Transparency of the Regulatory System
The Macri administration has taken measures to improve government transparency. President Macri created the Ministry of Modernization, tasked with conducting quantitative and qualitative studies of government procedures and finding solutions to streamline bureaucratic processes and improve transparency. In September 2018, the Ministry of Modernization was downgraded into a Secretariat due to a budget-oriented streamlining of the Cabinet.
In September 2016, Argentina enacted a Right to Access Public Information Law (27,275) that mandates all three governmental branches (legislative, judicial, and executive), political parties, universities, and unions that receive public funding are to provide non-classified information at the request of any citizen. The law also created the Agency for the Right to Access Public Information to oversee compliance.
Continuing its efforts to improve transparency, in November 2017, the Treasury Ministry launched a new website to communicate how the government spends public funds in a user-friendly format. Subsections of this website are targeted toward policymakers, such as a new page to monitor budget performance (http://www.aaip.gob.ar/hacienda/sechacienda/metasfiscales ), as well as improving citizens’ understanding of the budget, e.g. the new citizen’s budget “Presupuesto Ciudadano” website (https://www.minhacienda.gob.ar/onp/presupuesto_ciudadano/). This program is part of the broader Macri administration initiative led by the Secretariat of Modernization to build a transparent, active, and innovative state that includes data and information from every area of the public administration. The initiative aligns with the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) and UN Resolution 67/218 on promoting transparency, participation, and accountability in fiscal policy.
During 2017, the government introduced new procurement standards including electronic procurement, formalization of procedures for costing-out projects, and transparent processes to renegotiate debts to suppliers. The government also introduced OECD recommendations on corporate governance for state-owned enterprises to promote transparency and accountability during the procurement process. (The link to the regulation is at http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do?id=306769 .)
Argentine government efforts to improve transparency were recognized internationally. In its December 2017 Article IV consultation, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Executive Board noted that “Argentina’s government made important progress in restoring integrity and transparency in public sector operations,” and agreed with the staff appraisal that commended the government for the progress made in the systemic transformation of the Argentine economy, including efforts to rebuild institutions and restore integrity, transparency, and efficiency in government.
On January 10, 2018, the government issued Decree 27 with the aim of curbing bureaucracy and simplifying administrative proceedings to promote the dynamic and effective functioning of public administration. Broadly, the decree seeks to eliminate regulatory barriers and reduce bureaucratic burdens, expedite and simplify processes in the public domain, and deploy existing technological tools to better focus on transparency.
In April 2018, Argentina passed the Business Criminal Responsibility Law (27,041) through Decree 277. The decree establishes an Anti-Corruption Office in charge of outlining and monitoring the transparency policies with which companies must comply to be eligible for public procurement.
Under the bilateral Commercial Dialogue, Argentina and the United States discuss good regulatory practices, conducting regulatory impact analyses, and improving the incorporation of public consultations in the regulatory process. Similarly, under the bilateral Digital Economy Working Group, Argentina and the United States share best practices on promoting competition, spectrum management policy, and broadband investment and wireless infrastructure development.
Legislation can be drafted and proposed by any citizen and is subject to Congressional and Executive approval before being passed into law. Argentine government authorities and a number of quasi-independent regulatory entities can issue regulations and norms within their mandates. There are no informal regulatory processes managed by non-governmental organizations or private sector associations. Rulemaking has traditionally been a top-down process in Argentina, unlike in the United States where industry organizations often lead in the development of standards and technical regulations.
Ministries, regulatory agencies, and Congress are not obligated to provide a list of anticipated regulatory changes or proposals, share draft regulations with the public, or establish a timeline for public comment. They are also not required to conduct impact assessments of the proposed legislation and regulations.
Since 2016, the Office of the President and various ministries has sought to increase public consultation in the rulemaking process; however, public consultation is non-binding and has been done in an ad-hoc fashion. In 2017, the Federal Government of Argentina issued a series of legal instruments that seek to promote the use of tools to improve the quality of the regulatory framework. Amongst them, Decree 891/2017 for Good Practices in Simplification establishes a series of tools to improve the rulemaking process. The decree introduces tools on ex-ante and ex-post evaluation of regulation, stakeholder engagement, and administrative simplification, amongst others. Nevertheless, no formal oversight mechanism has been established to supervise the use of these tools across the line of ministries and government agencies, which make implementation difficult and limit severely the potential to adopt a whole-of-government approach to regulatory policy, according to a 2019 OECD publication on Regulatory Policy in Argentina.
Some ministries and agencies have developed their own processes for public consultation, such as publishing the draft on their websites, directly distributing the draft to interested stakeholders for feedback, or holding public hearings. In 2016 the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights launched the digital platform Justicia2020 (https://www.justicia2020.gob.ar/ ), to foster public involvement in the Judiciary reform process projected by 2020. Once the draft of a bill is introduced into the Argentine Congress, the full text of the bill and its status can be viewed online at the Chamber of Deputies website (http://www.diputados.gov.ar/), and that of the Senate (http://www.senado.gov.ar/ ).
All final texts of laws, regulations, resolutions, dispositions, and administrative decisions must be published in the Official Gazette (https://www.boletinoficial.gob.ar ), as well as in the newspapers and the websites of the Ministries and agencies. These texts can also be accessed through the official website Infoleg (http://www.infoleg.gob.ar/ ), overseen by the Ministry of Justice. Interested stakeholders can pursue judicial review of regulatory decisions.
Argentina requires public companies to adhere to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Argentina is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures.
International Regulatory Considerations
Argentina is a founding member of MERCOSUR and has been a member of the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI for Asociacion Latinoamericana de Integracion) since 1980.
Argentina has been a member of the WTO since 1995 and it ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement in January 2018. Argentina notifies technical regulations, but not proposed drafts, to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Argentina has sought to deepen its engagement with the OECD and submitted itself to an OECD regulatory policy review in March 2018, which was released in Mach 2019. Argentina participates in all 23 OECD committees and seeks an accession invitation before the end of 2019.
Additionally, the Argentine Institute for Standards and Certifications (IRAM) is a member of international and regional standards bodies including the International Standardization Organization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the Panamerican Commission on Technical Standards (COPAM), the MERCOSUR Association of Standardization (AMN), the International Certification Network (i-Qnet), the System of Conformity Assessment for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components (IECEE), and the Global Good Agricultural Practice network (GLOBALG.A.P.).
Legal System and Judicial Independence
According to the Argentine constitution, the judiciary is a separate and equal branch of government. In practice, there have been instances of political interference in the judicial process. Companies have complained that courts lack transparency and reliability, and that Argentine governments have used the judicial system to pressure the private sector. A 2017 working group review of Argentina’s application to join the OECD noted the politicization of the General Prosecutor’s Office created a lack of prosecutorial independence. The OECD working group said the executive branch, prior to the Macri government, had pressured judges through threatened or actual disciplinary proceedings. Media revelations of judicial impropriety and corruption feed public perception and undermine confidence in the judiciary.
The Macri administration has publicly expressed its intent to improve transparency and rule of law in the judicial system, and the Justice Minister announced in March 2016 the “Justice 2020” initiative to reform the judiciary.
Argentina follows a Civil Law system. In 2014, the Argentine government passed a new Civil and Commercial Code that has been in effect since August 2015. The Civil and Commercial Code provides regulations for civil and commercial liability, including ownership of real and intangible property claims. The current judicial process is lengthy and suffers from significant backlogs. In the Argentine legal system, appeals may be brought from many rulings of the lower court, including evidentiary decisions, not just final orders, which significantly slows all aspects of the system. The Justice Ministry reported in December 2018 that the expanded use of oral processes had reduced the duration of 68 percent of all civil matters to less than two years.
Many foreign investors prefer to rely on private or international arbitration when those options are available. Claims regarding labor practices are processed through a labor court, regulated by Law 18,345 and its subsequent amendments and implementing regulations by Decree 106/98. Contracts often include clauses designating specific judicial or arbitral recourse for dispute settlement.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
According to the Foreign Direct Investment Law 21,382 and Decree 1853/93, foreign investors may invest in Argentina without prior governmental approval, under the same conditions as investors domiciled within the country. Foreign investors are free to enter into mergers, acquisitions, greenfield investments, or joint ventures. Foreign firms may also participate in publicly-financed research and development programs on a national treatment basis. Incoming foreign currency must be identified by the participating bank to the Central Bank of Argentina (www.bcra.gov.ar). There is no official regulation or other interference in the court that could affect foreign investors.
All foreign and domestic commercial entities in Argentina are regulated by the Commercial Partnerships Law (Law No. 19,550) and the rules issued by the commercial regulatory agencies. Decree 27/2018 amended Law 19,550 to simplify bureaucratic procedures. Full text of the decree can be found at (http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/305000-309999/305736/norma.htm ). All other laws and norms concerning commercial entities are established in the Argentina Civil and Commercial Code, which can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/235000-239999/235975/norma.htm
Further information about Argentina’s investment policies can be found at the following websites:
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The National Commission for the Defense of Competition and the Secretariat of Commerce, both within the Ministry of Production and Labor, have enforcement authority of the Competition Law (Law 25,156). The law aims to promote a culture of competition in all sectors of the national economy. In May 2018, the Argentine Congress approved a new Defense of the Competition Law (Law 27,442). The new law incorporates anti-competitive conduct regulations and a leniency program to facilitate cartel investigation. The full text of the law can be viewed at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do?id=310241 .
Expropriation and Compensation
Section 17 of the Argentine Constitution affirms the right of private property and states that any expropriation must be authorized by law and compensation must be provided. The United States-Argentina BIT states that investments shall not be expropriated or nationalized except for public purposes upon prompt payment of the fair market value in compensation.
Argentina has a history of expropriations under previous administrations, the most recent of which occurred in March 2015 when the Argentine Congress approved the nationalization of the train and railway system. A number of companies that were privatized during the 1990s under the Menem administration were renationalized under the Kirchner administrations. Additionally, in October 2008, Argentina nationalized its private pension funds, which amounted to approximately one-third of total GDP, and transferred the funds to the government social security agency.
In May 2012, the Fernandez de Kirchner administration nationalized the oil and gas company Repsol-YPF. Although most of the litigation was settled in 2016, a small percentage of stocks owned by an American hedge fund remain in litigation in U.S. courts.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Argentina is signatory to the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards, which the country ratified in 1989. Argentina is also a party to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention since 1994.
There is neither specific domestic legislation providing for enforcement under the 1958 New York Convention nor legislation for the enforcement of awards under the ICSID Convention. Companies that seek recourse through Argentine courts may not simultaneously pursue recourse through international arbitration. In practice, the Macri administration has shown a willingness to negotiate settlements to valid arbitration awards.
In March 2012, the United States suspended Argentina’s designation as a Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) beneficiary developing country because it had not acted in good faith in enforcing arbitration awards in favor of United States citizens or a corporation, partnership, or association that is 50 percent or more beneficially owned by United States citizens. Effective January 1, 2018, the United States ended Argentina’s suspension from the GSP program. Following Congressional reauthorization of the program, as of April 22, 2018, Argentina’s access was restored for GSP duty-free treatment for over 3,000 Argentine products.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
The Argentine government officially accepts the principle of international arbitration. The United States-Argentina BIT includes a chapter on Investor-State Dispute Settlement for U.S. investors.
In the past ten years, Argentina has been brought before the ICSID in 54 cases involving U.S. or other foreign investors. Argentina currently has four pending arbitration cases filed against it by U.S. investors. For more information on the cases brought by U.S. claimants against Argentina, go to: https://icsid.worldbank.org/en/Pages/cases/AdvancedSearch.aspx# .
Local courts cannot enforce arbitral awards issued against the government based on the public policy clause. There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.
Argentina is a member of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).
Argentina is also a party to several bilateral and multilateral treaties and conventions for the enforcement and recognition of foreign judgments, which provide requirements for the enforcement of foreign judgments in Argentina, including:
Treaty of International Procedural Law, approved in the South-American Congress of Private International Law held in Montevideo in 1898, ratified by Argentina by law No. 3,192.
Treaty of International Procedural Law, approved in the South-American Congress of Private International Law held in Montevideo in 1939-1940, ratified by Dec. Ley 7771/56 (1956).
Panamá Convention of 1975, CIDIP I: Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration, adopted within the Private International Law Conferences – Organization of American States, ratified by law No. 24,322 (1995).
Montevideo Convention of 1979, CIDIP II: Inter-American Convention on Extraterritorial Validity of Foreign Judgments and Arbitral Awards, adopted within the Private International Law Conferences – Organization of American States, ratified by law No. 22,921 (1983).
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms can be stipulated in contracts. Argentina also has ADR mechanisms available such as the Center for Mediation and Arbitrage (CEMARC) of the Argentine Chamber of Trade. More information can be found at: http://www.intracen.org/Centro-de-Mediacion-y-Arbitraje-Comercial-de-la-Camara-Argentina-de-Comercio—CEMARC–/#sthash.RagZdv0l.dpuf .
Argentina does not have a specific law governing arbitration, but it has adopted a mediation law (Law 24.573/1995), which makes mediation mandatory prior to litigation. Some arbitration provisions are scattered throughout the Civil Code, the National Code of Civil and Commercial Procedure, the Commercial Code, and three other laws. The following methods of concluding an arbitration agreement are non-binding under Argentine law: electronic communication, fax, oral agreement, and conduct on the part of one party. Generally, all commercial matters are subject to arbitration. There are no legal restrictions on the identity and professional qualifications of arbitrators. Parties must be represented in arbitration proceedings in Argentina by attorneys who are licensed to practice locally. The grounds for annulment of arbitration awards are limited to substantial procedural violations, an ultra petita award (award outside the scope of the arbitration agreement), an award rendered after the agreed-upon time limit, and a public order violation that is not yet settled by jurisprudence when related to the merits of the award. On average, it takes around 21 weeks to enforce an arbitration award rendered in Argentina, from filing an application to a writ of execution attaching assets (assuming there is no appeal). It takes roughly 18 weeks to enforce a foreign award. The requirements for the enforcement of foreign judgments are set out in section 517 of the National Procedural Code.
No information is available as to whether the domestic courts frequently rule in cases in favor of state-owned enterprises (SOE) when SOEs are party to a dispute.
Argentina’s bankruptcy law was codified in 1995 in Law 24,522. The full text can be found at: http://www.infoleg.gov.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/25000-29999/25379/texact.htm . Under the law, debtors are generally able to begin insolvency proceedings when they are no longer able to pay their debts as they mature. Debtors may file for both liquidation and reorganization. Creditors may file for insolvency of the debtor for liquidation only. The insolvency framework does not require approval by the creditors for the selection or appointment of the insolvency representative or for the sale of substantial assets of the debtor. The insolvency framework does not provide rights to the creditor to request information from the insolvency representative but the creditor has the right to object to decisions by the debtor to accept or reject creditors’ claims. Bankruptcy is not criminalized; however, convictions for fraudulent bankruptcy can carry two to six years of prison time.
Financial institutions regulated by the Central Bank of Argentina (BCRA) publish monthly outstanding credit balances of their debtors; the BCRA and the National Center of Debtors (Central de Deudores) compile and publish this information. The database is available for use of financial institutions that comply with legal requirements concerning protection of personal data. The credit monitoring system only includes negative information, and the information remains on file through the person’s life. At least one local NGO that makes microcredit loans is working to make the payment history of these loans publicly accessible for the purpose of demonstrating credit history, including positive information, for those without access to bank accounts and who are outside of the Central Bank’s system. Equifax, which operates under the local name “Veraz” (or “truthfully”), also provides credit information to financial institutions and other clients, such as telecommunications service providers and other retailers that operate monthly billing or credit/layaway programs.
The World Bank’s 2018 Doing Business Report ranked Argentina 101 among 189 countries for the effectiveness of its insolvency law. This is a jump of 15 places from its ranking of 116 in 2017. The report notes that it takes an average of 2.4 years and 16.5 percent of the estate to resolve bankruptcy in Argentina.