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. The economy 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). President Alberto Fernandez and Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s (CFK) took office on December 10, 2019, and reversed fiscal austerity measures, suspended the IMF program, and declared public debt levels unsustainable.

In September 2020, Argentina restructured $100 billion in foreign and locally issued sovereign debt owed to international and local private creditors. Together, these transactions provide short-term financial relief by clearing principal payments until 2024. Unable to access international capital markets, the government relied on Central Bank money printing to finance the deficit, further fueling inflation. Although Argentina’s economy rebounded 10.3 percent in 2021, offsetting a 10 percent decline in 2020, the economy remains below pre-recession levels. In 2021, the Argentine peso (official rate) depreciated 17 percent, inflation reached 50.9 percent, and the poverty rate reached 37.3 percent.

Even as the pandemic receded and economic activity rebounded, the government cited increased poverty and high inflation as reasons to continue, and even expand, price controls, capital controls, and foreign trade controls. Agricultural and food exports such as beef, soy, and flour were frequent targets for government intervention. Beginning in May 2021, the government introduced bans and other limits on beef exports to address increasing domestic prices. However, the government also implemented incentives for exporters and investors in other industries. It eliminated export taxes for specific businesses and industries, including small and medium sized enterprises; auto and automotive parts exports over 2020 volumes; and information technology service exports from companies enrolled in the knowledge-based economy promotion regime. There were also investment promotion incentives in key export sectors such as agriculture, forestry, hydrocarbons, manufacturing, and mining.

The high cost of capital affected the level of investments in developing renewable energy projects, despite the potential for both wind and solar power. In an effort to expand production of oil and natural gas, the current administration provides benefits to the fossil fuel industry that impact the cost-competitiveness of renewable energy technologies. The government has encouraged the use of biofuels and electric vehicles. A proposed Law for the Promotion of Sustainable Mobility includes incentives and 20-year timelines to promote the use of technologies with less environmental impact in transportation.

After the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Argentina in March 2020, the country imposed a strict nationwide quarantine that became one of the longest in the world. Argentina reopened its borders to tourists and non-residents on November 21, 2021. Hotel and lodging, travel and tourism, and entertainment activities have reopened, although many businesses went bankrupt during the shutdown. Most of the pandemic-related economic relief measures were phased out during 2021.

Both domestic and foreign companies frequently point to a high and unpredictable tax burden and rigid labor laws as obstacles to further investment in Argentina. In 2021, Argentina ranked 73 out of 132 countries evaluated in the Global Innovation Index, which is an indicator of a country’s ability to innovate, based on the premise that innovation is a driver of a nation’s economic growth and prosperity. In the latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Argentina ranked 96 out of 180 countries in 2021, dropping 18 places compared to 2020.

As a Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) member, Argentina signed a free trade and investment agreement with the European Union (EU) in June 2019. Argentina has not yet ratified the agreement. During 2021 there was little progress on trade negotiations with South Korea, Singapore, and Canada. Argentina ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement on January 22, 2018. Argentina and the United States continue to expand bilateral commercial and economic cooperation 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 265 U.S. companies operate in Argentina, and the United States continues to be the top investor in Argentina with more than USD $8.7 billion (stock) of foreign direct investment as of 2020.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perception Index 2021 96 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 73 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 $8.7 billion https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 $9,070 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

 

4. Industrial Policies

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 

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

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 a 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 a FTZ or re-export from a 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.

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 the provincial population. 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

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.

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)’s 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 2021 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.  Argentina made progress on eliminating the patent application backlog, however, this did not include the backlog for pharmaceutical or biotechnology innovations. The number of patent examiners remains insufficient with retention and recruitment hampered by low public sector salaries. 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 2021 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.  Rights 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 high inflation, sovereign debt negotiations with the IMF, and political conflicts within the ruling coalition.  The pressing economic situation led to an increase of counterfeit products sales in informal markets once the confinement measures enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic 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, while sales of counterfeit luxury goods such as handbags decreased. Flight and border crossing restrictions applied during the COVID-19 health emergency prevented purchases of counterfeit products from China, Paraguay, and Bolivia, but were removed by November 2021.

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

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.

After a three-year recession (2018-2020), the economy rebounded with 10.3 percent growth in 2021. However, the government did not ease the capital controls introduced in September 2019 to slow the outflow of dollars. Central Bank capital controls prohibiting transfers and payments are likely in conflict with IMF Article VIII. The government has maintained trade restrictions, price controls, distortive taxes, and high spending. Unable to access international capital markets (despite restructuring private debt in 2020) and with a shallow domestic market, the government relied on Central Bank money printing to finance the deficit. The excessive liquidity resulted in high inflation (50.9 percent in 2021) and deteriorating social conditions, with the poverty rate exceeding 40 percent.

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. On March 3, 2022, IMF Staff and Argentine authorities reached a staff-level agreement on the economic and financial policies required for an Extended Fund Facility (EFF) Arrangement. In broad terms, the key objectives of the new EFF include a reduction in the fiscal deficit and monetary financing, tackling inflation, and the accumulation of foreign reserves. The IMF Executive Board approved the EFF on March 25, after the Argentine National Congress approved the measure.

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 11 percent of GDP. Private sector credit gained some momentum in 2021, driven by the reopening of the economy after the pandemic and government support measures such as subsidized credit lines for businesses. Nevertheless, the stock of credit shrank in real terms as the nominal credit growth increased by 41 percent in 2021, below the inflation rate of 50.7 percent. 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.

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 recession (2018-2020). Limited financial intermediation combined with high inflation and interventionist interest rate regulations (mainly for small businesses) dented bank profitability in 2021. Banks compensated for this by controlling expenses and increasing digitalization of the sector. Non-performing private sector loans constitute 4.4 percent of banks’ portfolios. During 2021, financial entities maintained adequate solvency indicators. 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 8.4 trillion (USD $83.3 billion). Total financial system assets are approximately ARS 13.7 trillion (USD $135.7 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 government has expressed support for the process of digitization of payments to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and safeguard financial stability.

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

Beginning in September 2019, the Argentine government and Central Bank issued a series of decrees and norms to extend or amend the government’s ability to regulate and restrict 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 using local credit cards are limited to a maximum of USD $50 per transaction.

As of September 2020, and pursuant to Notice A7106, Argentine individuals must limit purchases of foreign currency (or of goods and services denominated in foreign currency) to no more than USD $200 per month on a rolling monthly basis. Individuals must receive Central Bank approval to purchase foreign currency in excess of the $200 quota. Purchases of goods and services abroad with credit and debit cards issued by Argentine banks count against the USD $200 per month quota. Although no limit on credit or debit card purchases is imposed, if monthly expenditures surpass the USD $200 limit, the card owner will be prevented from purchasing foreign currency in Argentina for the number of months needed to cover the amount of excess spending. Also, the regulation prohibits individuals who receive government assistance and high-ranking federal government officials from purchasing foreign exchange.

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 with 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 through 2021, and in March 2022 extended it again to include maturities through December 31, 2022. 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 December 2021, the Central Bank presented its monetary, financial, lending, and foreign exchange program. On monetary policy, the Central Bank committed to I) manage liquidity to prevent any imbalances that may directly or indirectly affect the disinflation process; II) set the path of the policy interest rate to obtain positive real returns on investments in domestic currency and preserve monetary and foreign exchange stability; and III) contribute to the development of the capital market and adjust minimum reserve requirements to strengthen the channel of monetary policy transmission. On foreign exchange, the Central Bank will maintain the gradual crawling peg of the exchange rate consistent with the pace of inflation. With the goal of strengthening international reserves, the Central Bank will manage capital control regulations to ensure monetary and foreign exchange stability. The credit policy objectives include encouraging financial intermediation and promoting the growth of the peso credit market to boost lending to micro, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and to the sectors most affected by the pandemic.

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 to 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.

The Argentine government does not maintain a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

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 96 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

Contact at the government agency or agencies that are responsible for combating 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/ 

Contact at a “watchdog” organization:
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 March 2022, thousands protested in front of Congress against a bill approving a new agreement with the IMF.

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 dropped to 8.6 percent at the end of 2021, 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 that it 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. The law entered into force on April 1, 2021. This law provides the legal framework for teleworking in employment settings that allow it.

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 2021, the Ministry of Labor registered 855 labor and collective bargaining agreements. These agreements covered approximately 5.4 million workers.

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 2021. 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 2020 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 2020 Human Rights Report for Argentina can be accessed here:

https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-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.

Guatemala

Executive Summary

Guatemala has the largest economy in Central America, with a $ 85.9 billion gross domestic product (GDP) in 2021. The economy grew by an estimated 7.5 percent in 2021 following a 1.5 percent retraction in 2020. Remittances, mostly from the United States, increased by 34.9 percent in 2021 and were equivalent to 17.8 percent of GDP. The United States is Guatemala’s most important economic partner. The Guatemalan government continues to make efforts to enhance competitiveness, promote investment opportunities, and work on legislative reforms aimed at supporting economic growth. More than 200 U.S. and other foreign firms have active investments in Guatemala, benefitting from the U.S. Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). Foreign direct investment (FDI) stock was $21.4 billion in 2021, a 21.9 percent increase over 2020. FDI flows increased by 272.6 percent in 2021 mostly due to the purchase of outstanding shares of a local company by a foreign telecommunications company. Some of the activities that attracted most of the FDI flows in the last three years were information and communications, financial and insurance activities, manufacturing, commerce and vehicle repair, water, electricity, and sanitation services.

Despite steps to improve Guatemala’s investment climate, international companies choosing to invest in Guatemala face significant challenges. Complex laws and regulations, inconsistent judicial decisions, bureaucratic impediments, and corruption continue to impede investment.

Citing Guatemala’s CAFTA-DR obligations, the United States has raised concerns with the Guatemalan government regarding its enforcement of both its labor and environmental laws.

Guatemala’s Climate Change Framework Law established the groundwork for Guatemala’s Low Emission Development Strategy (LEDS) and is designed to align Guatemala’s emissions and development targets with national planning documents in six sectors: energy, transportation, industry, land use, agriculture, and waste management. In November 2020, the Guatemala government endorsed the LEDS as the country’s official strategy for climate change mitigation.

As part of the government’s efforts to promote economic recovery during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Economy (MINECO) began implementing an economic recovery plan in September 2020, which focuses on recovering lost jobs and generating new jobs, attracting new strategic investment, and promoting consumption of Guatemalan goods and services locally and globally.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 150 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 101 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 USD 789 https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 4,490 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

4. Industrial Policies

Guatemala’s main investment incentive programs are specified in law and are offered nationwide to both foreign and Guatemalan investors without discrimination.

Guatemala’s primary incentive program – the Law for the Promotion and Development of Export Activities and Maquilas (factories that import duty-free materials and assemble products for export) – is aimed mainly at the apparel and textile sector and at services exporters such as call centers and business processes outsourcing (BPO) companies. The government grants investors in these two sectors a 10-year income tax exemption. Additional incentives include an exemption from duties and value-added taxes (VAT) on imported machinery and equipment and a one-year suspension of the same duties and taxes on imports of production inputs, samples, and packing material. The Free Trade Zone Law provides similar incentives to the incentive program described above. The Guatemalan congress approved the Law for Conservation of Employment (Decree 19-2016) in February 2016,amending Guatemala’s two major incentive programs to replace tax incentives related to exports that Guatemala dismantled on December 31, 2015, per WTO requirements. Congress approved new amendments to the Free Trade Zones (FTZ) Law in May 2021 to reincorporate some of the economic activities that had been excluded during the 2016 reforms, such as manufacturing of plastic products, medications, and electronic devices and household appliances. The amendments to the FTZ law establish that local and foreign businesses and individuals with activities already taxed in the national customs territory may not migrate to FTZ or benefit from the incentives provided by this law. However, companies already operating in country that create new businesses with different activities than those already taxed are exempt from this provision.

The public Free Trade Zone of Industry and Commerce Santo Tomas de Castilla (ZOLIC) that operates contiguous to the state-owned port Santo Tomas de Castilla issued a regulation in January 2019 allowing the establishment of ZOLIC’s special public economic development zones outside of ZOLIC’s customs perimeter. The ZOLIC law grants businesses operating within the new special public economic development zones a 10-year income tax exemption. Additional exemptions include an exemption from VAT, customs duties, and other charges on imports of goods entering the area, including raw materials, supplies, machinery and equipment, as well as a VAT exemption on all taxable transactions carried out within the free trade zone when goods are exported. The law states that the incentives are available to local and foreign investors engaged in manufacturing and commercial activities as well as the provision of services.

The Law on Incentives for the Development of Renewable Energy Projects (Decree 52-2003) is aimed at municipalities, the National Electricity Institute (INDE), joint ventures, individuals and businesses that develop any renewable energy projects. It grants a 10-year exemption from import duties, including value added tax on imported machinery and equipment used exclusively for the generation of electricity in the area where the renewable projects are located. This incentive is valid only during the pre-investment and construction periods. The law also provides a 10-year income tax exemption valid from the date when a project starts commercial operation. The incentive is granted only to individuals and businesses that directly develop the project and only for the project.

Decree 65-89, Guatemala’s Free Trade Zones Law and its amendments approved through Decree 19-2016, Law for Conservation of Employment and Decree 6-2021, permits the establishment of free trade zones (FTZs) in any region of the country. Developers of private FTZs must obtain authorization from MINECO to install and manage a FTZ. Businesses operating within authorized FTZs also require authorization from MINECO. The law specifies investment incentives, which are available to both foreign and Guatemalan investors without discrimination. As of March 2022, there were four authorized FTZs operating in Guatemala. The Guatemalan congress approved amendments to the Free Trade Zones Law in May 2021 to reinstate tax incentives to some of the activities removed during the previous reform. Decree 22-73, ZOLIC’s law and its amendments approved through Decree 30-2018, allow the establishment of ZOLIC’s special public economic development zones outside of ZOLIC’s customs perimeter as described under the Investment Incentives subsection above. Special public economic development zones can be installed in ZOLIC’s facilities or property owned by third parties that is leased or granted in usufruct to ZOLIC. Administrators of special public economic development zones must obtain authorization from ZOLIC’s board of directors for a minimum period of 12 years. ZOLIC´s board of directors had approved nine special public economic development zones as of March 2022.

Guatemalan law does not impose performance, purchase, or export requirements nor does the government require foreign investors to use domestic content in goods or technology. Companies are not required to include local content in production.

Guatemalan companies do not require foreign IT providers to turn over source code. Some industries, such as the banking and financial sector, can request that their institution or a source code facilities management company receive a copy of the source code in case of potential problems with the IT provider.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Guatemala follows the real property registry system. Defects in the titles and ownership gaps in the public record can lead to conflicting claims of land ownership, especially in rural areas. The government stepped up efforts to enforce property rights by helping to provide a clear property title. Nevertheless, when rightful ownership is in dispute, it can be difficult to obtain and subsequently enforce eviction notices.

Mortgages are available to finance homes and businesses. Most banks offer mortgage loans with terms as long as 25 years for residential real estate. Mortgages and liens are recorded at the real estate property registry. According to the 2020 World Bank’s Doing Business Report, registering property in Guatemala takes 24 days, and it costs 3.6 percent of the property value. In the 2020 report, Guatemala ranked 89 out of 190 countries in the category of Registering Property.

The legal system is accessible to foreigners who may buy, sell, and file suit under the law. However, the legal system is not easily navigated without competent counsel. Foreign investors are advised to seek reliable local counsel early in the investment process.

Guatemala has been a member of the WTO since 1995 and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) since 1983. It is also a signatory to the Paris Convention, Berne Convention, Rome Convention, Phonograms Convention, and the Nairobi Treaty. Guatemala has ratified the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT). In June 2006, as part of CAFTA-DR implementation, Guatemala ratified the Patent Cooperation Treaty and the Budapest Treaty on the International Recognition of the Deposit of Microorganisms for the Purposes of Patent Procedure. Also in June 2006, the Guatemalan congress approved the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV Convention). Implementing legislation that would allow Guatemala to become a party to the convention, however, is still pending. The Guatemalan congress approved the Trademark Law Treaty (TLT) and the Marrakesh Treaty in February 2016. Legislation to incorporate TLT provisions into local law is pending as of March 2022. The Guatemalan congress passed amendments to the Copyright and Related Rights Law to adapt Marrakesh Treaty provisions into local law in October 2018, and the Guatemalan government issued its implementing regulation in March 2022.

Guatemala has a registry for intellectual property. Trademarks, copyrights, patents rights, industrial designs, and other forms of intellectual property must be registered in Guatemala to obtain protection in the country.

The Guatemalan congress passed an industrial property law in August 2000, bringing the country’s intellectual property rights laws into compliance with the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. Congress modified the legislation in 2003 to provide pharmaceutical test data protection consistent with international practice and again in 2005 to comply with IPR protection requirements in CAFTA-DR. CAFTA-DR provides for improved standards for the protection and enforcement of a broad range of IPR, which are consistent with U.S. standards of protection and enforcement as well as emerging international standards. Congress approved a law to prohibit the production and sale of counterfeit medicine in November 2011. It approved amendments to the Industrial Property Law in June 2013 to allow the registration of geographical indications (GI), as required under the Association Agreement with the European Union. Guatemalan administrative authorities issued rulings on applications to register GIs that appear sound and well-reasoned for compound GI names, but U.S. exporters are concerned that 2014 rulings on single-name GIs will effectively prohibit new U.S. products in the Guatemalan market from using what appear to be generic or common names when identifying their goods locally.

Guatemala remains on USTR’s Special 301 Watch List in 2022 and has been on the Watch list for more than 10 years. Despite a generally sound legal framework, IPR enforcement remains limited due to resource constraints, and limited coordination among law enforcement agencies. Piracy and copyright and trademark infringement, including those of some major U.S. food and pharmaceutical brands, remain problematic in Guatemala.

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

Guatemala’s capital markets lack a securities regulator. The local stock exchange (Bolsa Nacional de Valores) deals almost exclusively in commercial paper, repurchase agreements (repos), and government bonds. The Guatemalan Central Bank (Banguat),the Superintendency of Banks (SIB), and the Ministry of Economy were drafting an updated capital markets bill that included a chapter on securitization companies and the securitization process as of March 2022. Notwithstanding the lack of a modern capital markets law, the government debt market continues to develop. Domestic treasury bonds represented 58.1 percent of total public debt as of December 2021.

Guatemala lacks a market for publicly traded equities, which raises the cost of capital and complicates mergers and acquisitions. As of December 2021, borrowers faced a weighted average annual interest rate of 15.4 percent in local currency and 6.1 percent in foreign currency, with some banks charging over 40 percent on consumer or micro-credit loans. Commercial loans to large businesses offered the lowest rates and were on average 5.5 percent in local currency as of December 2021. Dollar-denominated loans typically are some percentage points lower than those issued in local currency. Foreigners rarely rely on the local credit market to finance investments.

Overall, the banking system remains stable. The Monetary Board, Banguat, and SIB approved various temporary measures during 2020 to increase liquidity of the banking system during the first months of the pandemic and to allow banks to approve restructuring of loans or deferral of loans to businesses and individuals affected by the pandemic. About 5.8 percent of the total number of loans remained subject to the temporary measures approved in 2020 as of December 2021. Non-performing loans represented 1.8 percent of total loans as of January 2022. According to information from the SIB, Guatemala’s 17 commercial banks had an estimated $56 billion in assets in December 2021. The six largest banks control 88 percent of total assets. In addition, Guatemala has 11 non-bank financial institutions, which perform primarily investment banking and medium- and long-term lending, and three exchange houses. Access to financial services is very high in Guatemala City, as well as in major regional cities. Guatemala had 23.7 access points per 10,000 adults at the national level and 29.1 access points per 10,000 adults in the capital area as of December 2021. There were 12,446 banking accounts per 10,000 adults at the national level and 24,915 banking accounts per 10,000 adults in the capital area as of December 2021. Most banks offer a variety of online banking services.

Foreigners are normally able to open a bank account by presenting their passport and a utility bill or some other proof of residence. However, requirements vary by bank.

In April 2002, the Guatemalan congress passed a package of financial sector regulatory reforms that increased the regulatory and supervisory authority of the SIB, which is responsible for regulating the financial services industry. The reforms brought local practices more in line with international standards and spurred a round of bank consolidations and restructurings. The 2002 reforms required that non-performing assets held offshore be included in loan-loss-provision and capital-adequacy ratios. As a result, a number of smaller banks sought new capital, buyers, or mergers with stronger banks, reducing the number of banks from 27 in 2005 to 17 in 2021.

Guatemalan banking and supervisory authorities and the Guatemalan congress actively work on new laws in the business and financial sectors. In August 2012, the Guatemalan congress approved reforms to the Banking and Financial Groups Law and to the Central Bank Organic Law that strengthened supervision and prudential regulation of the financial sector and resolution mechanisms for failed or failing banks. The Guatemalan government submitted to congress proposed amendments to the Banking and Financial Groups Law in November 2016 and an anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing draft law in August 2020. Both proposed laws were pending congressional approval as of March 2022.

Foreign banks may open branches or subsidiaries in Guatemala subject to Guatemalan financial controls and regulations. These include a rule requiring local subsidiaries of foreign banks and financial institutions operating in Guatemala to meet Guatemalan capital and lending requirements as if they were stand-alone operations. Groups of affiliated credit card, insurance, financial, commercial banking, leasing, and related companies must issue consolidated financial statements prepared in accordance with uniform, generally accepted accounting practices. The groups are audited and supervised on a consolidated basis.

The total number of correspondent banking relationships with Guatemala’s financial sector showed a slight decline in 2016, but the changes in the relationships were similar to those seen throughout the region and reflected a trend of de-risking. The situation stabilized in 2017. The number of correspondent banking relationships remained stable in 2021.

Alternative financial services in Guatemala include credit and savings unions and microfinance institutions.

Guatemala does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Guatemala has three main state-owned enterprises: The National Electricity Institute (INDE) and two state-owned ports, Santo Tomas on the Caribbean coast, and Port Quetzal on the Pacific coast. INDE is a state-owned electricity company responsible for expanding the provision of electricity to rural communities. INDE owns approximately 14 percent of the country’s installed effective generation capacity, and it participates in the wholesale market under the same rules as its competitors. It also provides a subsidy to consumers of up to 88 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per month. Its board of directors comprises representatives from the government, municipalities, business associations, and labor unions. The board of directors appoints the general manager. The Guatemalan President appoints Santo Tomas Ports’ board of directors, and the board of directors appoints the general manager. The Guatemalan President also appoints the president of Port Quetzal’s board, and the president of the board appoints the general manager. The Guatemalan government also appoints the manager of state-owned telephone company GUATEL, which split off from the fixed-line telephone company during the 1998 privatization program. GUATEL’s operations are small, and it continuously fails to generate sufficient revenue to cover expenses. The GUATEL director reports to the Guatemalan President and to the board of directors.

The Guatemalan government currently owns 16 percent of the shares of the Rural Development Bank (Banrural), the second largest bank in Guatemala, and holds 3 out of 10 seats on its board of directors. Banrural is a mixed capital company and operates under the same laws and regulations as other commercial banks.

The Guatemalan government privatized a number of state-owned assets in industries and utilities in the late 1990s including power distribution, telephone services, and grain storage. Guatemala does not currently have a privatization program.

9. Corruption

Bribery is illegal under Guatemala’s Penal Code. Guatemala scored 25 out of 100 points on Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perception Index, ranking it 150 out of 180 countries globally, and 28 out of 32 countries in the region. The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the Public Ministry (MP) prosecuted very few government corruption cases.

Investors find corruption pervasive in government procurement, including payment of bribes in exchange for awarding public construction contracts. Investors and importers are frequently frustrated by opaque customs transactions, particularly at ports and borders. The Tax and Customs Authority (SAT) launched a customs modernization program in 2006, which implemented an advanced electronic manifest system and resulted in the removal of many corrupt officials. However, reports of corruption within customs’ processes remain. In 2021, SAT implemented additional customs reforms that route flagged shipments to a dedicated secondary inspection team for resolution, rather than assigning the case to the original inspector. The change eliminates opportunity for an inspector to impose deliberate delays.

From 2006 to 2019, the UN-sponsored International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) undertook numerous high-profile official corruption investigations, leading to significant indictments. For example, CICIG unveiled a customs corruption scheme in 2015 that led to the resignations of the former president and vice president. Since then-President Morales terminated CICIG in 2019 and actions by Attorney General Consuelo Porras to impede anti-corruption prosecutors, impunity has increased and poses significant risks for potential new investors.

Guatemala’s Government Procurement Law requires most government purchases over $116,363 to be submitted for public competitive bidding. Since March 2004, Guatemalan government entities are required to use Guatecompras ( https://www.guatecompras.gt/ ), an Internet-based electronic procurement system to track government procurement processes. Guatemalan government entities must also comply with government procurement commitments under CAFTA-DR. In August 2009, the Guatemalan congress approved reforms to the Government Procurement Law, which simplified bidding procedures; eliminated the fee previously charged to receive bidding documents; and provided an additional opportunity for suppliers to raise objections over the bidding process. Despite these reforms, large government procurements are often subject to appeals and injunctions based on claims of irregularities in the bidding process (e.g., documentation issues and lack of transparency). In November 2015, the Guatemalan congress approved additional amendments to the Government Procurement Law that tried to improve the transparency of the procurement processes by barring government contracts for some financers of political campaigns and parties, members of congress, other elected officials, government workers, and their immediate family members. However, there continue to be multiple allegations corruption and nepotism in the procurement process. The 2015 reforms expanded the scope of procurement oversight to include public trust funds and all institutions (including NGOs) executing public funds. The U.S. government continues to advocate for the use of open, fair, and transparent tenders in government procurement as well as procedures that comply with CAFTA-DR obligations, which would allow open participation by U.S. companies.

Guatemala ratified the U.N. Convention against Corruption in November 2006, and the Inter-American Convention against Corruption in July 2001. Guatemala is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. In October 2012, the Guatemalan congress approved an anti-corruption law that increased penalties for existing crimes and added new crimes such as illicit enrichment, trafficking in influence, and illegal charging of commissions.

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

Public Ministry
Address: 23 Calle 0-22 Zona 1, Ciudad de Guatemala
Phone: (502) 2251-4105; (502) 2251-4219; (502) 2251-5327; (502) 2251-8480; (502) 2251-9225 Email address: fiscaliacontracorrupcion@mp.gob.gt 

Comptroller General’s Office
Address: 7a Avenida 7-32 Zona 13
Phone: (502) 2417-8700

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Accion Ciudadana (Guatemalan Chapter of Transparency International)
Address: Avenida Reforma 12-01 Zona 10, Edificio Reforma Montufar, Nivel 17, Oficina 1701
Phone: (502) 2388- 3400

Toll free to submit corruption complaints: 1-801-8111-011 Email address: alac@accionciudadana.org.gt ; accionciudadana@accionciudadana.org 

10. Political and Security Environment

According to the National Civil Police (PNC), the murder rate in 2020 dropped 28 percent – from 20.8 per 100,000 to 15 per 100,000, compared to 2019, continuing a downward trend in recent years. The Guatemalan government attributed the general decline in violence to the economic downturn during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, including interdepartmental travel restrictions and the prohibition of most alcohol sales. The murder rate increased to 16.6 per 100,000 in 2021, a 9 percent increase compared to 2020. Rule of law is a challenge and the judicial system is faces significant delays in case processing and inefficiency. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents. Major criminal groups operating in Guatemala are involved in a number of illicit activities, including violent street crime, drug trafficking, kidnaping, extortion, arms trafficking, illegal adoption rings, and environmental crimes. Although security remains a concern, foreigners are not usually singled out as targets of crime.

The political climate in Guatemala, marked by its 36 years of armed conflict, is characterized by periodic civil disturbances. For example, in October 2021, President Alejandro Giammattei declared a State of Siege in El Estor as dozens of protestors, including environmental defenders, indigenous activists, and outside agitators blocked coal trucks from accessing a nickel mine and allegedly clashed with National Police (PNC) forces who attempted to clear the road for mining traffic. Protests and highway roadblocks organized by transportation workers and military veterans have caused disruption and heightened security, impacting general mobility and traffic condition, on a recurring basis in recent years.

In November 2020 civil unrest sparked by congressional approval of the 2021 budget proposal, which added to long-standing grievances. Largely peaceful protests were marred by isolated acts of vandalism and violence, including fire damage to the national congress building, as well as acts of violence by both security forces against some protestors and by some protestors against security forces. The main source of tension among indigenous communities, Guatemalan authorities, and private companies is the lack of prior consultation and alleged environmental damage.

Damage to projects or installations is rare. However, there were instances in October 2018 and January 2019 in which unidentified arsonists burned machinery and other equipment at the site of a hydroelectric construction project near the northern border with Mexico. Additionally, activist groups at times have engaged in blockades to prevent personnel, materials, and equipment from entering or leaving disputed installations.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

According to the 2021 national survey of employment and income, the Guatemalan workforce consists of an estimated 2.1 million individuals employed in the formal sector. Additionally, roughly 5.1 million individuals, or 70.8 percent of the total workforce, work in the informal sector, including some who are too young for formal sector employment. According to the 2017 Survey on Employment and Income, the most recent survey with child labor data available, child labor, particularly in rural areas, remains a serious problem in certain economic activities. The informal economy represented 22 percent of GDP in 2019 according to official data. About 75.7 percent of female workers and 84.9 percent of indigenous workers were employed in the informal sector. Approximately 30 percent of the total labor force is engaged in agricultural work. The availability of a large, unskilled, and inexpensive labor force led many employers, such as construction and agricultural firms, to use labor-intensive production methods. Roughly, 14 percent of the employed workforce is illiterate. In developed urban areas, however, education levels are much higher, and a workforce with the skills necessary to staff a growing service sector emerged. Even so, highly capable technical and managerial workers remain in short supply, with secondary and tertiary education focused on social science careers. The Ministry of Labor issued a regulation in March 2022 that requires recruiters of Guatemalans being employed outside of Guatemala to be registered and to comply with all the requirements related to contracts established in Article 34 of the Labor Code.

No special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws cover export-processing zones. The Ministry of Labor issued a regulation in December 2021 that allows to set different minimum wages for two economic regions of the country starting in 2023. In July 2021, the Constitutional Court revoked the provisional suspension of the Ministry of Labor’s agreement on part-time work, based on ILO Convention 175, which enabled companies to hire workers for six hours or fewer per workday for wages equivalent to the fraction of full time work they complete.

The Labor Code requires that at least 90 percent of employees be Guatemalan, but the requirement does not apply to high-level positions, such as managers and directors. The Labor Code sets out: employer responsibilities regarding working conditions, especially health and safety standards; benefits; severance pay; premium pay for overtime work; minimum wages; and bonuses. Mandatory benefits, bonuses, and employer contributions to the social security system can add up to about 55 percent of an employee’s base pay. However, many workers, especially in the agricultural sector, do not receive the full compensation package mandated in the labor law. All employees are subject to a two-month trial period during which time they may resign or be discharged without any obligation on the part of the employer or employee. For any dismissal after the two-month trial period, the employer must pay unpaid wages for work already performed, proportional bonuses, and proportional vacation time. If an employer dismisses an employee without just cause, the employer must also pay severance equal to one month’s regular pay for each full year of employment. Guatemala does not have unemployment insurance or other social safety net programs for workers laid off for economic reasons.

Guatemala’s Constitution guarantees the right of workers to unionize and to strike, with an exception to the right to strike for security force members and workers employed in hospitals, telecommunications, and other public services considered essential to public safety. Before a strike can be declared, workers and employers must engage in mandatory conciliation and then approve a strike vote by 50 percent plus one worker in the enterprise. If conciliation fails, either party may ask the judge for a ruling on the legality of conducting a strike or lockout. Legal strikes in Guatemala are extremely rare. The Constitution also commits the state to support and protect collective bargaining and holds that international labor conventions ratified by Guatemala establish the minimum labor rights of workers if they offer greater protections than national law. In most cases, labor unions operate independently of the government and employers both by law and in practice. The law requires unions to register with the Ministry of Labor and their leadership must obtain credentials to carry out their functions. Delays in such proceedings are common. The law prohibits anti-union discrimination and employer interference in union activities and requires employers to reinstate workers dismissed for organizing union activities. A combination of inadequate allocation of budget resources for labor rights enforcement to the Ministry of Labor and other relevant state institutions, and inefficient administrative and justice sector processes, act as significant impediments for more effective enforcement of labor laws to protect these workers’ rights. As a result, investigating, prosecuting, and punishing employers who violate these guarantees remain a challenge, particularly the enforcement of labor court orders requiring reinstatement and payment of back wages resulting from dismissal. The rate of unionization in Guatemala is very low.

Both the U.S. government and Guatemalan workers have filed complaints against the Guatemalan government for allegedly failing to adequately enforce its labor laws and protect the rights of workers. In September 2014, the U.S. government convened an arbitration panel alleging that Guatemala had failed to meet its obligations under CAFTA-DR to enforce effectively its labor laws related to freedom of association and collective bargaining and acceptable conditions of work. The panel held a hearing in June 2015 and issued a decision favorable to Guatemala in June 2017. Separately, the Guatemalan government faced an International Labor Organization (ILO) complaint filed by workers in 2012 alleging that the government had failed to comply with ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association. The complaint called for the establishment of an ILO Commission of Inquiry, which is the ILO’s highest level of scrutiny when all other means failed to address issues of concern. In 2013, the Guatemalan government agreed to a roadmap with social partners in an attempt to avoid the establishment of a Commission. The government took some steps to implement its roadmap, including the enactment of legislation in 2017 that restored administrative sanction authority to the labor inspectorate for the first time in 15 years. As part of a tripartite agreement reached at the ILO in November 2017, a National Tripartite Commission on Labor Relations and Freedom of Association was established in February 2018 to monitor and facilitate implementation of the 2013 roadmap. Based in large part on the 2017 tripartite agreement, the ILO Governing Body closed the complaint against Guatemala in November 2018.

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