de plataformas) that would extend basic labor rights to, e.g., delivery workers coordinated through information technology applications. Labor-related demonstrations in Argentina occurred periodically in 2019, due to the pandemic, most Argentines’ outside activities were limited throughout 2020 which also limited demonstrations. Reasons for strikes include job losses, high taxes, loss of purchasing power, and wage negotiations. Labor demonstrations may involve tens of thousands of protestors. Past demonstrations have essentially closed sections of a city for a few hours or impeded traffic.

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

The minimum age for employment is 16. Children between the ages of 16 and 18 may work in a limited number of job categories and for limited hours if they have completed compulsory schooling, which normally ends at age 18. The law requires employers to provide adequate care for workers’ children during work hours to discourage child labor. The Department of Labor’s 2019 Worst Form of Child Labor for Argentina can be accessed here: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/argentina 

The Department of State’s 2019 Human Rights Report for Argentina can be accessed here: https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/argentina/

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

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

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 $361,496 2019 $445.445 www.worldbank.org/en/country

www.indec.gob.ar

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 N/A 2019 $10.7 billion BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 N/A 2019 $561 million 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 N/A 2019 1.4% UNCTAD data available at

https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html

* Source for Host Country Data:

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 70,458 100% Total Outward 42,671 100%
United States 17,210 24.44% Uruguay 17,319 40.59%
Spain 10,481 24.43% United States 5,041 11.81%
Netherlands 6,949 9.87% Paraguay 1,908 4.47%
Brazil 3,984 5.65% Mexico 1,273 2.98%
Germany 3,467 4.92% Brazil 801 1.88%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 31,304 100% All Countries 18,978 100% All Countries 12,326 100%
United States 30,654 98% United States 18,685 98% United States 11,969 97%
Brazil 85 1% Brazil 111 1% Brazil 231 2%
Luxembourg 83 0% Luxembourg 85 0% Germany 83 1%
Germany 51 0% Canada 51 0% Chile 6 0%
Canada 27 0% Russia 11 0% Ireland 3 0%

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section
U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires
Avenida Colombia 4300
(C1425GMN)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
+54-11-5777-474
ECONBA@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

Chile

Executive Summary

With the sixth largest GDP per capita in the Western Hemisphere, Chile has historically enjoyed levels of stability and prosperity among the highest in the region. Widespread civil unrest broke out in 2019, however, in response to perceived systemic economic inequality. Pursuant to a political accord, Chile held a plebiscite in October 2020 in which citizens chose to redraft the constitution. Uncertainty about the outcome may impact investment. Chile’s solid macroeconomic policy framework the country boasts one of the strongest sovereign bond ratings in Latin America has provided the fiscal space to respond to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic through economic relief and stimulus packages and other measures. After a 5.8 percent contraction in 2020, the Chilean Central Bank forecasts Chile’s economic growth in 2021 will be in the range of 6.0 to 7.0 percent.

Chile has successfully attracted Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) despite its relatively small domestic market. The country’s market-oriented policies have created significant opportunities for foreign investors to participate in the country’s economic growth. Chile has a sound legal framework and general respect for private property rights. Sectors that attract significant FDI include mining, finance/insurance, energy, telecommunications, chemical manufacturing, and wholesale trade. Mineral, hydrocarbon, and fossil fuel deposits within Chilean territory are restricted from foreign ownership, but companies may enter into contracts with the government to extract these resources. Corruption exists in Chile but on a much smaller scale than in most Latin American countries, ranking 25 – along with the United States – out of 170 countries worldwide and second in Latin America in Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Although Chile is an attractive destination for foreign investment, challenges remain. Legislative and constitutional reforms proposed in response to the social unrest and the pandemic have generated concern about the potential impact on investments in the mining, energy, healthcare, insurance, and pension sectors. Importantly, the legislation enabling the constitutional reform process requires that the new constitution must respect Chile’s character as a democratic republic, its judicial sentences, and its international treaties (including the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement). Despite a general respect for intellectual property (IP) rights, Chile has not fully complied with its IP obligations set forth in the U.S.-Chile FTA. Environmental permitting processes, indigenous consultation requirements, and cumbersome court proceedings have made large project approvals increasingly time consuming and unpredictable, especially in cases with political sensitivities. The current administration prioritizes attracting foreign investment and implemented measures to streamline the process.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 25 of 170 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 59 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 54 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country (USD billion, historical stock positions) 2019 25.1 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita (USD) 2019 15,010 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

For more than four decades, promoting inward FDI has been an essential part of the Chilean government’s national development strategy. The country’s market-oriented economic policy creates significant opportunities for foreign investors to participate. Laws and practices are not discriminatory against foreign investors, who receive treatment similar to Chilean nationals. Chile’s business climate is generally straightforward and transparent, and its policy framework has remained consistent despite developments such as civil unrest in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic starting in 2020. However, the permitting process for infrastructure, mining, and energy projects is contentious, especially regarding politically sensitive environmental impact assessments, water rights issues, and indigenous consultations.

InvestChile is the government agency in charge of facilitating the entry and retention of FDI into Chile. It provides services related to investment attraction (information about investment opportunities); pre-investment (sector-specific advisory services, including legal); landing (access to certificates, funds and networks); and after-care (including assistance for exporting and re-investment).

Regarding government-investor dialogue, in May 2018, the Ministry of Economy created the Sustainable Projects Management Office (GPS). This agency provides support to investment projects, both domestic and foreign, serving as a first point of contact with the government and coordinating with different agencies in charge of evaluating investment projects, which aims to help resolve issues that emerge during the permitting process.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign investors have access to all productive activities, except for the domestic maritime freight sector, in which foreign ownership of companies is capped at 49 percent. Maritime transportation between Chilean ports is open since 2019 to foreign cruise vessels with more than 400 passengers. Some international reciprocity restrictions exist for fishing.

Most enterprises in Chile may be 100 percent owned by foreigners. Chile only restricts the right to private ownership or establishment in what it defines as certain “strategic” sectors, such as nuclear energy and mining. The Constitution establishes the “absolute, exclusive, inalienable and permanent domain” of the Chilean state over all mineral, hydrocarbon, and fossil fuel deposits within Chilean territory. However, Chilean law allows the government to grant concession rights and lease agreements to individuals and companies for exploration and exploitation activities, and to assign contracts to private investors, without discrimination against foreign investors.

Chile has not implemented an investment screening mechanism for national security purposes. FDI is subject to pro forma screening by InvestChile. Businesses in general do not consider these screening mechanisms as barriers to investment because approval procedures are expeditious and investments are usually approved. Some transactions require an anti-trust review by the office of the national economic prosecutor (Fiscalía Nacional Económica) and/or sector-specific regulators.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has not conducted a Trade Policy Review for Chile since June 2015 (available here: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp415_e.htm). The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has not conducted an Investment Policy Review for Chile since 1997 (available here: http://www.oecd.org/daf/inv/investment-policy/34384328.pdf), and the country is not part of the countries covered to date by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) Investment Policy Reviews.

Business Facilitation

The Chilean government took significant steps towards business facilitation during the past decade. Starting in 2018, the government introduced updated electronic and online systems for providing some tax information, complaints related to contract enforcement, and online registration of closed corporations (non-public corporations). In June 2019, the Ministry of Economy launched the Unified System for Permits (SUPER), a new online single-window platform that brings together 182 license and permit procedures, simplifying the process of obtaining permits for investment projects.

According to the World Bank, Chile has one of the shortest and smoothest processes among Latin American and Caribbean countries – 11 procedures and 29 days – to establish a foreign-owned limited liability company (LLC). Drafting statutes of a company and obtaining an authorization number can be done online at the platform https://www.registrodeempresasysociedades.cl/. Electronic signature and invoicing allow foreign investors to register a company, obtain a tax payer ID number and get legal receipts, invoices, credit and debit notes, and accountant registries. A company typically needs to register with Chile’s Internal Revenue Service, obtain a business license from a municipality, and register either with the Institute of Occupational Safety (public) or with one of three private nonprofit entities that provide work-related accident insurance, which is mandatory for employers. In addition to the steps required of a domestic company, a foreign company establishing a subsidiary in Chile must authenticate the parent company’s documents abroad and register the incoming capital with the Central Bank. This procedure, established under Chapter XIV of the Foreign Exchange Regulations, requires a notice of conversion of foreign currency into Chilean pesos when the investment exceeds $10,000 (USD). The registration process at the Registry of Commerce of Santiago is available online.

Outward Investment

The Government of Chile does not have an active policy of promotion or incentives for outward investment, nor does it impose restrictions on it.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Chile’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and provide clear rules for competition and a level playing field for foreigners. They are consistent with international norms; however, environmental regulations – which include mandatory indigenous consultation required by the International Labor Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (ILO 169) – and other permitting processes have become lengthy and unpredictable, especially in politically sensitive cases.

Four institutions play key roles in the rule-making process in Chile: The General-Secretariat of the Presidency (SEGPRES), the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Economy, and the General Comptroller of the Republic. However, Chile does not have a regulatory oversight body. Most regulations come from the national government; however, some, in particular those related to land use, are decided at the local level. Both national and local governments are involved in the issuance of environmental permits. Regulatory processes are managed by governmental entities. NGOs and private sector associations may participate in public hearings or comment periods. The OECD’s April 2016 “Regulatory Policy in Chile” report asserts that Chile took steps to improve its rule-making process, but still lags behind the OECD average in assessing the impact of regulations, consulting with outside parties on their design and evaluating them over time.

In Chile, non-listed companies follow norms issued by the Accountants Professional Association, while publicly listed companies use the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Since January 2018, IFRS 9 entered into force for companies in all sectors except for banking, in which IFRS 15 will be applied. IFRS 16 entered into force in January 2019. On January 12, 2021, Chile’s Financial Market Commission (CMF) published for consultation a regulation to implement the IFRS 17 accounting standards in the Chilean insurance market.

The legislation process in Chile allows for public hearings during discussion of draft bills in both chambers of Congress. Draft bills submitted by the Executive Branch to the Congress are readily available for public comment. Ministries and regulatory agencies are required by law to give notice of proposed regulations, but there is no formal requirement in Chile for consultation with the general public, conducting regulatory impact assessments of proposed regulations, requesting comments, or reporting results of consultations. For lower-level regulations or norms that do not need congressional approval, there are no formal provisions for public hearing or comment. As a result, Chilean regulators and rulemaking bodies normally consult with stakeholders, but in a less formal manner.

All decrees and laws are published in the Diario Oficial (roughly similar to the Federal Register in the United States), but other types of regulations will not necessarily be found there. There are no other centralized online locations where regulations in Chile are published.

According to the OECD, compliance rates in Chile are generally high. The approach to enforcement remains punitive rather than preventive, and regulators still prefer to inspect rather than collaborate with regulated entities on fostering compliance. Each institution with regulation enforcement responsibilities has its own sanction procedures. Law 19.880 from 2003 establishes the principles for reversal and hierarchical recourse against decisions by the administration. An administrative act can be challenged by lodging an action in the ordinary courts of justice, or by administrative means with a petition to the Comptroller General of the Republic. Affected parties may also make a formal appeal to the Constitutional Court against a specific regulation.

Chile still lacks a comprehensive, “whole of government” regulatory reform program. The World Bank´s Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance project finds that Chile is not part of the countries that have improved their regulatory governance framework since 2017.

Chile’s level of fiscal transparency is excellent. Information on the budget and debt obligations, including explicit and contingent liabilities, is easily accessible online.

International Regulatory Considerations

Chile does not share regulatory sovereignty with any regional economic bloc. However, several international norms or standards from multilateral organizations (UN, WIPO, ILO, among others) are referenced or incorporated into the country’s regulatory system. As a member of the WTO, the Chile notifies draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Chile’s legal system is based on civil law. Chile’s legal and regulatory framework provides for effective means for enforcing property and contractual rights. Laws governing issues of interest to foreign investors are found in several statutes, including the Commercial Code of 1868, the Civil Code, the Labor Code and the General Banking Act. Chile has specialized courts for dealing with tax and labor issues.

The judicial system in Chile is generally transparent and independent. The likelihood of government intervention in court cases is low. If a state-owned firm is involved in the dispute, the Government of Chile may become directly involved through the State Defense Council, which represents the government interests in litigation cases related to expropriations.

Regulations can be challenged before the court system, the National Comptroller, or the Constitutional Court, depending on the nature of the claim.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Law 20,848, of 2015, established a new framework for foreign investment in Chile and created the Agency for the Promotion of Foreign Investment (APIE), successor to the former Foreign Investment Committee and which also acts under the name of “InvestChile.” The InvestChile website (https://investchile.gob.cl/) provides relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors. For more on FDI regulations and services for foreign investors, see the section on Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Chile’s anti-trust law prohibits mergers or acquisitions that would prevent free competition in the industry at issue. An investor may voluntarily seek a ruling by an Anti-trust Court that a planned investment would not have competition implications. The national economic prosecutor (FNE) is an active institution in conducting investigations for competition-related cases and filing complaints before the Free Competition Tribunal (TDLC), which rules on those cases.

In April 2020, Chile’s Supreme Court ruled on a collusion case introduced by the FNE in 2016 and more than doubled sanctions previously decided by the TDLC in 2019. Supermarket chains Walmart, Cencosud, and SMU were fined USD 7.9 million, USD 8.2 million, and USD 4.9 million, respectively. The ruling established that these retailers set up a minimum price accord in the market for fresh poultry.

In March 2020 and March 2021, respectively, after completing separate anti-trust reviews, the FNE cleared a Chinese state-owned enterprise’s acquisitions of two Chilean energy companies. In May 2020, the FNE approved the acquisition of a domestic e-commerce and delivery services digital platformby a U.S. ridesharing technology technology company. In August 2020, the Supreme Court ruled on a collusion case related to maritime transportation of cars into Chile between 2010 and 2013. In April 2019, the TDLC previously applied fines on two Japanese shipping and transport companies. – The Court accepted FNE’s complaint and extended fines to three other Chilean, Japanese, and Korean firms that participated in the agreement. Total fines amount to USD 30.5 million.

In September 2020, the FNE requested fines amounting to USD 4.1 million on a U.S. entertainment company and its subsidiary for failing to provide accurate information and to adopt adequate mitigation measures during the approval process for its acquisition of a U.S. multimedia company.

In December 2020, the FNE approved the merger between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Peugeot, provided that some remedies provided by the companies would mitigate the risks to competition in the retail car market.

Expropriation and Compensation

Chilean law grants the government authority to expropriate property, including property of foreign investors, only on public interest or national interest grounds, on a non-discriminatory basis and in accordance with due process. The government has not nationalized a private firm since 1973. Expropriations of private land take place in a transparent manner, and typically only when the purpose is to build roads or other types of infrastructure. The law requires the payment of immediate compensation at fair market value, in addition to any applicable interest.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Since 1991, Chile has been a member state to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention). In 1975, Chile became a signatory to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).

National arbitration law in Chile includes the Civil Procedure Code (Law Num. 1552, modified by Law Num. 20.217 of 2007), and the Law Num. 19.971 on International Commercial Arbitration.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Apart from the New York Convention, Chile is also a party to the Pan-American Convention on Private International Law (Bustamante Code) since 1934, the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (Panama Convention) since 1976, and the Washington Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States since 1992.

The U.S.-Chile FTA, in force since 2004, includes an investment chapter that provides the right for investors to submit claims under the ICSID Convention, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) arbitration rules, or any other mutually agreed upon arbitral institution. So far, U.S. investors have filed no claims under the agreement.

Over the past 10 years, there were only two investment dispute cases brought by foreign investors against the state of Chile before the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) tribunal. In the first case, a Spanish-Chilean citizen demanded USD 338.3 million in compensation for the expropriation of a Chilean newspaper company in 1975 by Chile’s military regime. Despite an ICSID decision from 2016 in favor of the Chilean state, the claimant requested the nullification of the ruling, which extended the total duration of the case to 22 years. On January 7, 2020, ICSID issued a final ruling in favor of the Chilean state and rejecting the claimant’s case. The second case was brought in 2017 by a Colombian firm, which held concession contracts as operators of Transantiago, the public transportation system in Santiago de Chile. The Columbian firm claimed USD 347 million for Chilean government actions that allegedly created unfavorable operating conditions for the claimants’ subsidiaries and resulted in bankruptcy proceedings. On January 7, 2021, ICSID ruled in favor of the Chilean state, rejecting the claims.

Local courts respect and enforce foreign arbitration awards, and there is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Mediation and binding arbitration exist in Chile as alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. A suit may also be brought in court under expedited procedures involving the abrogation of constitutional rights. The U.S.-Chile FTA investment chapter encourages consultations or negotiations before recourse to dispute settlement mechanisms. If the parties fail to resolve the matter, the investor may submit a claim for arbitration. Provisions in Section C of the FTA ensure that the proceedings are transparent by requiring that all documents submitted to or issued by the tribunal be available to the public, and by stipulating that proceedings be public. The FTA investment chapter establishes clear and specific terms for making proceedings more efficient and avoiding frivolous claims. Chilean law is generally to be applied to all contracts. However, arbitral tribunals decide disputes in accordance with FTA obligations and applicable international law. The tribunal must also accept amicus curiae submissions.

In Chile, the Judiciary Code and the Code of Civil Procedure govern domestic arbitration. Local courts respect and enforce foreign arbitral awards and judgments of foreign courts. Chile has a dual arbitration system in terms of regulation, meaning that different bodies of law govern domestic and international arbitration. International commercial arbitration is governed by the International Commercial Arbitration Act that is modeled on the 1985 UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration. In addition to this statute, there is also Decree Law Number 2349 that regulates International Contracts for the Public Sector and sets forth a specific legal framework for the State and its entities to submit their disputes to international arbitration.

No Chilean state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have been involved in investment disputes in recent decades. A Chilean government agency filed an arbitration case in February 2021 against a U.S. firm at the International Chamber of Commerce International Court of Arbitration. The case remains pending.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Chile’s Insolvency Law from 1982 was updated in October 2014. The current law aims to clarify and simplify liquidation and reorganization procedures for businesses to prevent criminalizing bankruptcy. It also established the new Superintendence of Insolvency and created specialized insolvency courts. The new insolvency law requires creditors’ approval to select the insolvency representative and to sell debtors’ substantial assets. The creditor also has the right to object to decisions accepting or rejecting creditors’ claims. However, the creditor cannot request information from the insolvency representative. The creditor may file for insolvency of the debtor, but for liquidation purposes only. The creditors are divided into classes for the purposes of voting on the reorganization plan; each class votes separately, and creditors in the same class are treated equally.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Chilean government generally does not subsidize foreign investment, nor does it issue guarantees or joint financing for FDI projects. There are, however, some incentives directed toward isolated geographical zones and to the information technology sector. These benefits relate to co-financing of feasibility studies as well as to incentives for the purchase of land in industrial zones, the hiring of local labor, and the facilitation of project financing. Other important incentives include accelerated depreciation accounting for tax purposes and legal guarantees for remitting profits and capital. Additionally, the Start-Up Chile program provides selected entrepreneurs with grants of up to USD 80,000, along with a Chilean work visa to develop a “startup” business in Chile over a period of four to seven months. Chile has other special incentive programs aimed at promoting investment and employment in remote regions, as well as other areas that suffer development lags.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Chile has two free trade zones: one in the northern port city of Iquique (Tarapaca Region) and the other in the far south port city of Punta Arenas (Magallanes Region). Merchants and manufacturers in these zones are exempt from corporate income tax, value added taxes (VAT) – on operations and services that take place inside the free trade zone – and customs duties. The same exemptions also apply to manufacturers in the Chacalluta and Las Americas Industrial Park in Arica (Arica and Parinacota Region). Mining, fishing, and financial services are not eligible for free zone concessions. Foreign-owned firms have the same investment opportunities in these zones as Chilean firms. The process for setting up a subsidiary is the same inside as outside the zones, regardless of whether the company is domestic or foreign-owned.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Chile mandates that 85 percent of a firm’s workers must be local employees. Exceptions are described in Section 11. The costs associated with migration regulations do not significantly inhibit the mobility of foreign investors and their employees.

Chile does not follow “forced localization.” A draft bill that is pending in Chile’s Congress could result in additional requirements (owner’s consent) for international data transfers in cases involving jurisdictions with data protection regimes below Chile’s standards. The bill, modeled after the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) also proposes the creation of an independent Chilean Data Protection Agency that would be responsible for enforcing data protection standards.

Neither Chile’s Foreign Investment Promotion Agency nor the Central Bank applies performance requirements in their reviews of proposed investment projects. The investment chapter in the U.S.–Chile FTA establishes rules prohibiting performance requirements that apply to all investments, whether by a third party or domestic investors. The FTA investment chapter also regulates the use of mandatory performance requirements as a condition for receiving incentives and spells out certain exceptions. These include government procurement, qualifications for export and foreign aid programs, and non-discriminatory health, safety, and environmental requirements.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights and interests are recognized and generally enforced in Chile. Chile ranked 63 out of 190 economies in the “Registering Property” category of the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report. There is a recognized and generally reliable system for recording mortgages and other forms of liens.

There are no restrictions on foreign ownership of buildings and land, and no time limit on the property rights acquired by them. The only exception, based on national security grounds, is for land located in border territories, which may not be owned by nationals or firms from border countries, without prior authorization of the President of Chile. There are no restrictions to foreign and/or non-resident investors regarding land leases or acquisitions. In the Doing Business specific index for “quality of land administration” (which includes reliability of infrastructure, transparency of information, geographic coverage and land dispute resolution), Chile obtains a score of 14 out of 30.

Unoccupied properties can always be claimed by their legal owners and, as usurpation is a criminal offense, several kinds of eviction procedures are allowed by the law, though they can sometimes be onerous and lengthy.

Intellectual Property Rights

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s International IP Index, Chile’s legal framework provides for fair and transparent use of compulsory licensing; extends necessary exclusive rights to copyright holders and maintains a voluntary notification system; and provides for civil and procedural remedies. However, intellectual property (IP) protection challenges remain. Chile’s framework for trade secret protection has been deemed insufficient by private stakeholders. Pharmaceutical products suffer from relatively weak patenting procedures, the absence of an effective patent enforcement and resolution mechanism, and some gaps in regulation governing data protection.

Two important IP-related laws that made progress in 2019 in the Chilean Congress and are still pending passage. A draft bill submitted to Congress in October 2018 would reform Chile’s Industrial Property Law. The new IP bill aims to reduce timeframes, modernize procedures, and increase legal certainty for patents and trademarks registration. On April 9, 2019, the bill was passed by the Lower Chamber and sent to the Senate. Meanwhile, a reform bill on Chile’s pharmaceutical drugs law called “Ley de Fármacos II”, originated in the Senate but was extensively amended by the opposition-controlled Lower Chamber, and is under review by a mixed committee of both houses of the Chilean Congress. The pharmaceutical industry contends that the bill, in its current version, could put Chile in non-compliance with its international trade obligations. Industry’s main IP concerns about the bill are related to: a labeling requirement by which a medication must include its International Nonproprietary Name (INN) in a size that occupies at least one-third of one of the main faces of its package, while limiting the size of the trademark to one-fifth of the main faces; a requirement that physicians prescribe a pharmaceutical product exclusively by INN, unless it contains three or more “active ingredients,” regardless of interchangeability and/or bioequivalence; a requirement that drugs may only be distributed if they are double registered under both generic and brand names; a provision allowing the government to issue compulsory licenses permitting the sale of generics based on “economic inaccessibility or lack of supply”; and a pathway toward a system of “price regulation” that will “prevent economic or financial inaccessibility of pharmaceutical products.” A mixed committee of senators and deputies is seeking to reconcile changes to the draft legislation introduced by the Chamber of Deputies. While the pharmaceutical industry reports that the reconciliation process addressed many of their concerns regarding the new regulations, especially those related to compulsory licenses, it identified the lack of coverage being offered in price regulations as the most significant outstanding issue.

The Intellectual Property Brigade (BRIDEPI) of the Chilean Investigative Police (PDI) reported that it seized 39,021 counterfeit products in 2020, worth a total of US$ 850,000, and arrested seven individuals on charges related to intellectual property rights (IPR) infringement. Additionally, the National Customs Service reported that, between January and September 2020 (latest data available), it seized more than 5.2 million counterfeit products worth a total of US$ 49 million.

Chile’s IPR enforcement remains relatively lax, particularly in relation to piracy, copyright, and patent protection, while prosecution of IP infringement is hindered by gaps in the legal framework and a lack of expertise in IP law among judges. Rightsholders indicate a need for greater resources devoted to customs operations and a clearer procedure for dealing with small packages containing infringing goods. The legal basis for detaining and seizing suspected transshipments is also insufficiently clear.

Chile has been included on the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Priority Watch List since January 8, 2007, and remains on the 2021 Priority Watch List. In October 2018, Chile’s Congress successfully passed a law that criminalizes satellite piracy. However, other challenges remain, related to longstanding IPR issues under the U.S.-Chile FTA: the implementation of measures against circumvention of technological protection; pending implementation of UPOV 91; the implementation of an effective patent linkage in connection with applications to market pharmaceutical products; adequate protection for undisclosed data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical products; and amendments to Chile’s Internet Service Provider liability regime to permit effective action against Internet piracy.

Chile is not listed in the USTR’s Review of Notorious Markets 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

Chile’s authorities are committed to developing capital markets and keeping them open to foreign portfolio investors. Foreign firms offer services in Chile in areas such as financial information, data processing, financial advisory services, portfolio management, voluntary saving plans and pension funds. Under the U.S.-Chile FTA, Chile opened up significantly its insurance sector, with very limited exceptions. The Santiago Stock Exchange is Chile’s dominant stock exchange, and the third largest in Latin America. However, when compared to other OECD countries, it has lower market liquidity.

Existing policies facilitate the free flow of financial resources into Chile’s product and factor markets and adjustment to external shocks in a commodity export-dependent economy. Chile accepted the obligations of Article VIII (sections 2, 3 and 4) and maintains a free-floating exchange rate system, free of restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. Credit is allocated on market terms and its various instruments are available to foreigners. The Central Bank reserves the right to restrict foreign investors’ access to internal credit if a credit shortage exists. To date, this authority has not been exercised.

Money and Banking System

Nearly one fourth of Chileans have a credit card from a bank and nearly one third have a non-bank credit card, but less than 20 percent have a checking account. However, financial inclusion is higher than banking penetration: a large number of lower-income Chilean residents have a CuentaRut, which is a commission-free card with an electronic account available for all, launched by the state-owned Banco Estado, also the largest provider of microcredit in Chile.

The Chilean banking system is healthy and competitive, and many Chilean banks already meet Basel III standards. The new General Banking Act (LGB), published in January 2019, defined general guidelines for establishing a capital adequacy system in line with Basel standards, and gave the CMF the authority to establish the capital framework. All Basel III regulations were published by December 2020. Due to the pandemic, the CMF decided on March 2020 to postpone the implementation of Basel III requirements for one year. The system’s liquidity position (Liquidity Coverage Ratio) remains above regulatory limits (70 percent). Capital adequacy ratio of the system equaled 14.3 percent as of October 2020 and remains robust even when including discounts due to market and/or operational risks. Non-performing loans decreased after August 2020 due to government relief measures for households, including legislation authorizing two rounds of withdrawals from pension accounts. As of December 2020, non-performing loans equaled 1.58 percent compared to 2 percent at the end of 2019) when measured by the standard 90 days past due criterion.

As of December 2020, the total assets of the Chilean banking system amounted to USD 454.3 billion, according to the Superintendence of Banks and Financial Institutions. The largest six banks (Banco de Crédito e Inversiones, Banco Santander-Chile, Banco Estado, Banco de Chile, Scotiabank Chile and Itaú-Corpbanca) accounted for 88 percent of the system’s assets. Chile’s Central Bank conducts the country’s monetary policy, is constitutionally autonomous from the government, and is not subject to regulation by the Superintendence of Banks.

Foreign banks have an important presence in Chile, comprising three out of the six largest banks of the system. Out of 18 banks currently in Chile, five are foreign-owned but legally established banks in Chile and four are branches of foreign banks. Both categories are subject to the requirements set out under the Chilean banking law. There are also 21 representative offices of foreign banks in Chile. There are no reports of correspondent banking relationships withdrawal in Chile.

In order to open a bank account in Chile, a foreigner must present his/her Chilean ID Card or passport, Chilean tax ID number, proof of address, proof of income/solvency, photo, and fingerprints.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Law 20.848, which regulates FDI (described in section 1), prohibits arbitrary discrimination against foreign investors and guarantees access to the formal foreign exchange market, as well as the free remittance of capital and profits generated by investments. There are no other restrictions or limitations placed on foreign investors for the conversion, transfer or remittance of funds associated with an investment.

Investors, importers, and others are guaranteed access to foreign exchange in the official inter-bank currency market without restriction. The Central Bank of Chile (CBC) reserves the right to deny access to the inter-bank currency market for royalty payments in excess of five percent of sales. The same restriction applies to payments for the use of patents that exceed five percent of sales. In such cases, firms would have access to the informal market. The Chilean tax service reserves the right to prevent royalties of over five percent of sales from being counted as expenses for domestic tax purposes.

Chile has a free floating (flexible) exchange rate system. Exchange rates of foreign currencies are fully determined by the market. The CBC reserves the right to intervene under exceptional circumstances to correct significant deviations of the currency from its fundamentals. This authority was used in 2019 following an unusual 20.5 percent depreciation of the Chilean peso (CLP) after six weeks of civil unrest, an unprecedented circumstance that triggered a similarly unusual USD 20 billion intervention (half of the CBC foreign currency reserves) that successfully arrested the currency slide.

Remittance Policies

Remittances of profits generated by investments are allowed at any time after tax obligations are fulfilled; remittances of capital can be made after one year following the date of entry into the country. In practice, this permanency requirement does not constitute a restriction for productive investment, because projects normally need more than one year to mature. Under the investment chapter of the U.S.–Chile FTA, the parties must allow free transfer and without delay of covered investments into and out of its territory. These include transfers of profits, royalties, sales proceeds, and other remittances related to the investment. However, for certain types of short-term capital flows this chapter allows Chile to impose transfer restrictions for up to 12 months as long as those restrictions do not substantially impede transfers. If restrictions are found to impede transfers substantially, damages accrue from the date of the initiation of the measure. In practice, these restrictions have not been applied in the last two decades.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Government of Chile maintains two sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) built with savings from years with fiscal surpluses. The Economic and Social Stabilization Fund (FEES) was established in 2007 and was valued at USD 8.7 billion as of February 2021. The purpose of the FEES is to fund public debt payments and temporary deficit spending, in order to keep a countercyclical fiscal policy. The Pensions Reserve Fund (FRP) was built up in 2006 and amounted to USD 10.1 billion as of February 2021. The purpose of the FRP is to anticipate future needs of payments to those eligible to receive pensions, but whose contributions to the private pension system fall below a minimum threshold.

Chile is a member of the International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds (IWG) and adheres to the Santiago Principles.

Chile’s government policy is to invest SWFs entirely abroad into instruments denominated in foreign currencies, including sovereign bonds and related instruments, corporate and high-yield bonds, mortgage-backed securities from U.S. agencies, and stocks.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Chile had 29 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in operation as of 2019. Twenty-eight SOEs are commercial companies and the newest one (FOINSA) is an infrastructure fund that was created to facilitate public-private partnership projects. 26 SOEs are not listed and are fully owned by the government, while the remaining three are majority government owned. Ten Chilean SOEs operate in the port management sector, seven in the services sector, three in the defense sector, three in the mining sector (including CODELCO, the world’s largest copper producer, and ENAP, an oil and gas company), two in transportation, one in the water sector, one is a TV station, and one is a state-owned bank (Banco Estado). The state holds a minority stake in four water companies as a result of a privatization process. In 2019, total assets of Chilean SOEs amounted to USD 74.2 billion, while their total net income was USD 556.7 million. SOEs employed 50,208 people in 2019.

Twenty SOEs in Chile fall under the supervision of the Public Enterprises System (SEP), a state holding in charge of overseeing SOE governance. The rest – including the largest SOEs such as CODELCO, ENAP and Banco Estado – have their own governance and report to government ministries. Allocation of seats on the boards of Chilean SOEs is determined by the SEP, as described above, or outlined by the laws that regulate them. In CODELCO’s corporate governance, there is a mix between seats appointed by recommendation from an independent high-level civil service committee, and seats allocated by political authorities in the government.

A list of SOEs made by the Budget Directorate, including their financial management information, is available in the following link: http://www.dipres.gob.cl/599/w3-propertyvalue-20890.html.

In general, Chilean SOEs work under hard budget constraints and compete under the same regulatory and tax frameworks as private firms. The exception is ENAP, which is the only company allowed to refine oil in Chile. As an OECD member, Chile adheres to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs.

Privatization Program

Chile does not have a privatization program.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Awareness of the need to ensure corporate social responsibility has grown over the last two decades in Chile. However, NGOs and academics who monitor this issue believe that risk mapping and management practices still do not sufficiently reflect its importance.

The government of Chile encourages foreign and local enterprises to follow generally accepted Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) principles and uses the United Nations’ Rio+20 Conference statements as its principal reference. Chile adhered in 1997 to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. It also recognizes the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy; the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; the UN Global Compact’s Ten Principles and the ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility. The government established a National Contact Point (NCP) for OECD MNE guidelines located at the Undersecretariat for International Economic Relations, and has a Responsible Business Conduct Division, whose chief is also the NCP. In August 2017, Chile released its National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights based on the UN Guiding Principles. Separately, the Council on Social Responsibility for Sustainable Development, coordinated by Chile’s Ministry of Economy, is currently developing a National Policy on Social Responsibility. On January 31, 2020, the CMF closed the public comments period on proposed new annual reporting requirements on social responsibility and sustainable development by publicly traded companies.

Regarding procurement decisions, ChileCompra, the agency in charge of centralizing Chile’s public procurement, incorporates the existence of a Clean Production Certificate and an ISO 14001-2004 certificate on environmental management as part of its criteria to assign public purchases.

No high profile or controversial instances of corporate impact on human rights have occurred in Chile in recent years.

The Chilean government effectively and fairly enforces domestic labor, employment, consumer, and environmental protection laws. There are no dispute settlement cases against Chile related to the Labor and Environment Chapters of the Free Trade Agreements signed by Chile.

Regarding the protection of shareholders, the Superintendence of Securities and Insurance (SVS) has the responsibility of regulating and supervising all listed companies in Chile. Companies are generally required to have an audit committee, a directors committee, an anti-money laundering committee and an anti-terrorism finance committee. Laws do not require companies to have a nominating/corporate governance committee or a compensation committee. Compensation programs are typically established by the board of directors and/or the directors committee.

Independent NGOs in Chile promote and freely monitor RBC. Examples include NGO Accion RSE (http://www.accionrse.cl/), the Catholic University of Valparaiso’s Center for Social Responsibility and Sustainable Development VINCULAR (http://www.vincular.cl/) , ProHumana Foundation and the Andres Bello University’s Center Vitrina Ambiental.

Chile is an OECD member, but is not participating actively in the implementation of the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas. Chile is not part of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Chile joined The Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies in 2009.

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Chile applies, in a non-discriminatory manner, various laws to combat corruption of public officials, including the 2009 Transparency Law that mandated disclosure of public information related to all areas of government and created an autonomous Transparency Council in charge of overseeing its application. Subsequent amendments expanded the number of public trust positions required to release financial disclosure, mandated disclosure in greater detail, and allowed for stronger penalties for noncompliance.

In March 2020, the Piñera administration proposed new legislation aimed at combatting corruption, as well as economic and electoral crimes. The four new pieces of legislation, part of the Piñera administration’s “anti-abuse agenda” launched in December 2019 in response to societal demands to increase penalties for white-collar crimes, seeks to strengthen enforcement and increase penalties for collusion among firms; increase penalties for insider trading; provide protections for whistleblowers seeking to expose state corruption; and expand the statute of limitations for electoral crimes.

Anti-corruption laws, in particular mandatory asset disclosure, do extend to family members of officials. Political parties are subject to laws that limit campaign financing and require transparency in party governance and contributions to parties and campaigns.

Regarding government procurement, the website of ChileCompra (central public procurement agency) allows users to anonymously report irregularities in procurement. There is a decree that defines sanctions for public officials who do not adequately justify direct contracts. The Corporate Criminal Liability Law provides that corporate entities can have their compliance programs certified. Chile’s Securities and Insurance Superintendence (SVS) authorizes a group of local firms to review companies’ compliance programs and certify them as sufficient. Certifying firms are listed on the SVS website.

Private companies have increasingly incorporated internal control measures, as well as ethics committees as part of their corporate governance, and compliance management sections. Additionally, Chile Transparente (Chilean branch of Transparency International) developed a Corruption Prevention System to provide assistance to private firms to facilitate their compliance with the Corporate Criminal Liability Law.

Chile signed and ratified the Organization of American States (OAS) Convention against Corruption. The country also ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention on September 13, 2006. Chile is also an active member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and, as an OECD member, adopted the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

NGOs that investigate corruption operate in a free and adequately protected manner.

U.S. firms have not identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI.

Resources to Report Corruption

David Ibaceta Medina
Acting Director General
Consejo para la Transparencia
Morande 360 piso 7
(+56)-(2)-2495-2000
contacto@consejotransparencia.cl

Alberto Precht
Executive Director
Chile Transparente (Chile branch of Transparency International)
Perez Valenzuela 1687, piso 1, Providencia, Santiago, Chile
(+56)-(2)-2236 4507
chiletransparente@chiletransparente.cl

Octavio Del Favero
Executive Director
Ciudadania Inteligente
Holanda 895, Providencia, Santiago
(+56)-(2)-2419-2770
https://ciudadaniai.org/contact 

Pía Mundaca
Executive Director
Espacio Publico
Santa Lucía 188, piso 7, Santiago, Chile
T: (+56) (9) 6258 3871
contacto@espaciopublico.cl

Observatorio Anticorrupción (Run by Espacio Publico and Ciudadania Inteligente)
https://observatorioanticorrupcion.cl/ 

Paula Díaz
Executive Director
Observatorio Fiscal (focused on public spending)
Don Carlos 2983, Oficina 3, Las Condes, Santiago, Chile
(+562) (2) 4572 975
contacto@observatoriofiscal.cl

10. Political and Security Environment

Pursuant to a political accord in response to the 2019 civil unrest, Chile held a plebiscite in October 2020 in which citizens voted to draft a new constitution. The process to create and ratify the new constitution will begin in 2021 and continue until at least mid-2022. Uncertainty over what changes could be made to Chile’s political and regulatory environment could negatively impact investor confidence. Importantly, the legislation enabling the constitutional reform process requires that the new constitution must respect Chile’s character as a democratic republic, its judicial sentences, and its international treaties (including the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement). The coronavirus pandemic and government measures led to a reduction of vandalism and attacks on businesses that began in 2019.

Prior to 2019, there were generally a few incidents of politically motivated attacks on investment projects or installations with the exception of the southern Araucania region and its neighboring Arauco province in the southwest of Bio-Bio region. This area, home to nearly half a million indigenous inhabitants, has seen a growing trend of politically motivated violence and organized criminal activity. Land claims and conflicts with forestry companies are the main grievances underneath the radicalization of a relatively small number of indigenous Mapuche communities, which has led to the rise of organized groups that pursue their demands by violent means. Incidents include arson attacks on churches, farms, forestry plantations, forestry contractors’ machinery and vehicles, and private vehicles, as well as occupation of private lands, resulting in over a half-dozen deaths (including some by police forces), injuries, and damage to property. The indigenous issue has been further politicized due to anger among landowners, forestry transport contractors, and farmers affected by violence, as well as the illegal killing of a young Mapuche activist by special police forces in 2018 and the controversy over accusations of fraud by the police during the investigation of indigenous organized groups. In March 2020, a truck driver died in an arson attack on his vehicle.

Since 2007, Chile has experienced a number of small-scale attacks with explosive and incendiary devices, targeting mostly banks, police stations, and public spaces throughout Santiago, including ATM’s, metro stations, universities, and churches. Anarchist groups often claim responsibility for these acts, as well as violent incidents during student and labor protests. In January 2017, an eco-terrorist group claimed responsibility for a parcel bomb that detonated at the home of the chairman of the board of Chilean state-owned mining giant. The same group detonated a bomb of similar characteristics in 2019 at a bus stop in downtown Santiago, causing five injuries, and sent a letter bomb to the office of the president of the Metro system, which was defused by police. One suspect was arrested in 2019 and the investigation of the crimes is ongoing. Another group sent a package bombs to a police station in the Santiago metro area, wounding 8 police officers, and to a former Interior Minister, which was defused by police. Two suspects were arrested in 2020, and the investigation remains ongoing at the time of this report.

On occasion, illegal activity by striking workers resulted in damage to corporate property or a disruption of operations. Some firms have publicly expressed concern that during a contentious strike, law enforcement has appeared to be reluctant to protect private property.

Chilean civil society is active and demonstrations occur frequently. Although the vast majority of demonstrations are peaceful, protestors have veered off pre-approved routes. In a few instances, criminal elements have taken advantage of civil society protests to loot stores along the protest route and have clashed with the police. Demonstrations to mark March 29, the Day of the Young Combatant, and September 11, the anniversary of the 1973 coup against the government of President Salvador Allende, have resulted in damage to property.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Unemployment in Chile averaged 10.7 percent of the labor force during 2020, while the labor participation rate was 56.1 percent of the working age population. Data on the labor participation of migrants is still pending. Chilean workers are adequately skilled and some sectors such as mining, agriculture, and fishing employ highly skilled workers. In general, there is an adequate availability of technicians and professionals. Estimates made by the National Institute of Statistics (INE) suggest informal employment in Chile constitutes 25.6 percent of the workforce.

Article 19 of the Labor Code stipulates that employers must hire Chileans for at least 85 percent of their staff, except in the case of firms with less than 25 employees. However, Article 20 of the Labor Code includes several provisions under which foreign employees can exceed 25 percent, independent of the size of the company.

In general, employees who have been working for at least one year are entitled to a statutory severance pay, upon dismissal without cause, equivalent to 30 days of the last monthly remuneration earned, for each year of service. The upper limit is 330 days (11 years of service) for workers with a contract in force for one year or more. The same amount is payable to a worker whose contract is terminated for economic reasons. Upon termination, regardless of the reason, domestic workers are entitled to an unemployment insurance benefit funded by the employee and employer contributions to an individual unemployment fund equivalent to three percent of the monthly remuneration. The employer’s contributions shall be paid for a maximum of 11 years by the same employer. Another fund made up of employer and government contributions is used for complementary unemployment payments when needed.

Labor and environmental laws are not waived in order to attract or retain investments.

Information on the current number of active unions and collective bargaining agreements is not available. During 2019 (latest data available), the Labor Directorate data showed that 11,926 unions were active. In the same period, 433,381 workers (around 5 percent of Chilean workers) were covered by collective bargaining agreements. Collective bargaining coverage rates are higher in the financial, mining, and manufacturing sectors. Unions can form nationwide labor associations and can affiliate with international labor federations. Contracts are normally negotiated at the company level. Workers in public institutions do not have collective bargaining rights, but national public workers’ associations undertake annual negotiations with the government.

The Labor Directorate under the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor laws and regulations. Both employers and workers may request labor mediation from the Labor Directorate, which is an alternate dispute resolution model aimed at facilitating communication and agreement between both parties.

Labor Directorate data shows that 845 legal strikes occurred in 2019, involving 124,250 workers during the same period. As legal strikes in Chile have a restricted scope and duration, in general they do not present a risk for foreign investment.

Chile has and generally enforces laws and regulations in accordance with internationally recognized labor rights of: freedom of association and collective bargaining, the elimination of forced labor, child labor, including the minimum age for work, discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, and acceptable conditions of work related to minimum wage, occupational safety and health, and hours of work. The maximum number of labor hours allowed per week in Chile is 45. In September 2020, Chile raised its monthly minimum wage to CLP 326,500 – USD 444 – for all occupations, including household domestic staff, more than twice the official poverty line. Workers older than 64 or younger than 19 years old or younger are eligible for a special minimum wage of CLP 243,561 (USD 331) a month. There are no gaps in compliance with international labor standards that may pose a reputational risk to investors.

Collective bargaining is not allowed in companies or organizations dependent upon the Defense Ministry or whose employees are prohibited from striking, such as in health care, law enforcement, and public utilities. Labor courts can require workers to resume work upon a determination that a strike causes serious risk to health, national security, the supply of goods or services to the population, or to the national economy.

The United States-Chile Free Trade Agreement (FTA) entered into force on January 1, 2004. The FTA requires the United States and Chile to maintain effective labor and environmental enforcement.

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 $282.318 2018 $298.258 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 (USD billion, stock positions) 2019 $35.46 2019 25.08 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States (USD billion, stock positions) 2019 $13.19 2019 2.9 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 91.0% 2019 56.6% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html 

* Source for Host Country Data: Central Bank of Chile.

According to the IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS), total stock of FDI in Chile in 2019 amounted to USD 254.3 billion, compared to USD 251.9 billion in 2018. Spain, the United States and Canada are the main sources of FDI to Chile with USD 34.5 billion, USD 34.4 billion and USD 34.2 billion, respectively, concentrating 40.6 percent of the total.

Chile’s outward direct investment stock in 2019 remains concentrated in South America, where Brazil, Peru, Argentina and Colombia together represented 33.4 percent of total Chilean outward FDI. The United States accounted for 9.2 percent of the total.

The data below is consistent with host country statistics. Although not included in the table below, tax havens are relevant sources of inward FDI to Chile, with the Cayman Islands and Bermuda ranking sixth and eighth in inbound sources of FDI, respectively, according to the Central Bank of Chile. The British Virgin Islands and Panama rank sixth and seventh, respectively, among Chile´s main outward FDI destinations.

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 254,252 100% Total Outward 130,234 100%
Spain 34,541 13.6% Brazil 21,458 16.5%
Canada 34,426 13.5% Peru 12,909 9.9%
United States 34,213 13.5% United States 11,944 9.2%
The Netherlands 20,494 8.1% Argentina 9,226 7.1%
United Kingdom 18,773 7.4% Colombia 9,071 7.0%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

According to the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS), total stock of portfolio investment in Chile as of June 2020 amounted to USD 192.1 billion, of which USD 149.9 billion were equity and investment funds shares, and the rest were debt securities. The United States and Luxembourg (a tax haven) were the main sources of portfolio investment to Chile with US $69.3 billion and $54.3 billion, representing 36.1 percent and 28.3 percent of the total, respectively. Both countries also represent 68 percent of the total of equity investment. Ireland, the United Kingdom and Germany are the following top sources of equity portfolio investment to Chile, while the United States, Mexico and Japan are the top sources of debt securities investment.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 192,070 100% All Countries 149,887 100% All Countries 42,183 100%
United States 69,304 36.1% Luxembourg 54,115 36.1% United States 21,263 50.4%
Luxembourg 54,327 28.3% United States 48,041 32.1% Mexico 4,018 9.5%
Ireland 17,048 8.9% Ireland 16,995 11.3% Japan 3,068 7.3%
United Kingdom 7,171 3.7% United Kingdom 5,756 3.8% Germany 2,406 5.7%
Germany 5,587 2.9% Germany 3,181 2.1% United Kingdom 1,415 3.4%

14. Contact for More Information

Alexis Gutiérrez
Economic Specialist
Avenida Andrés Bello 2800, Las Condes, Santiago, Chile
(56-9) 4268 9005
gutierrezaj@state.gov 

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 

Mexico

Executive Summary

In 2020, Mexico became the United States’ third largest trading partner in goods and services and second largest in goods only.  It remains one of our most important investment partners.  Bilateral trade grew 482.2 percent from 1993-2020, and Mexico is the United States’ second largest export market.  The United States is Mexico’s top source of foreign direct investment (FDI) with USD 100.9 billion (2019 total per the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis), or 39.1 percent of all inflows (stock) to Mexico, according to Mexico’s Secretariat of Economy.

The Mexican economy averaged 2 percent GDP growth from 1994-2020, but contracted 8.5 percent in 2020.  The economic downturn due to the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic was the major reason behind the contraction, with FDI decreasing 11.7 percent.  The austere fiscal policy in Mexico resulted in primary surplus of 0.1 percent in 2020.  The government has upheld the central bank’s (Bank of Mexico) independence.  Inflation remained at 3.4 percent in 2020, within the Bank of Mexico’s target of 3 percent ± 1 percent.  The administration maintained its commitment to reducing bureaucratic spending in order to fund an ambitious social spending agenda and priority infrastructure projects, including the Dos Bocas Refinery and Maya Train.  President Lopez Obrador leaned on these initiatives as it devised a government response to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.

Mexico approved the amended United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) protocol in December 2019, the United States in December 2019, and Canada in March 2020, providing a boost in confidence to investors hoping for continued and deepening regional economic integration.  The USMCA entered into force July 1, 2020.  President Lopez Obrador has expressed optimism it will buoy the Mexican economy.

Still, investors report sudden regulatory changes and policy reversals, the shaky financial health of the state oil company Pemex, and a perceived weak fiscal response to the COVID-19 economic crisis have contributed to ongoing uncertainties.  In the first and second quarters of 2020, the three major ratings agencies (Fitch, Moody’s, and Standard and Poor’s) downgraded both Mexico’s sovereign credit rating (by one notch to BBB-, Baa1, and BBB, respectively) and Pemex’s credit rating (to junk status).  The Bank of Mexico revised upward Mexico’s GDP growth expectations for 2021, from 3.3 to 4.8 percent, as did the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to 5 percent from the previous 4.3 percent estimate in January.  Still, IMF analysts anticipate an economic recovery to pre-pandemic levels could take five years.  Moreover, uncertainty about contract enforcement, insecurity, informality, and corruption continue to hinder sustained Mexican economic growth.  Recent efforts to reverse the 2014 energy reforms, including the March 2021 electricity reform law prioritizing generation from the state-owned electric utility CFE, further increase uncertainty.  These factors raise the cost of doing business in Mexico.

Table 1:  Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 124 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi#
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 60 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 55 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $100,888 https://apps.bea.gov/international/di1usdbal
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $9,480 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Mexico is open to foreign direct investment (FDI) in the vast majority of economic sectors and has consistently been one of the largest emerging market recipients of FDI.  Mexico’s proximity to the United States and preferential access to the U.S. market, macroeconomic stability, large domestic market, growing consumer base, and increasingly skilled yet cheap labor combine to attract foreign investors.  The COVID-19 economic crisis showed how linked North American supply chains are and highlighted new opportunities for partnership and investment.  Still, recent policy and regulatory changes have created doubts about the investment climate, particularly in the energy and the formal employment pensions management sectors.

Historically, the United States has been one of the largest sources of FDI in Mexico.  According to Mexico’s Secretariat of Economy, FDI flows for 2020 totaled USD 29.1 billion, a decrease of 11.7 percent compared to the preliminary information for 2019 (USD 32.9 billion), and a 14.7 percent decline compared to revised numbers.  The Secretariat cited COVID’s impact on global economic activity as the main reason for the decline.  From January to December 2020, 22 percent of FDI came from new investment.  New investment in 2020 (USD 6.4 billion) was only approximately half of the new investments received in 2019 (USD 12.8 billion), and 55.4 percent came from capital reinvestment while 24.9 percent from parent company accounts.  The automotive, aerospace, telecommunications, financial services, and electronics sectors typically receive large amounts of FDI.

Most foreign investment flows to northern states near the U.S. border, where most maquiladoras (export-oriented manufacturing and assembly plants) are located, or to Mexico City and the nearby “El Bajio” (e.g. Guanajuato, Queretaro, etc.) region.  In the past, foreign investors have overlooked Mexico’s southern states, although the administration is focused on attracting investment to the region, including through large infrastructure projects such as the Maya Train, the Dos Bocas refinery, and the trans-isthmus rail project.

The 1993 Foreign Investment Law, last updated in March 2017, governs foreign investment in Mexico, including which business sectors are open to foreign investors and to what extent.  It provides national treatment, eliminates performance requirements for most foreign investment projects, and liberalizes criteria for automatic approval of foreign investment.  Mexico is also a party to several Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) agreements covering foreign investment, notably the Codes of Liberalization of Capital Movements and the National Treatment Instrument.

The administration has integrated components of the government’s investment agency into other ministries and offices.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Mexico reserves certain sectors, in whole or in part, for the State, including:  petroleum and other hydrocarbons; control of the national electric system, radioactive materials, telegraphic and postal services; nuclear energy generation; coinage and printing of money; and control, supervision, and surveillance of ports of entry.  Certain professional and technical services, development banks, and the land transportation of passengers, tourists, and cargo (not including courier and parcel services) are reserved entirely for Mexican nationals.  See section six for restrictions on foreign ownership of certain real estate.

Reforms in the energy, power generation, telecommunications, and retail fuel sales sectors have liberalized access for foreign investors.  While reforms have not led to the privatization of state-owned enterprises such as Pemex or the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), they have allowed private firms to participate.  Still, the Lopez Obrador administration has made significant regulatory and policy changes that favor Pemex and CFE over private participants.  The changes have led private companies to file lawsuits in Mexican courts and several are considering international arbitration.

Hydrocarbons:  Private companies participate in hydrocarbon exploration and extraction activities through contracts with the government under four categories:  competitive contracts, joint ventures, profit sharing agreements, and license contracts.  All contracts must include a clause stating subsoil hydrocarbons are owned by the State.  The government has held nine auctions allowing private companies to bid on exploration and development rights to oil and gas resources in blocks around the country.  Between 2015 and 2018, Mexico auctioned more than 100 land, shallow, and deep-water blocks with significant interest from international oil companies.  The administration has since postponed further auctions but committed to respecting the existing contracts awarded under the previous administration.  Still, foreign players were discouraged when Pemex sought to take operatorship of a major shallow water oil discovery made by a U.S. company-led consortium.  The private consortium had invested more than USD 200 million in making the discovery and the outcome of this dispute has yet to be decided.

Telecommunications:  Mexican law states telecommunications and broadcasting activities are public services and the government will at all times maintain ownership of the radio spectrum.  In January 2021, President Lopez Obrador proposed incorporating the independent Federal Telecommunication Institute (IFT) into the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (SCT), in an attempt to save government funds and avoid duplication.  Non-governmental organizations and private sector companies said such a move would potentially violate the USMCA, which mandates signatories to maintain independent telecommunications regulators.  As of March 2021, the proposal remains pending.  Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Tatiana Clouthier underscored in public statements that President López Obrador is committed to respecting Mexico’s obligations under the USMCA, including maintaining an autonomous telecommunications regulator.

Aviation:  The Foreign Investment Law limited foreign ownership of national air transportation to 25 percent until March 2017, when the limit was increased to 49 percent.

The USMCA, which entered into force July 1, 2020, maintained several NAFTA provisions, granting U.S. and Canadian investors national and most-favored-nation treatment in setting up operations or acquiring firms in Mexico.  Exceptions exist for investments restricted under the USMCA.  Currently, the United States, Canada, and Mexico have the right to settle any legacy disputes or claims under NAFTA through international arbitration for a sunset period of three years following the end of NAFTA.  Only the United States and Mexico are party to an international arbitration agreement under the USMCA, though access is restricted as the USMCA distinguishes between investors with covered government contracts and those without.  Most U.S. companies investing in Mexico will have access to fewer remedies under the USMCA than under NAFTA, as they will have to meet certain criteria to qualify for arbitration.  Local Mexican governments must also accord national treatment to investors from USMCA countries.

Approximately 95 percent of all foreign investment transactions do not require government approval.  Foreign investments that require government authorization and do not exceed USD 165 million are automatically approved, unless the proposed investment is in a legally reserved sector.

The National Foreign Investment Commission under the Secretariat of the Economy is the government authority that determines whether an investment in restricted sectors may move forward.  The Commission has 45 business days after submission of an investment request to make a decision.  Criteria for approval include employment and training considerations, and contributions to technology, productivity, and competitiveness.  The Commission may reject applications to acquire Mexican companies for national security reasons.  The Secretariat of Foreign Relations (SRE) must issue a permit for foreigners to establish or change the nature of Mexican companies.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

There has not been an update to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) trade policy review of Mexico since June 2017 covering the period to year-end 2016.

Business Facilitation

According to the World Bank, on average registering a foreign-owned company in Mexico requires 11 procedures and 31 days.  Mexico ranked 60 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s ease of doing business report in 2020.  In 2016, then-President Pena Nieto signed a law creating a new category of simplified businesses called Sociedad for Acciones Simplificadas (SAS).  Owners of SASs are supposed to be able to register a new company online in 24 hours.  Still, it can take between 66 and 90 days to start a new business in Mexico, according to the World Bank.  The Government of Mexico maintains a business registration website:  www.tuempresa.gob.mx.  Companies operating in Mexico must register with the tax authority (Servicio de Administration y Tributaria or SAT), the Secretariat of the Economy, and the Public Registry.  Additionally, companies engaging in international trade must register with the Registry of Importers, while foreign-owned companies must register with the National Registry of Foreign Investments.

Since October 2019, SAT has launched dozens of tax audits against major international and domestic corporations, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax assessments, penalties, and late fees.  Multinational and Mexican firms have reported audits based on diverse aspects of the tax code, including adjustments on tax payments made, waivers received, and deductions reported during the Enrique Peña Nieto administration.

Changes to ten-digit tariff lines conducted by the Secretariat of Economy in 2020 created trade disruptions with many shipments held at the border, stemming from lack of clear communication between government agencies that resulted in different interpretation by SAT.

Outward Investment

Various offices at the Secretariat of Economy and the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs handle promoting Mexican outward investment and assistance to Mexican firms acquiring or establishing joint ventures with foreign firms.  Mexico does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Bilateral Investment Treaties

The USMCA entered into force on July 1, 2020, containing an investment chapter.

Mexico has signed 13 FTAs covering 50 countries and 32 Reciprocal Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements covering 33 countries.  Mexico is a member of Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which entered into force December 30, 2018.  Mexico currently has 29 Bilateral Investment Treaties in force.  Mexico and the European Union finalized a FTA in May 2020, but it still must undergo legal scrub and translation.  Mexico and the United Kingdom (UK) also signed an agreement to continue trading under existing terms following the UK’s exit from the European Union in December 2020.

Bilateral Taxation Treaties

The United States-Mexico Income Tax Convention, which came into effect January 1, 1994, governs bilateral taxation between the two nations.  Mexico has negotiated double taxation agreements with 55 countries.  Recent reductions in U.S. corporate tax rates may drive a future change to the Mexican fiscal code, but there is no formal legislation under consideration.

In 2019, the administration approved a value-added tax (VAT) on digital services.  Since June 30, 2020, foreign digital companies are required to register with SAT and to collect VAT on the majority of goods and services customers purchase online and remit the VAT and sales reports to SAT.  SAT is authorized to block a foreign digital company’s internet protocol (IP) address in Mexico for non-compliance with tax requirements until the company complies.  The administration also introduced a series of fiscal measures in 2019 to combat tax evasion and fraud.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The National Commission on Regulatory Improvement (CONAMER), within the Secretariat of Economy, is the agency responsible for streamlining federal and sub-national regulation and reducing the regulatory burden on business.  Mexican law requires secretariats and regulatory agencies to conduct impact assessments of proposed regulations.  Assessments are made available for public comment via CONAMER’s website:  https://www.gob.mx/conamer.  The official gazette of state and federal laws currently in force in Mexico is publicly available via:  http://www.ordenjuridico.gob.mx/.  Mexican law provides for a 20-day public consultation period for most proposed regulations.  Any interested stakeholder has the opportunity to comment on draft regulations and the supporting justification, including regulatory impact assessments.  Certain measures are not subject to a mandatory public consultation period.  These include measures concerning taxation, responsibilities of public servants, the public prosecutor’s office executing its constitutional functions, and the Secretariats of National Defense (SEDENA) and the Navy (SEMAR).

The National Quality Infrastructure Program (PNIC) is the official document used to plan, inform, and coordinate standardization activities, both public and private.  The PNIC is published annually by the Secretariat of Economy in Mexico’s Official Gazette.  The PNIC describes Mexico’s plans for new voluntary standards (Normas Mexicanas; NMXs) and mandatory technical regulations (Normas Oficiales Mexicanas; NOMs) as well as proposed changes to existing standards and technical regulations.  Interested stakeholders have the opportunity to request the creation, modification, or cancelation of NMXs and NOMs as well as participate in the working groups that develop and modify these standards and technical regulations.  Mexico’s antitrust agency, the Federal Commission for Economic Competition (COFECE), plays a key role protecting, promoting, and ensuring a competitive free market in Mexico as well as protecting consumers.  COFECE is responsible for eliminating barriers both to competition and free market entry across the economy (except for the telecommunications sector, which is governed by its own competition authority) and for identifying and regulating access to essential production inputs.

In addition to COFECE, the Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) and National Hydrocarbon Commission (CNH) are both technical-oriented independent agencies that play important roles in regulating the energy and hydrocarbons sectors.  CRE regulates national electricity generation, coverage, distribution, and commercialization, as well as the transportation, distribution, and storage of oil, gas, and biofuels.  CNH supervises and regulates oil and gas exploration and production and issues oil and gas upstream (exploration/production) concessions.

Mexico has seen a shift in the public procurement process since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Government entities are increasingly awarding contracts either as direct awards or by invitation-only procurements.  In addition, there have been recent tenders that favor European standards over North American standards.

International Regulatory Considerations

Generally speaking, the Mexican government has established legal, regulatory, and accounting  systems that are transparent and consistent with international norms.  Still, the Lopez Obrador administration has eroded the autonomy and publicly questioned the value of specific antitrust and energy regulators and has proposed dissolving some of them in order to cut costs.  Furthermore, corruption continues to affect equal enforcement of some regulations.  The Lopez Obrador administration rolled out an ambitious plan to centralize government procurement in an effort to root out corruption and generate efficiencies.  The administration estimated it could save up to USD 25 billion annually by consolidating government purchases in the Secretariat of Finance.  Still, the expedited rollout and lack of planning for supply chain contingencies led to several sole-source purchases.  The Mexican government’s budget is published online and readily available.  The Bank of Mexico also publishes and maintains data about the country’s finances and debt obligations.

Investors are increasingly concerned the administration is undermining confidence in the “rules of the game,” particularly in the energy sector, by weakening the political autonomy of COFECE, CNH, and CRE.  Still, COFECE has successfully challenged regulatory changes in the electricity sector that favor state-owned enterprises over maintaining competitive prices for the consumer.  The administration has appointed five of seven CRE commissioners over the Senate’s objections, which voted twice to reject the nominees in part due to concerns their appointments would erode the CRE’s autonomy.  The administration’s budget cuts resulted in significant layoffs, which has reportedly hampered agencies’ ability to carry out their work, a key factor in investment decisions.  The independence of the CRE and CNH was further undermined by a memo from the government to both bodies instructing them to use their regulatory powers to favor state-owned Pemex and CFE.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Since the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, Mexico has had an inquisitorial system adopted from Europe in which proceedings were largely carried out in writing and sealed from public view.  Mexico amended its Constitution in 2008 to facilitate change to an oral accusatorial criminal justice system to better combat corruption, encourage transparency and efficiency, while ensuring respect for the fundamental rights of both the victim and the accused.  An ensuing National Code of Criminal Procedure passed in 2014 and is applicable to all 32 states.  The national procedural code is coupled with each state’s criminal code to provide the legal framework for the new accusatorial system, which allows for oral, public trials with the right of the defendant to face his/her accuser and challenge evidence presented against him/her, right to counsel, due process, and other guarantees.  Mexico fully adopted the new accusatorial criminal justice system at the state and federal levels in June 2016.

Mexico’s Commercial Code, which dates back to 1889, was most recently updated in 2014.  All commercial activities must abide by this code and other applicable mercantile laws, including commercial contracts and commercial dispute settlement measures.  Mexico has multiple specialized courts regarding fiscal, labor, economic competition, broadcasting, telecommunications, and agrarian law.

The judicial branch and Prosecutor General’s office (FGR) are constitutionally independent from each other and the executive.  The Prosecutor General is nominated by the president and approved by a two-thirds majority in the Senate for a nine-year term, effectively de-coupling the Prosecutor General from the political cycle of elections every six years.  With the historic 2019 labor reform, Mexico also created an independent labor court system run by the judicial branch (formerly this was an executive branch function).  The labor courts are being brought on line in a phased process by state with the final phase completed on May 1, 2022.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Mexico’s Foreign Investment Law sets the rules governing foreign investment into the country.  The National Commission for Foreign Investments, formed by several cabinet-level ministries including Interior (SEGOB), Foreign Relations (SRE), Finance (Hacienda), and Economy (SE) establishes the criteria for administering investment rules.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Mexico has two constitutionally autonomous regulators to govern matters of competition – the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) and the Federal Commission for Economic Competition (COFECE).  IFT governs broadcasting and telecommunications, while COFECE regulates all other sectors.  For more information on competition issues in Mexico, please visit COFECE’s bilingual website at: www.cofece.mx.  As mentioned above, Lopez Obrador has publicly questioned the value of COFECE and his party unsucessfully introduced a proposal last year which would have dramatically reduced its resources and merged COFECE and other regulators into a less-independent structure.  COFECE requires a quorum of at least three commissioners in order to act and currently has four out of seven commissioner seats filled.  The current chairwoman of the agency’s term as chair will expire in September, which raises questions about whether leadership will change and whether, given the hostility to the agency, the president will nominate new commissioners.

Expropriation and Compensation

USMCA (and NAFTA) contain clauses stating Mexico may not directly nor indirectly expropriate property, except for public purpose and on a non-discriminatory basis.  Expropriations are governed by international law and require rapid fair market value compensation, including accrued interest.  Investors have the right to international arbitration. The USMCA contains an annex regarding U.S.-Mexico investment disputes and those related to covered government contracts.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Mexico ratified the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention) in 1971 and has codified this into domestic law.  Mexico is also a signatory to the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (1975 Panama Convention) and the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States.  Mexico is not a member of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of other States (ICSID Convention), even though many of the investment agreements signed by Mexico include ICSID arbitration as a dispute settlement option.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The USMCA covers investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) between the United States and Mexico in chapter 31.  Canada is not party to USMCA ISDS provisions as access to dispute resolution will be possible under the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (the “CPTPP”).  U.S. and Mexican investors will have access to a very similar regime under the USMCA available under NAFTA.  Foreign investors who are “part[ies] to a covered government contract” and belong to five “covered sectors”: (i) oil and gas; (ii) power generation; (iii) telecommunications; (iv) transportation; and (v) infrastructure will have access to ISDS per USMCA provisions but only after first defending their claims in local courts before initiating arbitration. A less favorable regime will apply to all other foreign investors under the USMCA, who can only access the USMCA’s ISDS system to enforce a limited number of claims and must first defend their claims in local courts before initiating arbitration.  Investors will be able to file new NAFTA claims before July 1, 2023, provided that the dispute arises out of investments made when NAFTA was still in force and remained “in existence” on July 1, 2020.

Since NAFTA’s inception, there have been 13 cases filed against Mexico by U.S. and Canadian investors who allege expropriation and/or other violations of Mexico’s NAFTA obligations.  For more details on the cases, please visit: https://icsid.worldbank.org/en/Pages/cases/searchcases.aspx

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Arbitration Center of Mexico (CAM) is a specialized, private institution administering commercial arbitration as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism.  The average duration of a CAM-conducted arbitration process conducted is 14 months.  The Commercial Code dictates an arbitral award, regardless of the country where it originated, must be recognized as binding.  The award must be enforced after presenting a formal written petition to a judge.

The internal laws of both Pemex and CFE state all national disputes of any nature will have to be resolved by federal courts.  State-owned Enterprises (SOEs) and their productive subsidiaries may opt for alternative dispute settlement mechanisms under applicable commercial legislation and international treaties of which Mexico is a signatory.  When contracts are executed in a foreign country, Pemex and CFE have the option to follow procedures governed by non-Mexican law, to use foreign courts, or to participate in arbitration.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Mexico’s Reorganization and Bankruptcy Law (Ley de Concursos Mercantiles) governs bankruptcy and insolvency.  Congress approved modifications in 2014 to shorten procedural filing times and convey greater juridical certainty to all parties, including creditors.  Declaring bankruptcy is legal in Mexico and it may be granted to a private citizen, a business, or an individual business partner.  Debtors, creditors, or the Attorney General can file a bankruptcy claim.  Mexico ranked 33 out of 190 countries for resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report.  The average bankruptcy filing takes 1.8 years to be resolved and recovers 63.9 cents per USD, which compares favorably to average recovery in Latin America and the Caribbean of just 31.2 cents per USD.  The “Buró de Crédito” is Mexico’s main credit bureau.  More information on credit reports and ratings can be found at:  http://www.burodecredito.com.mx/ .

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Land grants or discounts, tax deductions, and technology, innovation, and workforce development funding are commonly used incentives.  Additional federal foreign trade incentives include: (1) IMMEX:  a promotion which allows manufacturing sector companies to temporarily import inputs without paying general import tax and value added tax; (2) Import tax rebates on goods incorporated into products destined for export; and (3) Sectoral promotion programs allowing for preferential ad-valorem tariffs on imports of selected inputs.  Industries typically receiving sectoral promotion benefits are footwear, mining, chemicals, steel, textiles, apparel, and electronics.  Manufacturing and other companies report it is becoming increasingly difficult to request and receive reimbursements of value-added tax (VAT) paid on inputs for the export sector.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The administration renewed until December 31, 2024 a program launched in January 2019 that established a border economic zone (BEZ) in 43 municipalities in six northern border states within 15.5 miles from the U.S. border.  The BEZ program entails: 1) a fiscal stimulus decree reducing the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 16 percent to 8 percent and the Income Tax (ISR) from 30 percent to 20 percent; 2) a minimum wage increase to MXN 176.72 (USD 8.75) per day; and 3) the gradual harmonization of gasoline, diesel, natural gas, and electricity rates with neighboring U.S. states.  The purpose of the BEZ program was to boost investment, promote productivity, and create more jobs in the region.  Sectors excluded from the preferential ISR rate include financial institutions, the agricultural sector, and export manufacturing companies (maquilas).

On December 30, 2020, President Lopez Obrador launched a similar program for 22 municipalities in Mexico’s southern states of Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas, reducing the  VAT from 16 to 8 percent and ISR from 30 to 20 percent and harmonizing excise taxes on fuel with neighboring states in Central America.  Chetumal in Quintana Roo will also enjoy duty-free status.  The benefits extend from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2024.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Mexican labor law requires at least 90 percent of a company’s employees be Mexican nationals.  Employers can hire foreign workers in specialized positions as long as foreigners do not exceed 10 percent of all workers in that specialized category.  Mexico does not follow a “forced localization” policy—foreign investors are not required by law to use domestic content in goods or technology.  However, investors intending to produce goods in Mexico for export to the United States should take note of the rules of origin prescriptions contained within USMCA if they wish to benefit from USMCA treatment.  Chapter four of the USMCA introduce new rules of origin and labor content rules, which entered into force on July 1, 2020.

In 2020, the Mexican central bank (Bank of Mexico or Banxico) and the National Banking and Securities Commissions (CNBV – Mexico’s principal bank regulator) drafted regulations mandating the largest financial technology companies operating in Mexico to either host data on a back-up server outside of the United States—if their primary is in the United States—or in physical servers in Mexico.  The draft regulations remain pending public comment and the financial services industry is concerned they could violate provisions of the USMCA financial services chapter prohibiting data localization.

Other Industrial Policy Aspects

Mexico’s government is increasingly choosing its military for the construction and management of economic infrastructure.  In the past two years, the government entrusted the Army (SEDENA) with building the new airport in Mexico City, and sections 6, 7, and part of section 5 of the Maya Train railway project in Yucatan state.  The government announced plans to give to the Navy (SEMAR) the rights for construction, management, and operations of the Trans-Isthmic Train project to connect the ports of Coatzacoalcos in Veracruz state with the Salina Cruz port in Oaxaca state.  The government is also in the process of transferring responsibilities for managing land and sea ports from the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (SCT) to SEDENA and SEMAR respectively.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Mexico ranked 105 out of 190 countries for ease of registering property in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report, falling two places from its 2019 report.  Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution guarantees the inviolable right to private property.  Expropriation can only occur for public use and with due compensation.  Mexico has four categories of land tenure:  private ownership, communal tenure (ejido), publicly owned, and ineligible for sale or transfer.

Mexico prohibits foreigners from acquiring title to residential real estate in so-called “restricted zones” within 50 kilometers (approximately 30 miles) of the nation’s coast and 100 kilometers (approximately 60 miles) of the borders.  “Restricted zones” cover roughly 40 percent of Mexico’s territory.  Foreigners may acquire the effective use of residential property in “restricted zones” through the establishment of an extendable trust (fideicomiso) arranged through a Mexican financial institution.  Under this trust, the foreign investor obtains all property use rights, including the right to develop, sell, and transfer the property.  Real estate investors should be careful in performing due diligence to ensure that there are no other claimants to the property being purchased.  In some cases, fideicomiso arrangements have led to legal challenges.  U.S.-issued title insurance is available in Mexico and U.S. title insurers operate here.

Additionally, U.S. lending institutions have begun issuing mortgages to U.S. citizens purchasing real estate in Mexico.  The Public Register for Business and Property (Registro Publico de la Propiedad y de Comercio) maintains publicly available information online regarding land ownership, liens, mortgages, restrictions, etc.

Tenants and squatters are protected under Mexican law.  Property owners who encounter problems with tenants or squatters are advised to seek professional legal advice, as the legal process of eviction is complex.

Mexico has a nascent but growing financial securitization market for real estate and infrastructure investments, which investors can access via the purchase/sale of Fideicomisos de Infraestructura y Bienes Raíces (FIBRAs) and Certificates of Capital Development (CKDs) listed on Mexico’s BMV stock exchange.

Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in Mexico are covered by the the Mexican Federal Law for Protection of Industrial Property (Ley Federal de Protección a la Propiedad Industrial) and the Federal Copyright Law (Ley Federal del Derecho de Autor).  Responsibility for the protection of IPR is spread across several government authorities.  The Prosecutor General’s Office (Fiscalia General de la Republica or FGR) oversees a specialized unit that prosecutes intellectual property (IP)  crimes.  The Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI), the equivalent to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, administers patent and trademark registrations, and handles administrative enforcement cases of IPR infringement.  The National Institute of Copyright (INDAUTOR) handles copyright registrations and mediates certain types of copyright disputes, while the Federal Commission for the Prevention from Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS) regulates pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and processed foods.  The Mexican Customs Service’s mandate includes ensuring illegal goods do not cross Mexico’s borders.

The process for trademark registration in Mexico normally takes six to eight months.  The registration process begins by filing an application with IMPI, which is published in the Official Gazette.  IMPI first undertakes a formalities examination, followed by a substantive examination to determine if the application and supporting documentation fulfills the requirements established by law and regulation to grant the trademark registration.  Once the determination is made, IMPI then publishes the registration in the Official Gazette.  A trademark registration in Mexico is valid for 10 years from the date of registration and is renewable for 10-year periods.  Any party can challenge a trademark registration through an opposition system, or post-grant through a cancellation proceeding.  IMPI employs the following administrative procedures:  nullity, expiration, opposition, cancellation, trademark, patent and copyright infringement.  Once IMPI issues a decision, the affected party may challenge it through an internal reconsideration process or go directly to the Specialized IP Court for a nullity trial.  An aggrieved party can then file an appeal with a Federal Appeal Court based on the Specialized IP Court’s decision.  In cases with an identifiable constitutional challenge, the plaintiff may file an appeal before the Supreme Court.

To improve efficiency, in 2020 IMPI partnered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to launch the Parallel Patent Grant (PPG) initiative.  Under this new work-sharing arrangement, IMPI will expedite the grant of a Mexican patent for businesses and individuals already granted a corresponding U.S. patent.  This arrangement allows for the efficient reutilization of USPTO work by IMPI.  The USPTO also has a Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) agreement with IMPI.  Under the PPH, an applicant receiving a ruling from either IMPI or the USPTO that at least one claim in an application is patentable may request that the other office expedite examination of the corresponding application.  The PPH leverages fast-track patent examination procedures already available in both offices to allow applicants in both countries to obtain corresponding patents faster and more efficiently.

Mexico has undertaken significant legislative reform over the past year to comply with the USMCA.  The Mexican Federal Law for Protection of Industrial Property (Ley Federal de Protección a la Propiedad Industrial) went into effect November 5, 2020.  The decree issuing this law was published in the Official Gazette on July 1, 2020, in response to the USMCA and the CPTPP.  This new law replaced the Mexican Industrial Property Law (Ley de la Propiedad Industrial), substantially strengthening IPR across a variety of disciplines.  Mexico amended its Federal Copyright Law and its Federal Criminal Code to comply with the USMCA.  The amendments went into effect July 2, 2020.  These amendments should significantly strengthen copyright law in Mexico.  Still, there are concerns that constitutional challenges filed against notice and takedown provisions as well as TPMs in the amendments may weaken these. provisions.

Still, Mexico has widespread commercial-scale infringement that results in significant losses to Mexican, U.S., and other IPR owners.  There are many issues that have made it difficult to improve IPR enforcement in Mexico, including legislative loopholes; lack of coordination between federal, state, and municipal authorities; a cumbersome and lengthy judicial process; relatively widespread acceptance of piracy and counterfeiting, and lack of resources dedicated to enforcement.  In addition, the involvement of transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), which control the piracy and counterfeiting markets in parts of Mexico and engage in trade-based money laundering by importing counterfeit goods, continue to impede federal government efforts to improve IPR enforcement.  TCO involvement has further illustrated the link between IPR crimes and illicit trafficking of other contraband, including arms and drugs.

Mexico remained on the Watch List in the 2021 Special 301 report published by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).  Obstacles to U.S. trade include the wide availability of pirated and counterfeit goods in both physical and virtual notorious markets.  The  for Piracy and Counterfeiting listed several Mexican markets:  Tepito in Mexico City, La Pulga Rio in Monterrey, and Mercado San Juan de Dios in Guadalajara.  Mexico is a signatory to numerous international IP treaties, including the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, and the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

Resources for Rights Holders

Intellectual Property Rights Attaché for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean
U.S. Trade Center Liverpool No. 31 Col. Juárez
C.P. 06600 Mexico City
Tel: (52) 55 5080 2189

National Institute of Copyright (INDAUTOR)
Puebla No. 143
Col. Roma, Del. Cuauhtémoc
06700 México, D.F.
Tel: (52) 55 3601 8270
Fax: (52) 55 3601 8214
Web: http://www.indautor.gob.mx/

Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI)
Periférico Sur No. 3106
Piso 9, Col. Jardines del Pedregal
Mexico, D.F., C.P. 01900
Tel: (52 55) 56 24 04 01 / 04
(52 55) 53 34 07 00
Fax: (52 55) 56 24 04 06
Web: http://www.impi.gob.mx/

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Mexican government is generally open to foreign portfolio investments, and foreign investors trade actively in various public and private asset classes.  Foreign entities may freely invest in federal government securities.  The Foreign Investment Law establishes foreign investors may hold 100 percent of the capital stock of any Mexican corporation or partnership, except in those few areas expressly subject to limitations under that law.  Foreign investors may also purchase non-voting shares through mutual funds, trusts, offshore funds, and American Depositary Receipts.

They also have the right to buy directly limited or nonvoting shares as well as free subscription shares, or “B” shares, which carry voting rights.  Foreigners may purchase an interest in “A” shares, which are normally reserved for Mexican citizens, through a neutral fund operated by one of Mexico’s six development banks.  Finally, Mexico offers federal, state, and local governments bonds that are rated by international credit rating agencies.  The market for these securities has expanded rapidly in past years and foreign investors hold a significant stake of total federal issuances.  However, foreigners are limited in their ability to purchase sub-sovereign state and municipal debt.  Liquidity across asset classes is relatively deep.

Mexico established a fiscally transparent trust structure known as a FICAP in 2006 to allow venture and private equity funds to incorporate locally.  The Securities Market Law (Ley de Mercado de Valores) established the creation of three special investment vehicles which can provide more corporate and economic rights to shareholders than a normal corporation.  These categories are: (1) Investment Promotion Corporation (Sociedad Anonima de Promotora de Inversion or SAPI); (2) Stock Exchange Investment Promotion Corporation (Sociedad Anonima Promotora de Inversion Bursatil or SAPIB); and (3) Stock Exchange Corporation (Sociedad Anonima Bursatil or SAB).  Mexico also has a growing real estate investment trust market, locally referred to as Fideicomisos de Infraestructura y Bienes Raíces (FIBRAS) as well as FIBRAS-E, which allow for investment in non-real estate investment projects.  FIBRAS are regulated under Articles 187 and 188 of Mexican Federal Income Tax Law.

Money and Banking System

Financial sector reforms signed into law in 2014 have improved regulation and supervision of financial intermediaries and have fostered greater competition between financial services providers.  While access to financial services – particularly personal credit for formal sector workers – has expanded in the past four years, bank and credit penetration in Mexico remains low compared to OECD and emerging market peers.  Coupled with sound macroeconomic fundamentals, reforms have created a positive environment for the financial sector and capital markets.  According to the National Banking and Stock Commission (CNBV), the banking system remains healthy and well capitalized.  Non-performing loans have fallen 60 percent since 2001 and now account for 2.1 percent of all loans.

Mexico’s banking sector is heavily concentrated and majority foreign-owned:  the seven largest banks control 85 percent of system assets and foreign-owned institutions control 70 percent of total assets.  The USMCA maintains national treatment guarantees.  U.S. securities firms and investment funds, acting through local subsidiaries, have the right to engage in the full range of activities permitted in Mexico.

The Bank of Mexico (Banxico), Mexico’s central bank, maintains independence in operations and management by constitutional mandate.  Its main function is to provide domestic currency to the Mexican economy and to safeguard the Mexican Peso’s purchasing power by gearing monetary policy toward meeting a 3 percent inflation target over the medium term.

Mexico’s Financial Technology (FinTech) law came into effect in March 2018 and administration released secondary regulations in 2019, creating a broad rubric for the development and regulation of innovative financial technologies.  The law covers both cryptocurrencies and a regulatory “sandbox” for start-ups to test the viability of products, placing Mexico among the FinTech policy vanguard.  The reforms have already attracted significant investment to lending fintech companies and mobile payment companies.  Six fintechs have been authorized to operate in the Mexican market and CNBV is reviewing other applications.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Government of Mexico maintains a free-floating exchange rate.

Mexico maintains open conversion and transfer policies.  In general, capital and investment transactions, remittance of profits, dividends, royalties, technical service fees, and travel expenses are handled at market-determined exchange rates.  Mexican Peso (MXN)/USD exchange is available on same day, 24- and 48-hour settlement bases.  In order to prevent money-laundering transactions, Mexico imposes limits on USD cash deposits.  Businesses in designated border and tourism zones may deposit more than USD 14,000 per month subject to reporting rules and providing justification for their need to conduct USD cash transactions.  Individual account holders are subject to a USD 4,000 per month USD cash deposit limit.  In 2016, Banxico launched a central clearing house to allow for USD clearing services wholly within Mexico to improve clearing services for domestic companies with USD income.

Remittance Policies

There have been no recent changes in Mexico’s remittance policies.  Mexico continues to maintain open conversion and transfer policies.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Mexican Petroleum Fund for Stability and Development (FMP) was created as part of 2013 budgetary reforms.  Housed in Banxico, the fund distributes oil revenues to the national budget and a long-term savings account.  The FMP incorporates the Santiago Principles for transparency, placing it among the most transparent Sovereign Wealth Funds in the world.  Both Banxico and Mexico’s Supreme Federal Auditor regularly audit the fund.  Mexico is also a member of the International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds.  The Fund received  MXN 197.3 billion (approximately USD 9.9 billion) in income in 2020.  The FMP is required to publish quarterly and annual reports, which can be found at www.fmped.org.mx .

7. State-Owned Enterprises

There are two main SOEs in Mexico, both in the energy sector.  Pemex operates the hydrocarbons (oil and gas) sector, which includes upstream, mid-stream, and downstream operations.  Pemex historically contributed one-third of the Mexican government’s budget but falling output and global oil prices alongside improved revenue collection from other sources have diminished this amount over the past decade to about 8 percent.  The Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) operates the electricity sector.  While the Mexican government maintains state ownership, the latest constitutional reforms granted Pemex and CFE management and budget autonomy and greater flexibility to engage in private contracting.

Pemex

As a result of Mexico’s historic energy reform, the private sector is now able to compete with Pemex or enter into competitive contracts, joint ventures, profit sharing agreements, and license contracts with Pemex for hydrocarbon exploration and extraction.  Liberalization of the retail fuel sales market, which Mexico completed in 2017, created significant opportunities for foreign businesses.  Given Pemex frequently raises debt in international markets, its financial statements are regularly audited.  The Natural Resource Governance Institute considers Pemex to be the second most transparent state-owned oil company after Norway’s Statoil.  Pemex’s ten-person Board of Directors contains five government ministers and five independent councilors.  The administration has identified increasing Pemex’s oil, natural gas, and refined fuels production as its chief priority for Mexico’s hydrocarbon sector.

CFE

Changes to the Mexican constitution in 2013 and 2014 opened power generation and commercial supply to the private sector, allowing companies to compete with CFE.  Mexico has held three long-term power auctions since the reforms, in which over 40 contracts were awarded for 7,451 megawatts of energy supply and clean energy certificates.  CFE will remain the sole provider of distribution services and will own all distribution assets.  The 2014 energy reform separated CFE from the National Energy Control Center (CENACE), which now controls the national wholesale electricity market and ensures non-discriminatory access to the grid for competitors.  Still, legal and regulatory changes adopted by the Mexican government attempt to modify the rules governing the electricity dispatch order to favor CFE.  Dozens of private companies and non-governmental organizations have successfully sought injunctions against the measures, which they argue discriminate against private participants in the electricity sector.  Independent power generators were authorized to operate in 1992 but were required to sell their output to CFE or use it to self-supply.  Those legacy self-supply contracts have recently come under criticism with an electricity reform law giving the government the ability to cancel contracts it deems fraudulent.  Under the reform, private power generators may now install and manage interconnections with CFE’s existing state-owned distribution infrastructure.  The reform also requires the government to implement a National Program for the Sustainable Use of Energy as a transition strategy to encourage clean technology and fuel development and reduce pollutant emissions.  The administration has identified increasing CFE-owned power generation as its top priority for the utility, breaking from the firm’s recent practice of contracting private firms to build, own, and operate generation facilities.  CFE forced several foreign and domestic companies to renegotiate previously executed gas supply contracts, which raised significant concerns among investors about contract sanctity.

The main non-market-based advantage CFE and Pemex receive vis-a-vis private businesses in Mexico is related to access to capital.  In addition to receiving direct budget support from the Secretariat of Finance, both entities also receive implicit credit guarantees from the federal government.  As such, both are able to borrow funds on public markets at below the market rate their corporate risk profiles would normally suggest.  In addition to budgetary support, the CRE and SENER have delayed or halted necessary permits for new private sector gas stations, fuel terminals, and power plants, providing an additional non-market-based advantage to CFE and Pemex.

Privatization Program

Mexico’s 2014 energy reforms liberalized access to these sectors but did not privatize state-owned enterprises.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Mexico’s private and public sectors have worked to promote and develop corporate social responsibility (CSR) during the past decade.  CSR in Mexico began as a philanthropic effort.  It has evolved gradually to a more holistic approach, trying to match international standards such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the United Nations Global Compact.

Responsible business conduct reporting has made progress in the last few years with more companies developing a corporate responsibility strategy.  The government has also made an effort to implement CSR in state-owned companies such as Pemex, which has published corporate responsibility reports since 1999.  Recognizing the importance of CSR issues, the Mexican Stock Exchange (Bolsa Mexicana de Valores) launched a sustainable companies index, which allows investors to specifically invest in those companies deemed to meet internationally accepted criteria for good corporate governance.

In October 2017, Mexico became the 53rd member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which represents an important milestone in its Pemex effort to establish transparency and public trust in its energy sector.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Corruption exists in many forms in Mexican government and society, including corruption in the public sector (e.g., demand for bribes or kickbacks by government officials) and private sector (e.g., fraud, falsifying claims, etc.), as well as conflict of interest issues, which are not well defined in the Mexican legal framework.

Complicity of government and law enforcement officials with criminal elements is a significant concern.  Collaboration of government actors with criminal organizations (often due to intimidation and threats) poses serious challenges for the rule of law.  Some of the most common reports of official corruption involve government officials stealing from public coffers or demanding bribes in exchange for awarding public contracts.  The current administration supported anti-corruption reforms (detailed below) and judicial proceedings in several high-profile corruption cases, including former governors.  However, Mexican civil society asserts that the government must take more effective and frequent action to address corruption.

Mexico adopted a constitutional reform in 2014 to transform the current Office of the Attorney General into an Independent Prosecutor General’s office in order to shore up its independence.  President Lopez Obrador’s choice for Prosecutor General was confirmed by the Mexican Senate January 18, 2019.  In 2015, Mexico passed a constitutional reform creating the National Anti-Corruption System (SNA) with an anti-corruption prosecutor and a citizens’ participation committee to oversee efforts.  The system is designed to provide a comprehensive framework for the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of corruption cases, including delineating acts of corruption considered criminal acts under the law.  The legal framework establishes a basis for holding private actors and private firms legally liable for acts of corruption involving public officials and encourages private firms to develop internal codes of conduct.  The implementation status of the mandatory state-level anti-corruption legislation varies.

The new laws mandate a redesign of the Secretariat of Public Administration to give it additional auditing and investigative functions and capacities in combatting public sector corruption.  Congress approved legislation to change economic institutions, assigning new responsibilities and in some instances creating new entities.  Reforms to the federal government’s structure included the creation of a General Coordination of Development Programs to manage the newly created federal state coordinators (“superdelegates”) in charge of federal programs in each state.  The law also created the Secretariat of Public Security and Citizen Protection, and significantly expanded the power of the president’s Legal Advisory Office (Consejería Jurídica) to name and remove each federal agency’s legal advisor and clear all executive branch legal reforms before their submission to Congress.  The law eliminated financial units from ministries, with the exception of the Secretariat of Finance, the army (SEDENA), and the navy (SEMAR), and transferred control of contracting offices in other ministries to the Hacienda.  Separately, the law replaced the previous Secretariat of Social Development (SEDESOL) with a Welfare Secretariat in charge of coordinating social policies, including those developed by other agencies such as health, education, and culture.  The Labor Secretariat gained additional tools to foster collective bargaining, union democracy, and to meet International Labor Organization (ILO) obligations.

Mexico ratified the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery and passed its implementing legislation in May 1999.  The legislation includes provisions making it a criminal offense to bribe foreign officials. Mexico is also a party to the Organization of American States (OAS) Convention against Corruption and has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption.  The government has enacted or proposed strict laws attacking corruption and bribery, with average penalties of five to 10 years in prison.

Mexico is a member of the Open Government Partnership and enacted a Transparency and Access to Public Information Act in 2015, which revised the existing legal framework to expand national access to information.  Transparency in public administration at the federal level improved noticeably but expanding access to information at the state and local level has been slow.  According to Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index, Mexico ranked 124 of 180 nations.  Civil society organizations focused on fighting corruption are increasingly influential at the federal level but are few in number and less powerful at the state and local levels.

Business representatives, including from U.S. firms, believe public funds are often diverted to private companies and individuals due to corruption and perceive favoritism to be widespread among government procurement officials.  The GAN Business Anti-Corruption Portal states compliance with procurement regulations by state bodies in Mexico is unreliable and that corruption is extensive, despite laws covering conflicts of interest, competitive bidding, and company blacklisting procedures.

The U.S. Embassy has engaged in a broad-based effort to work with Mexican agencies and civil society organizations in developing mechanisms to fight corruption and increase transparency and fair play in government procurement.  Efforts with specific business impact include government procurement best practices training and technical assistance under the U.S. Trade and Development Agency’s Global Procurement Initiative.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Mexico ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption in 2004.  It ratified the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 1999.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency:

Secretariat of Public Administration
Miguel Laurent 235, Mexico City
52-55-2000-1060

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Transparencia Mexicana
Dulce Olivia 73, Mexico City
52-55-5659-4714
Email: info@tm.org.mx

10. Political and Security Environment

Mass demonstrations are common in the larger metropolitan areas and in the southern Mexican states of Guerrero and Oaxaca.  While political violence is rare, drug and organized crime-related violence has increased significantly in recent years.  Political violence is also likely to accelerate in the run-up to the June 2021 elections as criminal actors seek to promote election of their preferred candidates.  The national homicide rate remained stable at 29 homicides per 100,000 residents, although the number of homicides fell slightly from 35,618 to 35,498.  For complete security information, please see the Safety and Security section in the Consular Country Information page at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Mexico.html.  Conditions vary widely by state.  For a state-by-state assessment please see the Consular Travel Advisory at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/mexico-travel-advisory.html.

Companies have reported general security concerns remain an issue for those looking to invest in the country.  The American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico estimates in a biannual report that security expenses cost business as much as 5 percent of their operating budgets.  Many companies choose to take extra precautions for the protection of their executives.  They also report increasing security costs for shipments of goods.  The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) monitors and reports on regional security for U.S. businesses operating overseas.  OSAC constituency is available to any U.S.-owned, not-for-profit organization, or any enterprise incorporated in the United States (parent company, not subsidiaries or divisions) doing business overseas (https://www.osac.gov/Country/Mexico/Detail ).

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Mexico’s 54.1. percent rate of informality remains higher than countries with similar GDP per capita levels.  High informality, defined as those working in unregistered firms or without social security protection, distorts labor market dynamics, contributes to persistent wage depression, drags overall productivity, and slows economic growth.  In the formal economy, there exist large labor shortages due to a system that incentivizes informality.  Manufacturing companies, particularly along the U.S.-Mexico border and in the states of Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Querétaro, report labor shortages and an inability to retain staff due to wages sometimes being less that what can be earned in the informal economy.  These shortages are particularly acute for skilled workers and engineers.

On May 1, 2019, Lopez Obrador signed into law a sweeping reform of Mexico’s labor law, implementing a constitutional change and focusing on the labor justice system.  The reform replaces tripartite dispute resolution entities (Conciliation and Arbitration Boards) with independent judicial bodies and conciliation centers.  In terms of labor dispute resolution mechanisms, the Conciliation and Arbitration Boards (CABs) previously adjudicated all individual and collective labor conflicts.  Under the reform, collective bargaining agreements will now be adjudicated by federal labor conciliation centers and federal labor courts.

Labor experts predict the labor reform will result in a greater level of labor action stemming from more inter-union and intra-union competition.  The Secretariat of Labor, working closely with Mexico’s federal judiciary, as well as state governments and courts, created an ambitious state-by-state implementation agenda for the reforms, which started November 18, 2020, and will end May 1, 2022.  On November 18, 2020 the first phase of the labor reform implementation began in eight states:  Durango, State of Mexico, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas, Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco, and Hidalgo.  On December 11, 2020 the Secretariat of Labor commenced preparations for the second phase in 14 additional states beginning in October 2021.  Further details on labor reform implementation can be found at: www.reformalaboral.stps.gob.mx

Mexico’s labor relations system has been widely criticized as skewed to represent the interests of employers and the government at the expense of workers.  Mexico’s legal framework governing collective bargaining created the possibility of negotiation and registration of initial collective bargaining agreements without the support or knowledge of the covered workers.  These agreements are commonly known as protection contracts and constitute a gap in practice with international labor standards regarding freedom of association.  The percentage of the economy covered by collective bargaining agreements is between five and 10 percent, of which more than half are believed to be protection contracts.  As of March 23, 2021, 600 collective bargaining contracts have been legitimized, according to the Secretariat of Labor.

The reform requires all collective bargaining agreements must now be submitted to a free, fair, and secret vote every two years with the objective of getting existing protectionist contracts voted out.  The increasingly permissive political and legal environment for independent unions is already changing the way established unions manage disputes with employers, prompting more authentic collective bargaining.  As independent unions compete with corporatist unions to represent worker interests, workers are likely to be further emboldened in demanding higher wages.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), government enforcement was reasonably effective in enforcing labor laws in large and medium-sized companies, especially in factories run by U.S. companies and in other industries under federal jurisdiction.  Enforcement was inadequate in many small companies and in the agriculture and construction sectors, and it was nearly absent in the informal sector.  Workers organizations have made numerous complaints of poor working conditions in maquiladoras and in the agricultural production industry.  Low wages, poor labor conditions, long work hours, unjustified dismissals, lack of social security benefits and safety in the workplace, and lack of freedom of association were among the most common complaints.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2:  Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 MXN 23,122 billion 2019 USD 18,465 billion https://www.inegi.org.mx/
https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($billion USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 USD 100.9 billion BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 USD 21.5 billion BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 2.7% 2019 2.6% https://www.inegi.org.mx/
UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html
Table 3:  Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data* 2019
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 567,747 100% Total Outward 172,419 100%
United States 190,505 34% United States 74,854 43%
Netherlands 115,224 20% Netherlands 25,219 15%
Spain 96,146 17% Spain 13,171 8%
Canada 39,025 7% United Kingdom 12,729 7%
United Kingdom 23,648 4% Brazil 8,064 5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

* data from the IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey

Table 4:  Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets, as of June 2020*
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 61,361 100% All Countries 42,877 100% All Countries 18,484 100%
United States 19,356 32% Ireland 8,256 19% United States 12,829 69%
Ireland 8,263 13% United States 6,528 15 Brazil 1,506 8%
Brazil 1,514 2% Luxembourg 781 2% Chile 65 0.4%
Luxembourg 793 0.5% Spain 266 0.6% Netherlands 62 0.3%
United Kingdom 109 0.2% China 91 0.2% United Kingdom 55 0.3%

* data from the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS)

14. Contact for More Information

William Ayala
Economic Officer
AyalaWM@State.gov
U.S. Embassy Mexico City