El Salvador

Executive Summary

Since President Nayib Bukele took office on June 1, 2019, his administration has sought to attract foreign investment and has taken steps to reduce cumbersome bureaucracy and improve security conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic complicated implementation of reforms and dampened investment.

To respond to COVID-19, the Government of El Salvador (GOES) implemented several emergency measures, including travel restrictions beginning in February 2020 and a nationwide lockdown from March to June 2020. Unclear or conflicting wording among the numerous emergency decrees created uncertainty, complicated business operations, and increased the risks of inadvertent non-compliance. The discretionary application of emergency measures and severe penalties for non-compliance contributed to the uncertainty. Lockdown measures disrupted and limited business operations with even manufacturers of medical supplies and other essential products unable to receive formal permission to reopen. The Supreme Court found the GOES phased reopening decrees to be unconstitutional, mandating a complete nationwide reopening of the economy at the end of August 2020.

As a result of the lockdown and worldwide recession, El Salvador lost approximately 20 percent of formal jobs in 2020. El Salvador’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is forecasted to drop by 8.5 percent in 2020 according to the Central Bank, with recovery to pre-pandemic production in 2022.

Following the reopening, perceptions of the investment climate began to slowly recover. However, political gridlock and electoral uncertainty dampened business confidence. The victory of President Bukele’s New Ideas Party in the February 28 legislative and municipal elections should remove obstacles to governability during the remaining three years of Bukele’s presidential term. With a large majority of the seats in the Legislative Assembly, Bukele should be able to pass legislation and reforms. His administration has pledged to enact legislation to strengthen institutions and improve the regulatory environment to spur investment and create jobs. Policies and reforms, however, will take time to implement and show results.

Commonly cited challenges to doing business in El Salvador include the discretionary application of laws and regulations, lengthy and unpredictable permitting procedures, as well as customs delays. El Salvador has lagged its regional peers in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). The sectors with the largest investment have historically been textiles and retail establishments, though investment in energy has increased in recent years.

The Bukele administration has proposed several large infrastructure projects, which could provide opportunities for U.S. investment. The GOES has established a technical working group to help prioritize investment projects and attract private sector participation. Project proposals include enhancing road connectivity and logistics, expanding airport capacity and improving access to water and energy, as well as sanitation. Having inherited a large public debt, the Bukele administration has begun pursuing Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) to execute infrastructure projects. El Salvador awarded its first PPP project in October 2020 to expand the cargo terminal at the international airport. The contract award is pending legislative approval. It launched a second PPP to install highway lighting and video surveillance in January 2020 and extended the deadline to submit bids until March 15, 2021 due to COVID-19. With these two PPPs, the Bukele administration delivered on its commitment under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact, which ends April 30, 2021.

As a small energy-dependent country with no Atlantic coast, El Salvador relies on trade. It is a member of the Central American Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) and the United States is El Salvador’s top trading partner. Proximity to the U.S. market is a competitive advantage for El Salvador. As most Salvadoran exports travel by land to Guatemalan and Honduran ports, regional integration is crucial for competitiveness. Although El Salvador officially joined the Customs Union established by Guatemala and Honduras in 2018, implementation has stalled. The Bukele administration announced in 2020 that it would prioritize bilateral trade facilitation with Guatemala.

The Bukele administration has taken initial steps to facilitate trade. In 2019, the government of El Salvador (GOES) relaunched the National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC), which produced the first jointly developed private-public action plan to reduce trade barriers. The plan contains 60 strategic measures focused on simplifying procedures, reducing trade costs, and improving connectivity and border infrastructure. In 2020, NTFC technical committees continued working to implement the action plan, as well as develop a national trade facilitation strategy. However, the NFTC has not presented progress on the action plan. The NFTC did not convene in 2020.

Table 1
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 104 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2020 91 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 92 of 131 http://www.globalinnovationindex.org/content/page/data-analysis 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 3,380 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 4,000 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

The GOES recognizes the benefits of attracting FDI. El Salvador does not have laws or practices that discriminate against foreign investors. The GOES does not screen or prohibit FDI. However, FDI levels still lag behind regional neighbors, except for Nicaragua. The Central Bank reported net FDI inflows of $232.95 million at the end of September 2020.

The Exports and Investment Promotion Agency of El Salvador (PROESA) supports investment in seven main sectors: textiles and apparel; business services; tourism; aeronautics; agro-industry; light manufacturing; and energy. PROESA provides information for potential investors about applicable laws, regulations, procedures, and available incentives for doing business in El Salvador. Websites: https://investelsalvador.com/  and http://www.proesa.gob.sv/investment/sector-opportunities .

The National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP), El Salvador’s umbrella business chamber, serves as the primary private sector representative in dialogues with GOES ministries. http://www.anep.org.sv/ .

In 2019, the Bukele administration created the Secretariat of Commerce and Investment, a position within the President’s Office responsible for the formulation of trade and investment policies, as well as coordinating the Economic Cabinet. In addition, the Bukele administration created the Presidential Commission for Strategic Projects to lead the GOES major projects.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign citizens and private companies can freely establish businesses in El Salvador.

No single natural or legal person – whether national or foreign – can own more than 245 hectares (605 acres) of land. The Salvadoran Constitution stipulates there is no restriction on foreign ownership of rural land in El Salvador, unless Salvadoran nationals face restrictions in the corresponding country. Rural land to be used for industrial purposes is not subject to the reciprocity requirement.

The 1999 Investments Law grants equal treatment to foreign and domestic investors. With the exception of limitations imposed on micro businesses, which are defined as having 10 or fewer employees and yearly sales of $121,319.40 or less, foreign investors may freely establish any type of domestic business. Investors who begin operations with 10 or fewer employees must present plans to increase employment to the Ministry of Economy’s National Investment Office.

The Investment Law provides that extractive resources are the exclusive property of the state. The GOES may grant private concessions for resource extraction, though concessions are infrequently granted.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

El Salvador has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since 1995. The latest trade policy review performed by the WTO was published in 2016 (document: WT/TPR/S/344/Rev.1). https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/FE_Search/FE_S_S006.aspx?Query=(@Symbol=%20wt/tpr/s/*)%20and%20((%20@Title=%20el%20salvador%20)%20or%20(@CountryConcerned=%20el%20salvador))&Language=ENGLISH&Context=FomerScriptedSearch&languageUIChanged=true# 

https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/FE_Search/FE_S_S006.aspx?Query=(@Symbol=%20wt/tpr/s/*)%20and%20((%20@Title=%20el%20salvador%20)%20or%20(@CountryConcerned=%20el%20salvador))&Language=ENGLISH&Context=FomerScriptedSearch&languageUIChanged=true# 

The latest investment policy review performed by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was in 2010. http://unctad.org/en/Docs/diaepcb200920_en.pdf

Business Facilitation

El Salvador has various laws that promote and protect investments, as well as providing benefits to local and foreign investors. These include: the Investments Law, the International Services Law; the Free Trade Zones Law; the Tourism Law, the Renewable Energy Incentives Law; the Law on Public Private Partnerships; the Special Law for Streamlining Procedures for the Promotion of Construction Projects; and the Legal Stability Law for Investments.

Business Registration

Per the World Bank, registering a new business in El Salvador requires nine steps taking an average of 16.5 days. According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, El Salvador ranks 148 in the “Starting a Business” indicator. El Salvador launched an online business registration portal in 2017 designed as a one-stop shop for registering new companies. The online portal allows new businesses the ability to formalize registration within three days and conduct administrative operations online. The portal ( https://miempresa.gob.sv/ ) is available to all, though services are available only in Spanish.

The GOES’ Business Services Office (Oficina de Atención Empresarial) caters to entrepreneurs and investors. The office has two divisions: “Growing Your Business” (Crecemos Tu Empresa) and the National Investment Office (Dirección Nacional de Inversiones, DNI). “Growing Your Businesses” provides business advice, especially for micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises. The DNI administers investment incentives and facilitates business registration.

Contact information:

Business Services Office
Telephone: (503) 2590-5107
Address: Boulevard Del Hipódromo, Colonia San Benito, Century Tower, 7th Floor , San Salvador. Schedule: Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Crecemos Tu Empresa
E-mail: crecemostuempresa@minec.gob.sv
Website: http://www.minec.gob.sv/ 

The National Investment Office:

Stephanie Argueta de Rengifo , National Director of Investments, sargueta@minec.gob.sv;
Sandra Llirina Sagastume de Sandoval, Deputy Director of Special Investments , llirina.sagastume@minec.gob.sv Christel Schulz, Business Climate Deputy, cdearce@minec.gob.sv 
Laura Rosales de Valiente, Deputy Director of Investment Facilitation, lrosales@minec.gob.sv
Telephone: (503) 2590-5116/ (503) 2590-5264.

The Productive Development Fund (FONDEPRO) provides grants to small enterprises to strengthen competitiveness. Website: http://www.fondepro.gob.sv/ 

The National Commission for Micro and Small Businesses (CONAMYPE) supports micro and small businesses by providing training, technical assistance, financing, venture capital, and loan guarantee programs. CONAMYPE also provides assistance on market access and export promotion, marketing, business registration, and the promotion of business ventures led by women and youth. Website: https://www.conamype.gob.sv/ 

The Micro and Small Businesses Promotion Law defines a microenterprise as a natural or legal person with annual gross sales up to 482 minimum monthly wages, equivalent to $146,609.94 and up to ten workers. A small business is defined as a natural or legal person with annual gross sales between 482 minimum monthly wages ($146,609.94) and 4,817 minimum monthly wages ($1,465,186.89) and up to 50 employees. To facilitate credit to small businesses, Salvadoran law allows for inventories, receivables, intellectual property rights, consumables, or any good with economic value to be used as collateral for loans.

El Salvador provides equitable treatment for women and under-represented minorities. The GOES does not provide targeted assistance to under-represented minorities. CONAMYPE provides specialized counseling to female entrepreneurs and women-owned small businesses.

Outward Investment

While the government encourages Salvadoran investors to invest in El Salvador, it neither promotes nor restricts investment abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The laws and regulations of El Salvador are relatively transparent and generally foster competition. Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms. However, the discretionary application of rules can complicate routine transactions, such as customs clearances and permitting applications. Regulatory agencies are often understaffed and inexperienced in dealing with complex issues. New foreign investors should review the regulatory environment carefully. In addition to applicable national laws and regulations, localities may impose permitting requirements on investors.

Companies note the GOES has enacted laws and regulations without following notice and comment procedures. The Regulatory Improvement Law, which entered into force in 2019, requires GOES agencies to publish online the list of laws and regulations they plan to approve, reform, or repeal each year. Institutions cannot adopt or modify regulations and laws not included in that list. The implementation of the law is gradual; the Regulatory Agenda is required for the executive branch since 2020, for the legislative and judicial branches, and autonomous entities in 2022, and municipalities in 2023. Prior to adopting or amending laws or regulations, the Simplified Administrative Procedures Law requires the GOES to perform a Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) based on a standardized methodology. Proposed legislation and regulations, as well as RIAs, must be made available for public comment. In practice, the Legislative Assembly does not publish draft legislation on its website and does not solicit comments on pending legislation. The GOES does not yet require the use of a centralized online portal to publish regulatory actions. The reforms have not been fully implemented. In 2020, only three GOES agencies drafted and published their regulatory agendas. GOES agencies performed only three RIAs prior to approving new legislation. Although the implications of the reforms are still not apparent, private sector stakeholders have expressed support for the measures.

El Salvador began implementing the Simplified Administrative Procedures Law in February 2019. This law seeks to streamline and consolidate administrative processes among GOES entities to facilitate investment. In 2016, El Salvador adopted the Electronic Signature Law to facilitate e-commerce and trade. Policies, procedures and needed infrastructure (data centers and specialized hardware and software) are in place for implementation, but work continues on licensing digital certification providers. El Salvador also enacted the Electronic Commerce Law, which entered into force in February 2021. The law establishes the framework for commercial and financial activities, contractual or not, carried out by electronic and digital means, introduces fair and equitable standards to protect consumers and providers, and sets processes to minimize risks arising from the use of new technologies. The law aims to support rapidly growing online businesses and financial technology (FinTech).

In 2018, El Salvador enacted the Law on the Elimination of Bureaucratic Barriers, which created a specialized tribunal to verify that regulations and procedures are implemented in compliance with the law and sanction public officials who impose administrative requirements not contemplated in the law. However, the law is pending implementation until the GOES appoints members of the tribunal.

The GOES controls the price of some goods and services, including electricity, liquid propane gas, gasoline, public transport fares, and medicines. The government also directly subsidizes water services and residential electricity rates.

The Superintendent of Electricity and Telecommunications (SIGET) oversees electricity rates, telecommunications, and distribution of electromagnetic frequencies. The Salvadoran government subsidizes residential consumers for electricity use of up to 105 kWh monthly. The electricity subsidy costs the government between $50 million to $64 million annually.

El Salvador’s public finances are relatively transparent. Budget documents, including the executive budget proposal, enacted budget, and end-of-year reports, as well as information on debt obligations are accessible to the public at: http://www.transparenciafiscal.gob.sv/ptf/es/PTF2-Index.html  An independent institution, the Court of Accounts, audits the financial statements, economic performance, cash flow statements, and budget execution of all GOES ministries and agencies. The results of these audits are publicly available online.

However, the GOES provided incomplete information about its execution of $8.1 billion, including extraordinary resources to tackle COVID-19. The GOES also has not disclosed expenditure information requested by the Assembly nor provided the Court of Accounts with unrestricted access to pandemic-related financial records and procurement documentation, as well as to the accounts of the Intelligence Agency.

International Regulatory Considerations

El Salvador belongs to the Central American Common Market and the Central American Integration System (SICA), organizations which are working on regional integration, (e.g., harmonization of tariffs and customs procedures). El Salvador commonly incorporates international standards, such as the Pan-American Standards Commission (Spanish acronym COPANT), into its regulatory system.

El Salvador is a member of the WTO, adheres to the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement), and has adopted the Code of Good Practice annexed to the TBT Agreement. El Salvador is also a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and has notified its Categories A, B, and C commitments. El Salvador has established a National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC) as required by the TFA, which was reactivated in July 2019 as it had not met since 2017.

El Salvador is a member of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development’s international network of transparent investment procedures: http://tramites.gob.sv . Investors can find information on administrative procedures applicable to investment and income-generating operations including the name and contact details for those in charge of procedures, required documents and conditions, costs, processing time, and legal bases for the procedures.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

El Salvador’s legal system is codified law. Commercial law is based on the Commercial Code and the corresponding Commercial and Civil Code of Procedures. There are specialized commercial courts that resolve disputes.

Although foreign investors may seek redress for commercial disputes through Salvadoran courts, many investors report the legal system to be slow, costly, and unproductive. Local investment and commercial dispute resolution proceedings routinely last many years. The judicial system is independent of the executive branch, but may be subject to manipulation by diverse interests. Final judgments are at times difficult to enforce. The Embassy recommends that potential investors carry out proper due diligence by hiring competent local legal counsel.

In February 2021, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court declined to review a 2019 civil judgement against a foreign bank on grounds that the case had no constitutional merits. The civil ruling that ordered the bank to pay substantial compensation caused widespread concern in the private sector due to perceived irregularities. .

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Miempresa is the Ministry of Economy’s website for new businesses in El Salvador. At Miempresa, investors can register new companies with the Ministry of Labor (MOL), Social Security Institute, pension fund administrators, and certain municipalities; request a tax identification number/card; and perform certain administrative functions. Website: https://www.miempresa.gob.sv/ 

The country’s eRegulations site provides information on procedures, costs, entities, and regulations involved in setting up a new business in El Salvador. Website: http://tramites.gob.sv/ 

The Exports and Investment Promoting Agency of El Salvador (PROESA) is responsible for attracting domestic and foreign private investment, promoting exports of goods and services, evaluating and monitoring the business climate, and driving investment and export policies. PROESA provides technical assistance to investors interested in starting operations in El Salvador, regardless of the size of the investment or number of employees. Website: http://www.proesa.gob.sv/ 

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Office of the Superintendent of Competition reviews transactions for competition concerns. The OECD and the Inter-American Development Bank note the Superintendent employs enforcement standards that are consistent with global best practices and has appropriate authority to enforce the Competition Law effectively. Superintendent decisions may be appealed directly to the Supreme Court, the country´s highest court. Website: http://www.sc.gob.sv/home/ 

Expropriation and Compensation

The Constitution allows the government to expropriate private property for reasons of public utility or social interest. Indemnification can take place either before or after the fact. There are no recent cases of expropriation. In 1980, a rural/agricultural land reform established that no single natural or legal person could own more than 245 hectares (605 acres) of land, and the government expropriated the land of some large landholders. In 1980, private banks were nationalized, but were subsequently returned to private ownership in 1989-90. A 2003 amendment to the Electricity Law requires energy-generating companies to obtain government approval before removing fixed capital from the country.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

El Salvador is a member state to the ICSID Convention. ICSID is included in a number of El Salvador’s investment treaties as the forum available to foreign investors.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

In 2016, ICSID ruled in favor of El Salvador on a case brought by an international mining company that sought to force government acceptance of a gold-mining project.  Following the ruling, El Salvador banned the exploration and extraction of metal mining in the country.

The rights of investors from CAFTA-DR countries are protected under the trade agreement’s dispute settlement procedures. There have been no successful claims by U.S. investors under CAFTA-DR. There are currently no pending claims by U.S. investors.

For foreign investors from a country without a trade agreement with El Salvador, amended Article 15 of the 1999 Investment Law limits access to international dispute resolution and may obligate them to use national courts. Submissions to national dispute panels and panel hearings are open to the public. Interested third parties have the opportunity to be heard.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

A 2002 law allows private sector organizations to establish arbitration centers to resolve commercial disputes, including those involving foreign investors. In 2009, El Salvador modified its arbitration law to allow parties to appeal a ruling to the Salvadoran courts. Investors have complained that the modification dilutes the efficacy of arbitration as an alternative method of resolving disputes. Arbitrations takes place at the Arbitration and Mediation Center, a branch of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of El Salvador. Website: http://www.mediacionyarbitraje.com.sv/ 

El Salvador is a signatory to the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention) and the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (Panama Convention). Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards and judgments, but the process can be lengthy and difficult.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Commercial Code, the Commercial Code of Procedures, and the Banking Law contain sections that deal with the process for declaring bankruptcy. There is no separate bankruptcy law or court. According to data collected by the 2020 World Bank’s Doing Business report, resolving insolvency in El Salvador takes 3.5 years on average and costs 12 percent of the debtor’s estate, with the most likely outcome being that the company will be sold piecemeal. The average recovery rate is 32.4 percent. Globally, El Salvador ranks 92 out of 190 on Ease of Resolving Insolvency. Website: http://www.doingbusiness.org/content/dam/doingBusiness/country/e/el-salvador/SLV.pdf

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Superintendent of the Financial System ( https://www.ssf.gob.sv/ ) supervises individual and consolidated activities of banks and non-bank financial intermediaries, financial conglomerates, stock market participants, insurance companies, and pension fund administrators. Foreign investors may obtain credit in the local financial market under the same conditions as local investors. Interest rates are determined by market forces, with the interest rate for credit cards and loans capped at 1.6 times the weighted average effective rate established by the Central Bank. The maximum interest rate varies according to the loan amount and type of loan (consumption, credit cards, mortgages, home repair/remodeling, business, and microcredits).

In January 2019, El Salvador eliminated a Financial Transactions Tax (FTT), which was enacted in 2014 and greatly opposed by banks.

The 1994 Securities Market Law established the present framework for the Salvadoran securities exchange. Stocks, government and private bonds, and other financial instruments are traded on the exchange, which is regulated by the Superintendent of the Financial System.

Foreigners may buy stocks, bonds, and other instruments sold on the exchange and may have their own securities listed, once approved by the Superintendent. Companies interested in listing must first register with the National Registry Center’s Registry of Commerce. In 2020, the exchange traded $5.8 billon, with average daily volumes between $10 million and $24 million. Government-regulated private pension funds, Salvadoran insurance companies, and local banks are the largest buyers on the Salvadoran securities exchange. For more information, visit: https://www.bolsadevalores.com.sv/ 

Money and Banking System

All but two of the major banks operating in El Salvador are regional banks owned by foreign financial institutions. Given the high level of informality, measuring the penetration of financial services is difficult; however, it remains relatively low between 30 percent- according to the Salvadoran Banking Association (ABANSA) – and 35 percent- reported by the Superintendence of the Financial System (SSF). The banking system is sound and generally well-managed and supervised. El Salvador’s Central Bank is responsible for regulating the banking system, monitoring compliance of liquidity reserve requirements, and managing the payment systems. No bank has lost its correspondent banking relationship in recent years. There are no correspondent banking relationships known to be in jeopardy.

The banking system’s total assets as of December 2020 were $20.4 billion. Under Salvadoran banking law, there is no difference in regulations between foreign and domestic banks and foreign banks can offer all the same services as domestic banks.

The Cooperative Banks and Savings and Credit Associations Law regulates the organization, operation, and activities of financial institutions such as cooperative banks, credit unions, savings and credit associations, , and other microfinance institutions. The Money Laundering Law requires financial institutions to report suspicious transactions to the Attorney General. Despite having regulatory scheme in place to supervise the filing of reports by cooperative banks and savings and credit associations, these entities rarely file suspicious activity reports.

The Insurance Companies Law regulates the operation of both local and foreign insurance firms. Foreign firms, including U.S., Colombian, Dominican, Honduran, Panamanian, Mexican, and Spanish companies, have invested in Salvadoran insurers.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

There are no restrictions on transferring investment-related funds out of the country. Foreign businesses can freely remit or reinvest profits, repatriate capital, and bring in capital for additional investment. The 1999 Investment Law allows unrestricted remittance of royalties and fees from the use of foreign patents, trademarks, technical assistance, and other services. Tax reforms introduced in 2011, however, levy a five percent tax on national or foreign shareholders’ profits. Moreover, shareholders domiciled in a state, country or territory that is considered a tax haven or has low or no taxes, are subject to a tax of twenty-five percent.

The Monetary Integration Law dollarized El Salvador in 2001. The U.S. dollar accounts for nearly all currency in circulation and can be used in all transactions. Salvadoran banks, in accordance with the law, must keep all accounts in U.S. dollars. Dollarization is supported by remittances – almost all from workers in the United States – that totaled $5.91 billion in 2020.

Remittance Policies

There are no restrictions placed on investment remittances. The Caribbean Financial Action Task Force’s Ninth Follow-Up report on El Salvador ( https://www.cfatf-gafic.org/index.php/member-countries/el-salvador ) noted that El Salvador has strengthened its remittances regimen, prohibiting anonymous accounts and limiting suspicious transactions. In 2015, the Legislature approved reforms to the Law of Supervision and Regulation of the Financial System so that any entity sending or receiving systematic or substantial amounts of money by any means, at the national and international level, falls under the jurisdiction of the Superintendence of the Financial System.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

El Salvador does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

9. Corruption

U.S. companies operating in El Salvador are subject to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Corruption can be a challenge to investment in El Salvador. El Salvador ranks 104 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index. While El Salvador has laws, regulations, and penalties to combat corruption, their effectiveness is at times questionable. Soliciting, offering, or accepting a bribe is a criminal act in El Salvador. The Attorney General’s Anticorruption and Anti-Impunity Unit handles allegations of public corruption. The Constitution establishes a Court of Accounts that is charged with investigating public officials and entities and, when necessary, passing such cases to the Attorney General for prosecution. Executive-branch employees are subject to a code of ethics, including administrative enforcement mechanisms, and the government established an Ethics Tribunal in 2006.

In September 2019, El Salvador signed an agreement with the Organization of American States (OAS) for the establishment of the International Commission Against Impunity and Corruption (CICIES), which was followed by an agreement to determine CICIES objectives and competences. The CICIES will run for four years as an independent entity outside the GOES and underneath the OAS. The OAS has signed Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with the Attorney General’s Office, the Supreme Court of Justice, and the Ministry of Justice and Public Security codifying the role of the CICIES with each entity. CICIES will assist in instituting policies to combat corruption and impunity, support investigations conducted by the Attorney General‘s Office and the National Civil Police, and capacity building to strengthen institutions actively involved in the fight against corruption.

In April 2020, CICIES announced the deployment of a team of 30 multidisciplinary professionals to audit and implement a follow-up mechanism on the use of funds devoted to fight the pandemic. In November 2020, the Attorney General’s Office launched a series of investigations into COVID-19 contracts and expenditures based on the preliminary results of CICIES audits. The Attorney General’s Office is currently investigating at least 17 government agencies for alleged procurement fraud and misuse of public funds.On March 25,2021, CICIES submitted to the GOES a proposal to amend a several laws to prevent corruption and strengthen transparency and accountability, as well as to create crime typologies.

Corruption scandals at the federal, legislative, and municipal levels are commonplace and there have been credible allegations of judicial corruption. Three of the past four presidents have been indicted for corruption, a former Attorney General is in prison on corruption-related charges, a former president of the Legislative Assembly, who also served as president of the investment promotion agency during the prior administration, faces charges for embezzlement, fraud and money laundering, and the former Minister of Defense during two FMLN governments is under arrest for providing illicit benefits to gangs in exchange for reducing homicides (an agreement known as the 2012-2014 Truce). The law provides criminal penalties for corruption, but implementation is generally perceived as ineffective. In 2017, a civil court found former president Mauricio Funes guilty of illicit enrichment and ordered him to repay over $200,000. Additionally, Funes faces criminal charges for embezzlement and money laundering. In 2020, the Attorney General formally filed charges against Funes and other public officials for allegedly misappropriating $45 million in public funds in connection with a procurement fraud involving the Chaparral Hydroelectric Dam . Although there are several pending arrest warrants against Funes, he has fled to Nicaragua and cannot be extradited because he was granted Nicaraguan citizenship. In 2018, former president Elias Antonio (Tony) Saca pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $300 million in public funds. The court sentenced him to 10 years in prison and ordered him to repay $260 million.

The NGO Social Initiative for Democracy stated that officials, particularly in the judicial system, often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Long-standing government practices in El Salvador, including cash payments to officials, shielded budgetary accounts, and diversion of government funds, facilitate corruption and impede accountability.  For example, the accepted practice of ensuring party loyalty through off-the-books cash payments to public officials (i.e., sobresueldos) persisted across five presidential administrations. However, President Bukele eliminated these cash payments to public officials and the “reserved spending account,” nominally for state intelligence funding. At his direction, in July 2019, the Court of Accounts began auditing reserve spending of the Sanchez Ceren administration.

El Salvador has an active, free press that reports on corruption. In 2015, the Probity Section of the Supreme Court began investigating allegations of illicit enrichment of public officials. In 2017, Supreme Court Justices ordered its Probity Section to audit legislators and their alternates. In 2019, in observance of the Constitution, the Supreme Court instructed the Probity Section to focus its investigations only on public officials who left office within ten years. In July 2020, the Supreme Court issued regulations to standardize the procedures to examine asset declarations of public officials and carry out illicit enrichment investigations, as well as to set clear rules for decision-making. The enacted regulations seek to avoid discretion and enhance transparency on corruption-related investigations. The illicit enrichment law requires appointed and elected officials to declare their assets to the Probity Section. The declarations are not available to the public, and the law only sanctions noncompliance with fines of up to $500.

In 2011, El Salvador approved the Law on Access to Public Information. The law provides for the right of access to government information, but authorities have not always effectively implemented the law. The law gives a narrow list of exceptions that outline the grounds for nondisclosure and provide for a reasonably short timeline for the relevant authority to respond, no processing fees, and administrative sanctions for non-compliance. In 2020, in response to press reports about irregular purchases using COVID-19 funds, several government agencies declared pandemic-related procurements and financial records to be reserved (i.e., confidential) information. Transparency advocates raised concerns about shielding information to avoid citizen oversight of public funds.

In 2011, El Salvador joined the Open Government Partnership. The Open Government Partnership promotes government commitments made jointly with civil society on transparency, accountability, citizen participation and use of new technologies ( http://www.opengovpartnership.org/country/el-salvador ).

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combating Bribery

El Salvador is not a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. El Salvador is a signatory to the UN Anticorruption Convention and the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Convention against Corruption.

Resources to Report Corruption

The following government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:

Doctor Jose Nestor Castaneda Soto, President of the Court of Government Ethics
Court of Government Ethics (Tribunal de Etica Gubernamental)
87 Avenida Sur, No.7, Colonia Escalón, San Salvador (503) 2565-9403
(503) 2565-9403
Email: n.castaneda@teg.gob.sv 
http://www.teg.gob.sv/ 

Licenciado Raúl Ernesto Melara Morán
Fiscalia General de La Republica (Attorney General’s Office)
Edificio Farmavida, Calle Cortéz Blanco
Boulevard y Colonia Santa Elena
(503) 2593-7400
(503) 2593-7172
Email: xvpocasangre@fgr.gob.sv
http://www.fiscalia.gob.sv/ 

Chief Justice
Oscar Armando Pineda Navas
Avenida Juan Pablo II y 17 Avenida Norte
Centro de Gobierno
(503) 2271-8743
Email: conchita.presidenciacsj@gmail.com 
http://www.csj.gob.sv 

Contact at “watchdog” organization (international, regional, local, or nongovernmental organization operating in the country/economy that monitors corruption, such as Transparency International):

Roberto Rubio-Fabián
Executive Director
National Development Foundation (Fundación Nacional para el Desarrollo – FUNDE)
Calle Arturo Ambrogi #411, entre 103 y 105 Avenida Norte, Colonia Escalón, San Salvador (503) 2209-5300
(503) 2209-5300
Email: direccion@funde.org 

Resources to request government information

Access to Public Information Institute (IAIP for its initials in Spanish)
Ricardo Gómez Guerrero
Commissioner President of the IAIP
Prolongación Ave. Alberto Masferrer y
Calle al Volcán, Edif. Oca Chang # 88
(503) 2205-3800
Email: gomez@iaip.gob.sv
https://www.iaip.gob.sv/ 

10. Political and Security Environment

El Salvador’s 12-year civil war ended in 1992. Since then, there has been no political violence aimed at foreign investors.

In September 2020, the State Department adjusted the U.S. travel advisory for El Salvador from Level 2 (Exercise Increased Caution) to Level 3 (Reconsider Travel), due to COVID-19 Level 4 (Very High) Travel Health Notice issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).   The travel advisory also warns U.S citizens of high rates of crime and violence. . Most serious crimes in El Salvador are never solved. El Salvador lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases and to deter crime.  For more information, visit: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/ElSalvador.html

El Salvador has thousands of known gang members from several gangs including Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street (M18). Gang members engage in violence or use deadly force if resisted. These “maras” concentrate on extortion, violent street crime, car-jacking, narcotics and arms trafficking, and murder for hire. Extortion is a common crime in El Salvador. U.S. citizens who visit El Salvador for extended periods are at higher risk for extortion demands. Bus companies and distributors often must pay extortion fees to operate within gang territories, and these costs are passed on to customers. The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Index reported that costs due to organized crime for businesses in El Salvador are the highest among 141 countries.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

In 2020, El Salvador had a labor force of just over three million, according to the Ministry of Economy. Informal employment accounts for approximately 75 percent of the economy. While Salvadoran labor is regarded as hard-working, general education and professional skill levels are low. According to many large employers, there is a lack of middle management-level talent, which sometimes results in the need to bring in managers from abroad. Employers do not report labor-related difficulties in incorporating technology into their workplaces.

The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, to strike, and to bargain collectively. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination, although it does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Military personnel, national police, judges, and high-level public officers may not form or join unions. Workers who are representatives of the employer or in “positions of trust” also may not serve on a union’s board of directors. Only Salvadoran citizens may serve on unions’ executive committees. The labor code also bars individuals from holding membership in more than one trade union.

Unions must meet complex requirements to register, including having a minimum membership of 35 individuals. If the Ministry of Labor (MOL) denies registration, the law prohibits any attempt to organize for up to six months following the denial. Collective bargaining is obligatory only if the union represents the majority of workers.

The law contains cumbersome and complex procedures for conducting a legal strike. The law does not recognize the right to strike for public and municipal employees or for workers in essential services. The law does not specify which services meet this definition, and courts therefore interpret this provision on a case-by-case basis. The law requires that 30 percent of all workers in an enterprise must support a strike for it to be legal and that 51 percent must support the strike before all workers are bound by the decision to strike. Unions may strike only to obtain or modify a collective bargaining agreement or to protect the common professional interests of the workers. They must also engage in negotiation, mediation, and arbitration processes before striking, although many unions often skip or expedite these steps. The law prohibits workers from appealing a government decision declaring a strike illegal.

The government did not effectively enforce the laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Penalties remained insufficient to deter violations. Judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. According to union representatives, the government inconsistently enforced labor rights for public workers, maquiladora/textile workers, food manufacturing workers, subcontracted workers in the construction industry, security guards, informal-sector workers, and migrant workers.

Unions functioned independently from the government and political parties, although many generally were aligned with the traditional political parties of ARENA and the FMLN. Workers at times engaged in strikes regardless of whether the strikes met legal requirements.

Employers are free to hire union or non-union labor. Closed shops are illegal. Labor laws are generally in accordance with internationally-recognized standards, but are not enforced consistently by government authorities. Although El Salvador has improved labor rights since the CAFTA-DR entered into force and the law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, there remains room for better implementation and enforcement.

The MOL is responsible for enforcing the law. The government proved more effective in enforcing the minimum wage law in the formal sector than in the informal sector. Unions reported the ministry failed to enforce the law for subcontracted workers hired for public reconstruction contracts. The government provided its inspectors updated training in both occupational safety and labor standards and conducted thousands of inspections in 2019.

The law sets a maximum normal workweek of 44 hours, limited to no more than six days and to no more than eight hours per day, but allows overtime, which is to be paid at a rate of double the usual hourly wage.  The law mandates that full-time employees receive pay for an eight-hour day of rest in addition to the 44-hour normal workweek. The law provides that employers must pay double time for work on designated annual holidays, a Christmas bonus based on the time of service of the employee, and 15 days of paid annual leave. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law states that domestic employees are obligated to work on holidays if their employer makes this request, but they are entitled to double pay in these instances. The government does not adequately enforce these laws.

There is no national minimum wage; the minimum wage is determined by sector. In 2018, a minimum wage increase went into effect that included increases of nearly 40 percent for apparel assembly workers and more than 100 percent for workers in coffee and sugar harvesting. All of these wage rates were above poverty income levels.

On March 14, 2020, the Legislative Assembly unanimously approved Legislative Decree 593, which stated that workers could not be fired for being quarantined for COVID-19 or because they could not report to work due to immigration or health restrictions. President Bukele also mandated persons older than 60 and pregnant women to work from home.

Responding to COVID-19 pandemic and to legalize telework, El Salvador adopted the Telework Regulation Law on March 20, 2020. The law is applicable in both private and public sectors and requires a written agreement between employer and employee outlining the terms and conditions of the arrangement, including working hours, responsibilities, workload, performance evaluations, reporting and monitoring, and duration of the arrangement, among others. Legislation prescribes that employers are responsible for providing the equipment, tools, and programs necessary to perform duties remotely. Employers are subject to the obligations contained in labor laws, while workers are entitled to the same rights as staff working at the employer’s premises, including benefits and freedom of association. According to the Exports and Investment Promotion Agency of El Salvador (PROESA), the implementation of the Telework Bill enabled El Salvador to save around 20,000 jobs that otherwise could have been lost to the pandemic, especially in the call center sector.

14. Contact for More Information

Michael L. Benton
Deputy Economic Counselor
U.S. Embassy San Salvador
Address: Final Blvd. Santa Elena, Antiguo Cuscatlán, La Libertad, El Salvador
Phone: + (503) 2501-2999
Email: bentonML2@state.gov 
Website: http://sansalvador.usembassy.gov/index.html
To reach the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service (FCS) Office, please email: Office.Sansalvador@trade.gov 

Italy

Executive Summary

Italy, the first western country struck by the pandemic, saw its economy shrink by 8.9% in 2020, the sharpest contraction since World War II.  As of May 5, 2021, Italy has reported over 122,000 COVID-19 deaths, the six-highest tally in the world.  The government has spent more than €130 billion on stimulus measures (though it is able to borrow at a low cost thanks to support from the European Central Bank).  Repeated hikes to government spending will probably drive Italy’s budget deficit close to 12% of national output in 2021, up from 9.5% in 2020.  However, Italy also is slated to receive the largest share of the European Union’s pandemic recovery fund (Next Generation EU).  The over €200 billion in NGEU funds for Italy will represent the largest transfer to Italy since the Marshall Plan.  The National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) is designed to deploy the funds to accelerate the transition to a digital economy by focusing on digitization/innovation, the green energy transition, health, infrastructure, education/research, and equity.  Italy on April 30 submitted its NRRP to Brussels for approval and disbursement of its share of NGEU funds.

The government expects Italy’s economy to grow by approximately 4.5% in 2021 and 4.8% in 2022 but faces an uphill battle to push ahead with long-needed structural reform aimed at boosting Italy’s productivity and growth by fixing the country’s tax regime, its byzantine bureaucracy, and its sluggish courts.  Italy ranks 58th out of 190 countries in the 2020 World Bank’s “Doing Business” survey.  Notably, it ranks 97th on securing building permits, 98th for starting businesses, 122nd at enforcing contracts, and 128th on tax rules.  The government’s efforts to implement new investment promotion policies to market Italy as a desirable investment destination have been hampered by Italy’s slow economic growth, unpredictable tax regime, multi-layered bureaucracy, and time-consuming legal and regulatory procedures.

Yet, Italy remains an attractive destination for foreign investment, with one of the largest markets in the EU, a diversified economy, and a skilled workforce.  Italy’s economy, the eleventh largest in the world, is dominated by small and medium-sized firms (SMEs), which comprise 99.9 percent of Italian businesses.  Italy’s relatively affluent domestic market, access to the European Common Market, proximity to emerging economies in North Africa and the Middle East, and assorted centers of excellence in scientific and information technology research, remain attractive to many investors.  Tourism is an important source of external revenue, generating approximately €70 billion a year, as are exports of pharmaceutical products, furniture, industrial machinery and machine tools, electrical appliances, automobiles and auto parts, food and wine, as well as textiles/fashion.  The sectors that have attracted significant foreign investment include telecommunications, transportation, energy, and pharmaceuticals.

The government remains open to foreign investment in shares of Italian companies and continues to make information available online to prospective investors.  There were two significant investment-related policy developments during 2020:  implementation of a digital services tax (DST) that primarily affects tech firms and media companies, and the Italian government’s expansion of its Golden Power investment screening authority.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 52 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 58 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 28 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $34,900 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $34,530 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Italy welcomes foreign direct investment (FDI).  As a European Union (EU) member state, Italy is bound by the EU’s treaties and laws.  Under EU treaties with the United States, as well as OECD commitments, Italy is generally obliged to provide national treatment to U.S. investors established in Italy or in another EU member state.

EU and Italian antitrust laws provide Italian authorities with the right to review mergers and acquisitions for market dominance.  In addition, the Italian government may block mergers and acquisitions involving foreign firms under its investment screening authority (known as “Golden Power”) if the proposed transactions raise national security concerns.  Enacted in 2012 and further implemented through decrees or follow-on legislation in 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2020, the Golden Power law allows the Government of Italy (GOI) to block foreign acquisition of companies operating in strategic sectors: defense/national security, energy, transportation, telecommunications, critical infrastructure, sensitive technology, and nuclear and space technology.  In March 2019, the GOI expanded the Golden Power authority to cover the purchase of goods and services related to the planning, realization, maintenance, and management of broadband communications networks using 5G technology.  Under the April 6, 2020 Liquidity Decree the Prime Minister’s Office issued, the government strengthened Italy’s investment screening authority to cover all sectors outlined in the EU’s March 2019 foreign direct investment screening directive.  The decree also extends (at least until June 30, 2021) Golden Power review to certain transactions by EU-based investors and gives the government new authorities to investigate non-notified transactions.

The Italian Trade Agency (ITA) is responsible for foreign investment attraction as well as promoting foreign trade and Italian exports.  According to the latest figures available from the ITA, foreign investors own significant shares of 12,768 Italian companies.  As of 2019, these companies had overall sales of €573.6 billion and employed 1,211,872 workers.  ITA operates under the coordination of the Italian Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  As of April 2021, ITA operates through a network of 79 offices in 65 countries.  ITA promotes foreign investment in Italy through Invest in Italy program: http://www.investinitaly.com/en/.  The Foreign Direct Investment Unit is the dedicated unit of ITA for facilitating the establishment and development of foreign companies in Italy.

While not directly responsible for investment attraction, SACE, Italy’s export credit agency, has additional responsibility for guaranteeing certain domestic investments.  Foreign investors – particularly in energy and infrastructure projects – may see SACE’s project guarantees and insurance as further incentive to invest in Italy.

Additionally, Invitalia is the national agency for inward investment and economic development operating under the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance.  The agency focuses on strategic sectors for development and employment.  Invitalia finances projects both large and small, targeting entrepreneurs with concrete development plans, especially in innovative and high-value-added sectors.  For more information, see https://www.invitalia.it/eng.  The Ministry of Economic Development (https://www.mise.gov.it/index.php/en/) within its Directorate for Incentives to Businesses also has an office with some responsibilities relating to attraction of foreign investment.

Italy’s main business association (Confindustria) also helps companies in Italy:  https://www.confindustria.it/en.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Under EU treaties and OECD obligations, Italy is generally obliged to provide national treatment to U.S. investors established in Italy or in another EU member state.  EU and Italian antitrust laws provide national authorities with the right to review mergers and acquisitions over a certain financial threshold.  The Italian government may block mergers and acquisitions involving foreign firms to protect the national strategic interest or in retaliation if the government of the country where the foreign firm is from applies discriminatory measures against Italian firms.  Foreign investors in the defense and aircraft manufacturing sectors are more likely to encounter resistance from the many ministries involved in reviewing foreign acquisitions than are foreign investors in other sectors.

Italy maintains a formal national security screening process for inbound foreign investment in the sectors of defense/national security, transportation, energy, telecommunications, critical infrastructure, sensitive technology, and nuclear and space technology through its “Golden Power” legislation.  Italy expanded its Golden Power authority in March 2019 to include the purchase of goods and services related to the planning, realization, maintenance, and management of broadband communications networks using 5G technology.  On April 6, 2020 the GOI passed a Liquidity Decree in which the Prime Minister’s office made three main changes to its Golden Power authority to prevent the hostile takeover of Italian firms as they weather the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis.  First, under the decree Golden Power authority now encompasses the financial sector (including insurance and credit) and all the sectors listed under the EU’s March 19, 2019 regulations establishing a framework for the screening of foreign direct investment.  The Italian government previously had adopted only some of the sectors in the EU regulations when it passed its National Cybersecurity Perimeter legislation in November 2019.  The EU regulations cover:  (1) critical infrastructure, physical or virtual, including energy, transport, water, health, communications, media, data processing or storage, aerospace, defense, electoral or financial infrastructure, and sensitive facilities, as well as land and real estate; (2) critical technologies and dual use items, including artificial intelligence, robotics, semiconductors, cybersecurity, aerospace, defense, energy storage, quantum and nuclear technologies, and nanotechnologies and biotechnologies; (3) supply of critical inputs, including food security, energy, and raw materials; (4) access to sensitive information; and (5) freedom of the media.

Second, until the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, EU-based investors must notify Italy’s investment screening authority if they seek to acquire, purchase significant shares in, or change the core activities of an Italian company in one of the covered sectors.  Previously EU-based investors had to notify the government only of transactions deemed strategic to national interests, such as in the defense sector.  Third, the government now has the power to investigate non-notified transactions and require that both public and private entities cooperate with the investigation.  In addition to being able to fine companies for non-notified transactions, the government can impose risk mitigation measures for non-notified transactions.  An interagency group led by the Prime Minister’s office reviews acquisition applications and makes recommendations for Council of Ministers’ decisions.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The OECD published its Economic Survey for Italy in April 2019.  See https://www.oecd.org/economy/surveys/Italy-2019-OECD-economic-survey-overview.pdf.

Business Facilitation

Italy has a business registration website, available in Italian and English, administered through the Union of Italian Chambers of Commerce:  http://www.registroimprese.it.  The online business registration process is clear and complete, and available to foreign companies.  Before registering a company online, applicants must obtain a certified e-mail address and digital signature, a process that may take up to five days.  A notary is required to certify the documentation.  The precise steps required for the registration process depend on the type of business being registered.  The minimum capital requirement also varies by type of business. Generally, companies must obtain a value-added tax account number (partita IVA) from the Italian Revenue Agency; register with the social security agency (Istituto Nazionale della Previdenza Sociale INPS); verify adequate capital and insurance coverage with the Italian workers’ compensation agency (Istituto Nazionale per L’Assicurazione contro gli Infortuni sul Lavoro – INAIL); and notify the regional office of the Ministry of Labor.  According to the World Bank Doing Business Index 2020, Italy’s ranking decreased from 67 to 98 out of 190 countries in terms of the ease of starting a business:  it takes seven procedures and 11 days to start a business in Italy.  Additional licenses may be required, depending on the type of business to be conducted.

Invitalia and the Italian Trade Agency’s Foreign Direct Investment Unit assist those wanting to set up a new business in Italy.  Many Italian localities also have one-stop shops to serve as a single point of contact for, and provide advice to, potential investors on applying for necessary licenses and authorizations at both the local and national level.  These services are available to all investors.

Outward Investment

Italy neither promotes, restricts, nor incentivizes outward investment, nor restricts domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Regulatory authority exists at the national, regional, and municipal level.  All applicable regulations could be relevant for foreign investors.  The GOI and individual ministries, as well as independent regulatory authorities, develop regulations at the national level.  Regional and municipal authorities issue regulations at the sub-national level.  Draft regulations may be posted for public comment, but there is generally no requirement to do so.  Final national-level regulations generally are published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale (and only become effective upon publication).  Regulatory agencies may publish summaries of received comments.

No major regulatory reform affecting foreign investors was undertaken in 2020.

Aggrieved parties may challenge regulations in court.  Public finances and debt obligations are transparent and are publicly available through banking channels such as the Bank of Italy (BOI).

International Regulatory Considerations

Italy is a Member of the European Union (EU).  EU directives are brought into force in Italy through implementing national legislation.  In some areas, EU procedures require Member States to notify the European Commission (EC) before implementing national-level regulations.  Italy on occasion has failed to notify the EC and/or the World Trade Organization (WTO) of draft regulations in a timely way.  For example, in 2017 Italy adopted Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) measures for milk and milk products, rice, durum wheat, and tomato-based products.  Italy’s Ministers of Agriculture and Economic Development publicly stated these measures would support the “Made in Italy” brand and make Italian products more competitive.  Though the requirements were widely regarded as a Technical Barrier to Trade (TBT), Italy failed to notify the WTO in advance of implementing these regulations.  Moreover, in March 2020, the Italian Ministers of Agriculture and Economic Development extended the validity of such COOL measures until December 31, 2021.  Italy is a signatory to the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and has implemented all developed-country obligations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Italian law is based on Roman law and on the French Napoleonic Code law.  The Italian judicial system consists of a series of courts and a body of judges employed as civil servants.  The system is unified; every court is part of the national network.  Though notoriously slow, the Italian civil legal system meets the generally recognized principles of international law, with provisions for enforcing property and contractual rights.  Italy has a written and consistently applied commercial and bankruptcy law.  Foreign investors in Italy can choose among different means of alternate dispute resolution (ADR), including legally binding arbitration, though use of ADR remains rare.  The GOI in recent years has introduced justice reforms to reduce the backlog of civil cases and speed new cases to conclusion.  These reforms also included a digitization of procedures, and a new emphasis on ADR.

Regulations can be appealed in the court system.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Italy is bound by EU laws on FDI.

Digital Services Tax

In 2020, Italy began implementing a digital services tax (DST), applicable to companies that meet the following two conditions:

  1. €750 million in annual global revenues from any source, not just digital services; and,
  2. €5.5 million in annual revenues from digital services delivered in Italy.

As currently formulated, many U.S. technology companies will fall under Italy’s DST, and some Italian media firms could also be subject to the tax.  Taxes incurred in 2020 are due in May 2021.   (The government has twice postponed the tax payment deadline.)  The government has declared that payments for future tax years will also be due in the month of May of the following year.  The Italian DST includes a sunset clause should countries reach a multilateral agreement in the G20/OECD Inclusive Framework negotiations to reform the international tax regime.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) is responsible for reviewing transactions for competition-related concerns.  AGCM may examine transactions that restrict competition in Italy as well as in the broader EU market.  As a member of the EU, Italy is also subject to interventions by the European Commission Competition Directorate (DG COMP).  AGCM decisions can be appealed in courts.  In March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID health crisis, AGCM launched an investigation against Amazon and eBay for price spikes on hand sanitizer and other products.  In July 2020 AGCM launched an investigation against Apple and Amazon for banning the sale of Apple and Beats branded products to retailers who do not join the official program.  In September 2020, the Competition Authority initiated an investigation of Google, Apple and Dropbox for alleged unfair commercial practices and contractual clauses.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Italian Constitution permits expropriation of private property for “public purposes,” defined as essential services (including during national health emergencies) or measures indispensable for the national economy, with fair and timely compensation.  Expropriations have been minimal in 2020.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Italy is a member state of the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID convention).  Italy has signed and ratified the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).  Italian civil law (Section 839) provides for and governs the enforcement of foreign arbitration awards in Italy.

Italian law recognizes and enforces foreign court judgments.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Italy is a contracting state to the 1965 Washington Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (entered into force on April 28, 1971).

Italy has had very few publicly known investment disputes involving a U.S. person in the last 10 years.  Italy does not have a history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Italy is a party to the following international treaties relating to arbitration:

  • The 1927 Geneva Convention on The Execution of Foreign Arbitral Awards (entered into force on February 12, 1931); and
  • The 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (entered into force on May 1, 1969); and
  • The 1961 European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (entered into force on November 1, 1970).

Italy’s Code of Civil Procedure (Book IV, Title VIII, Sections 806-840) governs arbitration, including the recognition of foreign arbitration awards.  Italian law is not based on the UNCITRAL Model Law; however, many of the principles of the Model Law are present in Italian law.  Parties are free to choose from a variety of Alternative Dispute Resolution methods, including mediation, arbitration, and lawyer-assisted negotiation.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Italy’s bankruptcy regulations are somewhat analogous to U.S. Chapter 11 restructuring and allow firms and their creditors to reach a solution without declaring bankruptcy.  In recent years, the judiciary’s role in bankruptcy proceedings has been reduced to simplify and expedite proceedings.  In 2015, the Italian parliament passed a package of changes to the bankruptcy law, including measures to ease access to interim credit for bankrupt companies and to restructure debts.  Additional changes were approved in 2017 (juridical liquidation, early warning, simplified process, arrangement with creditors, insolvency of affiliated companies as a group, and reorganization of indebtedness rules).  The measures aim to reduce the number of bankruptcies, limit the impact on the local economy, and facilitate the settlement of corporate disputes outside of the court system.  The reform follows on the 2015 reform of insolvency procedures.  In early 2019, the government issued an “implementation decree” for the 2017 bankruptcy reform legislation.  In the World Bank’s “Doing Business Index 2020,” Italy ranks 21 out of 190 economies in the category of “Ease of Resolving Insolvency.”

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The GOI welcomes foreign portfolio investments, which are generally subject to the same reporting and disclosure requirements as domestic transactions.  Financial resources flow relatively freely in Italian financial markets and capital is allocated mostly on market terms.  Foreign participation in Italian capital markets is not restricted.  In practice, many of Italy’s largest publicly traded companies have foreign owners among their primary shareholders.  While foreign investors may obtain capital in local markets and have access to a variety of credit instruments, gaining access to equity capital is difficult.  Italy has a relatively underdeveloped capital market and businesses have a long-standing preference for credit financing.  The limited venture capital available is usually provided by established commercial banks and a handful of venture capital funds.

Netherlands-based Euronext is acquiring Italy’s stock exchange, the Milan Stock Exchange (Borsa Italiana), from the London Stock Exchange.  The acquisition should be completed by mid-2021.  The exchange is relatively small, 377 listed companies and a market capitalization of 37 percent of GDP at the end of December 2020.  Although the exchange remains primarily a source of capital for larger Italian firms, Borsa Italiana created “AIM Italia” in 2012 as an alternative exchange with streamlined filing and reporting requirements to encourage SMEs to seek equity financing.  Additionally, the GOI recognizes that Italian firms remain overly reliant on bank financing and has initiated some programs to encourage alternative forms of financing, including venture capital and corporate bonds.  Financial experts have held that slow CONSOB (the Italian Companies and Stock Exchange Commission) processes and cultural biases against private equity have limited equity financing in Italy, and the Italian Association of Private Equity, Venture Capital, and Private Debt (AIFI) estimates investment by private equity funds in Italy decreased by 26 percent from 2018 to 2019, totaling €7.2 billion – a low figure given the size of Italy’s economy.

Italy’s financial markets are regulated by the Italian securities regulator CONSOB, Italy’s central bank (the Bank of Italy), and the Institute for the Supervision of Insurance (IVASS).  CONSOB supervises and regulates Italy’s securities markets (e.g., the Milan Stock Exchange).  As of January 2021, the European Central Bank directly supervised 11 of Italy’s largest banks and indirectly supervised less significant Italian banks through the Bank of Italy.  IVASS supervises and regulates insurance companies.  Liquidity in the primary markets is sufficient to enter and exit sizeable positions, though Italian capital markets are small by international standards.  Liquidity may be limited for certain less-frequently traded investments (e.g., bonds traded on the secondary and OTC markets).

Italian policies generally facilitate the flow of financial resources to markets.  Dividends and royalties paid to non-Italians may be subject to a withholding tax, unless covered by a tax treaty.  Dividends paid to permanent establishments of non-resident corporations in Italy are not subject to the withholding tax.

Italy imposed a financial transactions tax (FTT, a.k.a. Tobin Tax) beginning in 2013.  Financial trading is taxed at 0.1 percent in regulated markets and 0.2 percent in unregulated markets.  The FTT applies to daily balances rather than to each transaction.  The FTT applies to trade in derivatives as well, with fees ranging from €0.025 to €200.  High-frequency trading is also subject to a 0.02 percent tax on trades occurring every 0.5 seconds or faster (e.g., automated trading).  The FTT does not apply to “market makers,” pension and small-cap funds, transactions involving donations or inheritances, purchases of derivatives to cover exchange/interest-rate/raw-materials (commodity market) risks, government and other bonds, or financial instruments for companies with a capitalization of less than €500 million.  The FTT has been criticized for discouraging small savers from investing in publicly traded companies on the Milan stock market.

There are no restrictions on foreigners engaging in portfolio investment in Italy.  Financial services companies incorporated in another EU member state may offer investment services and products in Italy without establishing a local presence.

Since April 2020, investors, Italian or foreign, acquiring a stake of more than one percent of a publicly traded Italian firm must inform CONSOB but do not need its approval.  Earlier the limit was three percent for non-SMEs and five percent for SMEs.

Any Italian or foreign investor seeking to acquire or increase its stake in an Italian bank equal to or greater than ten percent must receive prior authorization from the Bank of Italy (BOI).  Acquisitions of holdings that would change the controlling interest of a banking group must be communicated to the BOI at least 30 days in advance of the closing of the transactions.  Approval and advance authorization by the Italian Insurance Supervisory Authority are required for any significant acquisition in ownership, portfolio transfer, or merger of insurers or reinsurers.  Regulators retain the discretion to reject proposed acquisitions on prudential grounds (e.g., insufficient capital in the merged entity).

Italy has sought to curb widespread tax evasion by improving enforcement and changing attitudes.  GOI actions include a public communications effort to reduce tolerance of tax evasion; increased and visible financial police controls on businesses (e.g., raids on businesses in vacation spots at peak holiday periods); and audits requiring individuals to document their income.  In 2014 Italy’s Parliament approved the enabling legislation for a package of tax reforms, many of which entered into force in 2015.  The tax reforms institutionalized some OECD best practices to encourage taxpayer compliance, including by reducing the administrative burden for taxpayers through the increased use of technology such as e-filing, pre-completed tax returns, and automated screenings of tax returns for errors and omissions prior to a formal audit.  The reforms also offer additional certainty for taxpayers through programs such as cooperative compliance and advance tax rulings (i.e., binding opinions on tax treatment of transactions in advance) for prospective investors.  The Draghi-led government has said it plans to pursue a general tax reform to simplify Italy’s tax system, which remains complex and has relatively high tax rates on labor income.

The GOI and the Bank of Italy have accepted and respect IMF obligations, including Article VIII.

Money and Banking System

Despite isolated problems at individual Italian banks, the banking system remains sound and capital ratios exceed regulatory thresholds.  However, Italian banks’ profit margins have suffered since 2011.  The BOI said the profitability of Italian banks in 2019 was broadly in line with that of European peers but that the annualized rate of return on equity (ROE) at 5.0% (net of extraordinary components) was below the estimated cost of equity.  In the first nine months of 2020, according to the BOI, the return on equity fell from 7.8 to 2.2 percent, though the downturn slowed in the third quarter.  The capitalization of large banks (the ratio between common tier 1 equity and risk weighted assets) was 15.1 percent as of the third quarter of 2020.

While the financial crisis brought a pronounced worsening of the quality of banks’ assets, the ratio of non-performing loans (NPLs) to total outstanding loans has decreased significantly since its height in 2017.  As of January 2021, net NPLs stand at €19.9 billion, the lowest level since June 2009 and down from €20.9 billion in December 2020 and €26.3 billion in January 2020.  ABI, the Italian banking association, reported the NPL ratio was 1.14% (net of provisions) in January 2021, down from 1.2% of December 2020 and 4.89% in November 2015.  The GOI has also taken steps to facilitate acquisitions of NPLs by outside investors.

In 2016, the GOI created a €20 billion bank rescue fund to assist struggling Italian banks in need of liquidity or capital support.  Italy’s fourth-largest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS), became the first bank to avail itself of this fund in January 2019.  The government currently owns 64% of MPS but hopes to exit the bank by the end of 2021, as agreed with EU authorities.  To attract a private buyer for MPS and otherwise encourage M&A activity in the banking sector, the GOI allocated €2.0 billion in tax benefits in the 2021 budget.  The GOI also facilitated the sale of two struggling “Veneto banks” (Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca) to Intesa San Paolo in 2017.  In 2019, Banca Carige, the smallest Italian bank under ECB supervision, was put under special administration.

The main risks for Italian banks are possible deterioration in credit quality and a further decline in profitability.  The rate of new NPLs (as of January 2021) has remained very low despite the COVID-induced economic crisis, benefiting from government measures to extend credit, including through state guarantees on loans, and flexibility from supervisory authorities regarding loan classification.  Some analysts express concern that NPL levels could rise again once government support begins to decline.  Government loan guarantees (to large companies via SACE, Italy’s export credit agency, and to SMEs via the Central Guarantee Fund, or Fondo Centrale di Garanzia) and repayment moratoriums also helped lead to an 8.5 percent increase in credit to firms in 2020, the fastest rate of growth since 2008.

Despite some banking-sector M&A activity since the financial crisis, the ECB, OECD, and Italian government have had to encourage additional consolidation to improve efficiency.  In 2019, Italy had 55 (down from 58) banking groups and 98 stand-alone banks, 229 fewer than one year earlier and as well as 80 subsidiaries of foreign banks.  The cooperative credit reform and the consolidation of the network of small cooperative and mutual banks significantly altered the structure of the banking system.  The most significant recent consolidation was Intesa San Paolo’s takeover in 2020 of UBI Banca, which created Italy’s largest banking group.  The Italian banking sector remains overly concentrated on physical bank branches for delivering services, further contributing to sector-wide inefficiency and low profitability.  Electronic banking is available in Italy, but adoption remains below euro-zone averages.  Cash remains widely used for transactions.

Most non-insurance investment products are marketed by banks and tend to be debt instruments.  Italian retail investors are conservative, valuing the safety of government bonds over most other investment vehicles.  Less than ten percent of Italian households own Italian company stocks directly.  Several banks have established private banking divisions to cater to high-net-worth individuals with a broad array of investment choices, including equities and mutual funds.

Credit is allocated on market terms, with foreign investors eligible to receive credit in Italy.  In general, credit in Italy remains largely bank-driven.  In practice, foreigners may encounter limited access to finance, as Italian banks may be reluctant to lend to prospective borrowers (even Italians) absent a preexisting relationship.  Weak demand, combined with risk aversion by banks, continues to limit lending, especially to smaller firms.

The Ministry of Economy and Finance and BOI have indicated interest in blockchain technologies to transform the banking sector.  As of March 2021, the Italian Banking Association (ABI) had implemented a Distributed Ledger Technology-based system across the Italian banking sector.  The process aims to reconcile material (and not digitalized) products that are exchanged between banks, such as commercial paper or promissory notes.

According to the Financial Action Task Force, Italy has a strong legal and institutional framework to fight money laundering and terrorist financing, and authorities have a good understanding of the risks the country faces.  Italy, however, presents a continued risk of money laundering from activities of organized crime and its significant black-market economy.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

In accordance with EU directives, Italy has no foreign exchange controls.  There are no restrictions on currency transfers; there are only reporting requirements.  Banks are required to report any transaction over €1,000 due to money laundering and terrorism financing concerns.  Profits, payments, and currency transfers may be freely repatriated.  Residents and non-residents may hold foreign exchange accounts.  In 2016, the GOI raised the limit on cash payments for goods or services to €3,000.  Payments above this amount must be made electronically.  Enforcement remains uneven.  The rule exempts e-money services, banks, and other financial institutions, but not payment services companies.

Italy is a member of the European Monetary Union (EMU), with the euro as its official currency.  Exchange rates are floating.

Remittance Policies

There are no limitations on remittances, though transactions above €1,000 must be reported.  In December 2018 Parliament passed a decree that imposed a 1.5 percent tax on remittances sent outside of the EU via money transfer.  The government estimates that the tax on remittances to countries outside of the EU will raise several hundred million euros per year.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The state-owned national development bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) launched a strategic wealth fund in 2011, now called CDP Equity (formerly Fondo Strategico Italiano – FSI).  CDP Equity has €3.4 billion in invested capital and twelve companies in its portfolio, holding both majority and minority participations.  CDP Equity invests in companies of relevant national interest and on its website (http://en.cdpequity.it/) provides information on its funding, investment policies, criteria, and procedures.  CDP Equity is open to capital investments from outside institutional investors, including foreign investors.  CDP Equity is a member of the International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds and follows the Santiago Principles.

9. Corruption

Corruption and organized crime continue to be significant impediments to investment and economic growth in parts of Italy, despite efforts by successive governments to reduce risks.  Italian law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials.  The government has usually implemented these laws effectively, but officials sometimes have engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.  While anti-corruption laws and trials garner headlines, they have been only somewhat effective in stopping corruption.  Since 2014, Italy has improved its overall rank and score in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, reaching a rank of 52 in the 2020 Index.  Italy has made improvements in strengthening its institutions and public administration, but Transparency International assesses that the COVID 19 emergency has undermined the efficiency of Italy’s anti-corruption and transparency efforts.  The organization cited weaknesses in regulation and oversight procedures for the use of the over €200 billion in Next Generation EU funds Italy expects to receive to spur its economic recovery – funds to be allocated in digitalization, green transition, infrastructures, education/research and social inclusion.

In December 2018 Italy’s Parliament passed an anti-corruption bill that introduced new provisions to combat corruption in the public sector and regulate campaign finance.  The measures in the bill changed the statute of limitations for corruption-related crimes as well as other crimes and made it more difficult for people to “run out the clock” on their respective cases.  Italy’s anti-money laundering laws also apply to public officials, defined as people entrusted with important political functions, as well as their immediate family members.  (This includes officials ranging from the head of state to members of the executive bodies of state-owned companies.)  In 2019 the government passed an anti-corruption measure, called “spazza-corrotti,” giving the same treatment for political parties and related foundations, strengthening the penalties for corruption crimes against public administration, and providing more tools for investigations.

U.S. individuals and firms operating or investing in foreign markets should take the time to become familiar with the anticorruption laws of both the foreign country and the United States to comply with them and, where appropriate, U.S. individuals and firms should seek the advice of legal counsel.

While the U.S. Embassy has not received specific complaints of corruption from U.S. companies operating in Italy in the past year, commercial and economic officers are familiar with high-profile cases that may affect U.S. companies.  The Embassy has received requests for assistance from companies facing a lack of transparency and complicated bureaucracy, particularly in the sphere of government procurement and specifically in the aerospace industry.  There have been no reports of government failure to protect NGOs that investigate corruption (e.g., Transparency International Italy).

Italy has signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention and the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery.

Resources to Report Corruption

Autorità Nazionale Anticorruzione (ANAC)
Via Marco Minghetti, 10 – 00187 Roma
Phone:  +39 06 367231
Fax:  +39 06 36723274
Email:  protocollo@pec.anticorruzione.it

Contact Info page:  http://www.anticorruzione.it/portal/public/classic/MenuServizio/Contatti

ANAC’s whistleblowing web page is:  http://www.anticorruzione.it/portal/public/classic/Servizi/ServiziOnline/SegnalazioneWhistleblowing

Transparency International Italia
P.le Carlo Maciachini 11
20159 Milano – Italy
T:  +39 02 40093560
F:  +39 02 406829
E:  info@transparency.it
General web site:  www.transparency.it
Corruption Specific:  https://www.transparency.it/alac/

10. Political and Security Environment

Politically motivated violence is not a threat to foreign investments in Italy.  On rare occasion, extremist groups have made threats and deployed letter bombs, firebombs, and Molotov cocktails against Italian public buildings, private enterprises and individuals, and foreign diplomatic facilities.  Though many of these groups have hostile views of the United States, they have not targeted U.S. property or citizens in recent years.

Italy-specific travel information and advisories can be found at: www.travel.state.gov.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Unemployment continues to be a pressing issue in Italy, particularly among youth (ages 15-24).  Italy has one of the EU’s highest rates of youth unemployment at 29.7 percent (December 2020), while the overall unemployment rate was 9.0 percent in December 2020.  The unemployment rate has decreased since the pandemic, but the decrease significantly underestimates the pandemic’s impact on the economy and labor as the government has banned most layoffs and implemented a program to provide paid furloughs, which allow companies to reduce staff temporarily without adding them to the ranks of the unemployed.  Despite these measures, Italy lost 456,000 jobs in 2020, while Italy’s inactive population (neither working nor seeking work actively) rose 0.9 percent.  Job losses were concentrated among those employed under temporary contracts and in the services sector, disproportionately affecting young people and women.  As of December 2020, only 49% of females were employed, the second to lowest rate of all EU countries.  The ratio of long-term unemployment (unemployment lasting over 12 months) as a share of overall unemployment continues to be among the highest of major European economies.  Underemployment (employment that is not full-time or not commensurate with the employee’s skills and abilities) is also a serious issue.  These jobs are often concentrated in the service industry and other low-skilled professions.

Long-term unemployment is also elevated, leading to a permanent reduction in human capital and earnings potential.  Italy’s labor force participation rates are among the lowest in the EU, particularly among women, the young, and the elderly, and particularly in the South.  However, low labor force participation rates do not encompass labor in the large informal economy, which Italy’s statistics agency estimates as comprising at least 12 percent of Italian GDP.

The productivity of Italy’s labor force – one of the main weaknesses of the country’s economy – is also below the EU average.  Many Italian employers report an inability to find qualified candidates for highly skilled positions, demonstrating significant skills mismatches in the Italian labor market.  Many well-educated Italians find more attractive career opportunities outside of Italy, with large numbers of Italians taking advantage of EU freedom of movement to work in the United Kingdom (pre-Brexit), Germany, or other EU countries.  There is no reliable measure of Italians working overseas, as many expatriate workers do not report their whereabouts to the Italian government.  Skilled labor shortages are a particular problem in Italy’s industrialized North.

Companies may bring in a non-EU employee after the government-run employment office has certified that no qualified, unemployed Italian is available to fill the position.  However, the cumbersome and lengthy process acts as a deterrent to foreign firms seeking to comply with the law; language barriers also prevent outsiders from competing for Italian positions.  Work visas are subject to annual quotas, although intra-company transfers are exempt.

Indefinite employment contracts signed before March 2015 are governed by the 2012 labor regime, which allows firms to conduct layoffs and firings with lump sum payments.  Under the 2012 system, according to Article 18 of the workers’ statute of 1970, judges can order reinstatement of dismissed employees (with back pay) if they find the dismissal was a pretext for discriminatory or disciplinary dismissal.  In practice, dismissed employees reserved the right to challenge their dismissal indefinitely, often using the threat of protracted legal proceedings or an adverse court ruling to negotiate additional severance packages with employers.

Indefinite employment contracts signed after March 2015 are governed by the rules established under the 2015 Jobs Act, a package of labor market reforms that provides for employment contracts with protections increasing with job tenure.  During the first 36 months of employment, firms may dismiss employees for bona fide economic reasons.  Under the Jobs Act regime, dismissed employees must appeal their dismissal within 60 days and reinstatements are limited.

Regardless of the reason for termination of employment, a former employee is entitled to receive severance payments (TFR – trattamento di fine rapporto) equal to 7.4 percent of the employee’s annual gross compensation for each year worked.

Other Jobs Act measures enacted in 2015 include universal unemployment and maternity benefits, as well as a reduced number of official labor contract templates (from 42 to six).  The GOI’s unemployment insurance (NASPI) provides up to six months of coverage for laid-off workers.  The GOI also provides worker retraining and job placement assistance, but services vary by region and implementation of robust national active labor market policies remains in progress.

In 2018 the government introduced the so-called “Dignity Decree,” which rolled back some of the structural reforms to Italy’s labor market adopted as part of the 2015 Jobs Act.  For example, the Dignity Decree extended incentives to hire people under 35 years old, set limits on how often a short-term contract could be renewed – the government has suspended the limit during the pandemic – and made it more costly to fire workers.

Italy offers residents other social safety net protections.  In 2017 the government implemented an anti-poverty plan (Reddito di Inclusione, or “Inclusion Income”) aimed at providing some financial relief and training to homeless individuals and people with income below a certain threshold.  In the 2019 budget, a prior government introduced the Citizenship Income (Reddito di Cittadinanza), which replaced and broadened the Inclusion Income program of 2017.  The Citizenship Income program provides a basic income of €780 a month to eligible citizens and acts as an employment agency to a portion of those receiving the Citizenship Income.  The estimated annual cost of the program was approximately €6.5 billion, but the pandemic increased the number of potential beneficiaries.  The program provides benefits to around 1.3 million households (or 3.1 million individuals).

In 2019 the government implemented an early retirement scheme (Quota 100), which changed the pension law and permitted earlier retirement for eligible workers aged 62 years or older with at least 38 years of employment.  The benefit expires at the end of 2021.

While the Jobs Act included a statutory minimum wage, it has not yet been implemented.  With no national minimum wage, wages are set through sector-wide collective bargaining.  The government in 2016 established an agency for Job Training and Placement (ANPAL) to coordinate (with Italian regions) implementation of many labor policies.  ANPAL oversees implementation of the Assegno di Ricollocazione (a “relocation allowance”), an initiative to provide unemployment benefits to workers willing to move to different regions of the country), and a related special wage guarantee fund (Cassa Integrazione Straordinaria) that provides stipends for retraining.  The Citizenship Income program and ANPAL appear to have failed in their goal of helping eligible workers find jobs.  The Citizenship Income program, however, seems to have played a role in reducing poverty before the pandemic, and limiting its rise in 2020 during the economic crisis.  In March 2021 the Ministry of Labor set up a committee to examine how to reform the Citizenship Income program.  Historical regional labor market disparities remain unchanged, with the southern third of the country posting a significantly higher unemployment rate than northern and central Italy.  Despite these differences, internal migration within Italy remains modest, while industry-wide national collective bargaining agreements set equal wages across the entire country.

Italy is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO).  Italy does not waive existing labor laws to attract or retain investments.  Terms and conditions of employment are periodically fixed by collective labor agreements in different professions.  Most Italian unions are grouped into four major national confederations: the General Italian Confederation of Labor (CGIL), the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Unions (CISL), the Italian Union of Labor (UIL), and the General Union of Labor (UGL).  The first three organizations are affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), while UGL has been associated with the World Confederation of Labor (WCL).  The confederations negotiate national-level collective bargaining agreements with employer associations, which are binding on all employers in a sector or industry irrespective of geographical location.

Collective bargaining is widespread in Italy, occurring at the national-level (primarily aimed at securing pay adjustments that take account of inflation/changes in the cost-of-living) and industry-level (to secure pay adjustments that reflect increased productivity and/or profitability).  Firm-level collective bargaining is limited.  The Italian Constitution provides that unions may reach collective agreements that are binding on all workers.  There are no official estimates of the percentage of the economy covered by collective bargaining agreements.  A 2019 estimate from The European Trade Union Institute said collective bargaining coverage was approximately 80 percent (for national-level bargaining), with less coverage for industry-level agreements and minimal coverage for company-level agreements.

Collective agreements may last up to three years, although recent practice is to renew collective agreements annually.  Collective bargaining establishes the minimum standards for employment, but employers retain the discretion to apply more favorable treatment to some employees covered by the agreement.

Labor disputes are handled through the civil court system, though they are subject to specific procedures.  Before entering the civil court system, parties must first attempt to resolve their disputes through conciliation (administered by the local office of the Ministry of Labor) and/or through specific union-agreed dispute resolution procedures.

In cases of proposed mass layoffs or facility closures, the Ministry of Economic Development may convene a tripartite negotiation (Ministry, company, and union representatives) to attempt to reach a mutually acceptable agreement to avoid the layoff or closure.  In recent years, U.S. companies have faced significant resistance from labor unions and politicians when attempting to right size operations.  Due to the pandemic, the government has banned most layoffs through June 2021.  (This date may be extended.)

There have been no recent strikes that posed investment risks.  The Italian Constitution recognizes an employee’s right to strike.  Strikes are permitted in practice, but are typically short-term (e.g., one working day) to draw attention to specific areas of concern.  In addition, workers (or former employees) commonly participate in demonstrations to show opposition to proposed job cuts or facility closings, but these demonstrations have not threatened investments.  In addition, occasional strikes by employees of local transportation providers may limit citizens’ mobility.

14. Contact for More Information

U.S. Embassy Rome
Economic Section
Via Vittorio Veneto, 119
Tel. 39-06-4674-2867
RomeECON@state.gov

Mailing Address:
Unit 9500
Attn:  Economic Section
DPO, AE 09624
Email:  RomeECON@state.gov
Tel:  +39 06 4674 2107

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