Transparency of the Regulatory System
Proposed Paraguayan laws and regulations, including those pertaining to investment, are usually available in draft form for public comment after introduction into senate and lower house committees. In most instances, there are public hearings where members of the general public or interested parties can provide comments.
Regulatory agencies’ supervisory functions over telecommunications, energy, potable water, and the environment are inefficient and opaque. Politically motivated changes in the leadership of regulating agencies negatively impact firms and investors. Although investors may appeal to the Comptroller General’s Office in the event of administrative irregularities, corruption has historically been common in this and other institutions, as time-consuming processes provide opportunities for front-line civil servants to seek bribes to accelerate the paperwork.
While regulatory processes are managed by governmental organizations, the Investment Incentive Law (60/90) establishes an Investment Council that includes the participation of two private sector representatives.
Public finances and debt obligations of government institutions, agencies, and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are available online and mostly centralized by the Ministry of Finance.
International Regulatory Considerations
Paraguay is a founding member of the Mercosur common market, which was formed in 1991. As Mercosur’s purpose is to promote free trade and fluid movement of goods, people, and currency, each country member is expected to adjust their regulations based on multilateral treaties, protocols, and agreements.
Paraguay is a member of the WTO and notifies the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade of all draft technical regulations.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Paraguay has a Civil Law legal system based on the Napoleonic Code. A new Criminal Code went into effect in 1998, with a corresponding Code of Criminal Procedure following in 2000. A defendant has the right to a public and oral trial. A three-judge panel acts as a jury. Judges render decisions on the basis of (in order of precedence) the Constitution, international agreements, the codes, decree law, analogies with existing law, and general principles of the law.
Private entities may file appeals to government regulations they assess to be contrary to the constitution or Paraguayan law. The Supreme Court is responsible for answering these appeals.
The judiciary is a separate and independent branch of government, however there are frequent media reports of political interference with judicial decision making. Judicial corruption also remains a concern, including reports of judges investing in plaintiffs’ claims in return for a percentage of monetary payouts.
Paraguay has a specialized court for civil and commercial judicial matters.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The Investment Incentive Law (60/90) passed in 1990 permits full repatriation of capital and profits. No restrictions exist in Paraguay on the conversion or transfer of foreign currency, apart from bank reporting requirements for transactions in excess of USD 10,000. This law also grants investors a number of tax breaks, including exemptions from corporate income tax and value-added tax.
The 1991 Investment Law (117/91) guarantees equal treatment of foreign investors and the right to real property. It also regulates joint ventures (JVs), recognizing JVs established through formal legal contracts between interested parties. This law allows international arbitration for the resolution of disputes between foreign investors and the Government of Paraguay.
In December 2015, former President Cartes signed an Investment Guarantee Law (5542/15) to promote investment in capital-intensive industries. Implementing regulations were published in 2016. The law protects the remittance of capital and profits, provides assurances against administrative and judicial practices that might be considered discriminatory, and permits tax incentives for up to 20 years. There is no minimum investment amount, but projects must be authorized by a joint resolution by the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Industry and Commerce.
In 2013 the Paraguayan Congress passed a law to promote public-private partnerships (PPP) in public infrastructure and allow for private sector entities to participate in the provision of basic services such as water and sanitation. The government signed implementing regulations for the PPP law in 2014. As a result, the Executive Branch can now enter into agreements directly with the private sector without the need for congressional approval. In 2015, the Government of Paraguay implemented its first contract under the new law. In 2016, it awarded its second PPP to a consortium of Spanish, Portuguese, and local companies to expand and maintain two of the country’s federal highways. Paraguay’s bid for an airport expansion PPP in Asuncion in 2016, was officially cancelled in October 2018 due to concerns over the contracting process. No other PPPs have been awarded since, although some are under consideration by the Ministry of Public Works. Large infrastructure projects are usually open to foreign investors.
The Paraguay government seeks increased investment in the maquila sector, and Paraguayan law grants investors a number of incentives. The maquila program entitles a company to foreign investment participation of up to 100 percent and to special tax and customs treatment. In addition to tax exemptions, inputs are allowed to enter Paraguay tax free, and up to 10 percent of production is allowed for local consumption after paying import taxes and duties. There are few restrictions on the type of product that can be produced under the maquila system and operations are not restricted geographically. Ordinarily, all maquila products are exported.
Paraguay took steps in 2019 to demonstrate increased transparency in its financial system with the aim of attracting additional foreign investment. In December 2019, President Abdo Benitez signed into law the last of a series of twelve anti-money laundering laws at the recommendation of the Financial Action Task Force against Money Laundering in Latin America (GAFILAT). The laws comply with international standards and facilitate the fight against money laundering, terrorist financing, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. More information on the anti-money laundering laws and regulations can be found here: http://www.seprelad.gov.py/disposiciones-legales-i68
Paraguay’s budget and information on debt obligations were widely and easily accessible to the general public, including online. The published budget was adequately detailed and considered generally reliable. Revised estimates were made public in end-of-year and in-year execution reports. Paraguay’s Comptroller’s Office selected sections of the government’s accounts for audit according to a risk assessment because it lacks sufficient resources to audit the entire executed budget annually.
REDIEX provides a website to facilitate access to relevant legislation, laws, and regulations for investors: www.bit.do/REDIEX20
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
Paraguay passed a Competition Law in 2013, which entered into force in April 2014. Law 4956/13 explicitly prohibits anti-competitive acts and created the National Competition Commission (CONACOM) as the government’s enforcement arm.
Expropriation and Compensation
Private property has historically been respected in Paraguay as a fundamental right. Expropriations must be sanctioned by a law authorizing the specific expropriation. There have been reports of expropriations of land without prompt and fair compensation.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Paraguay is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Paraguay is a contracting state to the New York Convention. Under the 1958 New York Convention, Paraguay elaborated and enacted Law 1879/02 for arbitrage and mediation.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Law 117/91 guarantees national treatment for foreign investors. This law allows international arbitration for the resolution of disputes between foreign investors and the Government of Paraguay. Foreign decisions and awards are enforceable in Paraguay.
Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government. According to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), Paraguay has had three concluded investment disputes involving foreign investors. One registered in 1998 and two in 2007. ICSID resolved the first in the private company’s favor, and the other two in the Paraguayan government’s. There are no records of U.S. investors using the ICSID mechanism for an investment dispute in Paraguay.
Paraguay ranks 72 out of 190 for “Ease of Enforcing Contracts” in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report. World Bank data states the process averages 606 days and costs 30 percent of the claimed value.
There are currently three ongoing investor-state disputes involving U.S. companies. Two of them involve delayed government payments to U.S. firms and one involves delays in the process of acquiring environmental permits to initiate a large scale real estate development.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Under Paraguayan Law 194/93, foreign companies must demonstrate just cause to terminate, modify, or not renew contracts with Paraguayan distributors. Severe penalties and high fines may result if a court determines that a foreign company ended the relationship with its distributor without first establishing that just-cause exists, which sometimes compels foreign companies to seek expensive out-of-court settlements first with the Paraguayan distributors. Nevertheless, cases are infrequent, and courts have upheld the rights of foreign companies to terminate representation agreements after finding the requisite showing of just cause.
Under two laws, Article 195 of the Civil Procedural Code and Law 1376/1988, a plaintiff pursuing a lawsuit may seek reimbursement for legal costs from the defendant calculated as a percentage (not to exceed 10 percent) of claimed damages. In larger suits, the amount of reimbursed legal costs often far exceeds the actual legal costs incurred.
Paraguay possesses an Arbitration and Mediation Center (CAMPS), which is a non-profit, private entity that promotes the application of alternative dispute resolution methods.
Under Paraguayan Law 2051/03, foreign companies undergoing contractual problems with any government entity can request arbitration from Paraguay’s national public procurement Agency (DNCP, in Spanish).
Paraguay has a bankruptcy law (154/63) under which a debtor may suspend payments to creditors during the evaluation period of the debtors’ restructuring proposal. If no agreement is reached, a trustee may liquidate the company’s assets. According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, Paraguay stands at 105 in the ranking of 190 economies on the ease of resolving insolvency. The report states resolving insolvency takes 3.9 years on average and costs nine percent of the debtor’s estate, with the most likely outcome being that the company will be sold as piecemeal sale. The average recovery rate is 23 cents on the dollar. Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Paraguay.