1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Mexico is open to foreign direct investment (FDI) in the vast majority of economic sectors and has consistently been one of the largest emerging market recipients of FDI. Mexico’s macroeconomic stability, large domestic market, growing consumer base, rising skilled labor pool, welcoming business climate, and proximity to the United States all help attract foreign investors.
Historically, the United States has been one of the largest sources of FDI in Mexico. According to Mexico’s Secretariat of Economy, FDI flows to Mexico from the United States totaled USD 12.3 billion in 2018, nearly 39 percent of all inflows to Mexico (USD 31.6 billion). The automotive, aerospace, telecommunications, financial services, and electronics sectors typically receive large amounts of FDI. Most foreign investment flows to northern states near the U.S. border, where most maquiladoras (export-oriented manufacturing and assembly plants) are located, or to Mexico City and the nearby “El Bajio” (e.g. Guanajuato, Queretaro, etc.) region. In the past, foreign investors have overlooked Mexico’s southern states, although that may change if the new administration’s focus on attracting investment to the region gain traction.
The 1993 Foreign Investment Law, last updated in March 2017, governs foreign investment in Mexico. The law is consistent with the foreign investment chapter of NAFTA. It provides national treatment, eliminates performance requirements for most foreign investment projects, and liberalizes criteria for automatic approval of foreign investment. The Foreign Investment Law provides details on which business sectors are open to foreign investors and to what extent. Mexico is also a party to several Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) agreements covering foreign investment, notably the Codes of Liberalization of Capital Movements and the National Treatment Instrument.
The new administration stopped funding ProMexico, the government’s investment promotion agency, and is integrating its components into other ministries and offices. PROMTEL, the government agency charged with encouraging investment in the telecom sector, is expected to continue operations with a more limited mandate. Its first director and four other senior staff recently left the agency. In April 2019, the government sent robust participation to the 11th CEO Dialogue and Business Summit for Investment in Mexico sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its Mexican equivalent, CCE. Cabinet-level officials conveyed the Mexican government’s economic development and investment priorities to dozens of CEOs and business leaders.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Mexico reserves certain sectors, in whole or in part, for the State including: petroleum and other hydrocarbons; control of the national electric system, radioactive materials, telegraphic and postal services; nuclear energy generation; coinage and printing of money; and control, supervision, and surveillance of ports of entry. Certain professional and technical services, development banks, and the land transportation of passengers, tourists, and cargo (not including courier and parcel services) are reserved entirely for Mexican nationals. See section six for restrictions on foreign ownership of certain real estate.
Reforms in the energy, power generation, telecommunications, and retail fuel sales sectors have liberalized access for foreign investors. While reforms have not led to the privatization of state-owned enterprises such as Pemex or the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), they have allowed private firms to participate.
Hydrocarbons: Private companies participate in hydrocarbon exploration and extraction activities through contracts with the government under four categories: competitive contracts, joint ventures, profit sharing agreements, and license contracts. All contracts must include a clause stating subsoil hydrocarbons are owned by the State. The government has held four separate bid sessions allowing private companies to bid on exploration and development of oil and gas resources in blocks around the country. In 2017, Mexico successfully auctioned 70 land, shallow, and deep water blocks with significant interest from international oil companies. The Lopez Obrador administration decided to suspend all future auctions until 2022.
Telecommunications: Mexican law states telecommunications and broadcasting activities are public services and the government will at all times maintain ownership of the radio spectrum.
Aviation: The Foreign Investment Law limited foreign ownership of national air transportation to 25 percent until March 2017, when the limit was increased to 49 percent.
Under existing NAFTA provisions, U.S. and Canadian investors receive national and most-favored-nation treatment in setting up operations or acquiring firms in Mexico. Exceptions exist for investments restricted under NAFTA. Currently, the United States, Canada, and Mexico have the right to settle any dispute or claim under NAFTA through international arbitration. Local Mexican governments must also accord national treatment to investors from NAFTA countries.
Approximately 95 percent of all foreign investment transactions do not require government approval. Foreign investments that require government authorization and do not exceed USD 165 million are automatically approved, unless the proposed investment is in a legally reserved sector.
The National Foreign Investment Commission under the Secretariat of the Economy is the government authority that determines whether an investment in restricted sectors may move forward. The Commission has 45 business days after submission of an investment request to make a decision. Criteria for approval include employment and training considerations, and contributions to technology, productivity, and competitiveness. The Commission may reject applications to acquire Mexican companies for national security reasons. The Secretariat of Foreign Relations (SRE) must issue a permit for foreigners to establish or change the nature of Mexican companies.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The World Trade Organization (WTO) completed a trade policy review of Mexico in February 2017 covering the period to year-end 2016. The review noted the positive contributions of reforms implemented 2013-2016 and cited Mexico’s development of “Digital Windows” for clearing customs procedures as a significant new development since the last review.
According to the World Bank, on average registering a foreign-owned company in Mexico requires 11 procedures and 31 days. In 2016, then-President Pena Nieto signed a law creating a new category of simplified businesses called Sociedad for Acciones Simplificadas (SAS). Owners of SASs will be able to register a new company online in 24 hours. The Government of Mexico maintains a business registration website: . Companies operating in Mexico must register with the tax authority (Servicio de Administration y Tributaria or SAT), the Secretariat of the Economy, and the Public Registry. Additionally, companies engaging in international trade must register with the Registry of Importers, while foreign-owned companies must register with the National Registry of Foreign Investments.
In the past, ProMexico was responsible for promoting Mexican outward investment and provided assistance to Mexican firms acquiring or establishing joint ventures with foreign firms, participating in international tenders, and establishing franchise operations, among other services. Various offices at the Secretariat of Economy and the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs now handle these issues. Mexico does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
Bilateral Investment Treaties
On November 30, 2018, leaders of the United States, Mexico, and Canada signed a trade agreement to replace and modernize NAFTA – the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The agreement is now pending ratification by all three countries’ legislatures. The agreement contains an investment chapter.
Mexico has signed 13 FTAs covering 50 countries and 32 Reciprocal Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements covering 33 countries. Mexico is a member of Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which entered into force December 30, 2018. Mexico currently has 29 Bilateral Investment Treaties in force. Mexico and the European Union signed an agreement in principle to revise its FTA.
Bilateral Taxation Treaties
The United States-Mexico Income Tax Convention, which came into effect January 1, 1994, governs bilateral taxation between the two nations. Mexico has negotiated double taxation agreements with 55 countries. Recent reductions in U.S. corporate tax rates may drive a future change to the Mexican fiscal code, but there is no formal legislation under consideration.
4. Industrial Policies
Land grants or discounts, tax deductions, and technology, innovation, and workforce development funding are commonly used incentives. Additional federal foreign trade incentives include: (1) IMMEX: a promotion which allows manufacturing sector companies to temporarily import inputs without paying general import tax and value added tax; (2) Import tax rebates on goods incorporated into products destined for export; and (3) Sectoral promotion programs allowing for preferential ad-valorem tariffs on imports of selected inputs. Industries typically receiving sectoral promotion benefits are footwear, mining, chemicals, steel, textiles, apparel, and electronics.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
The new administration launched a two-year program in January 2019 that established a border economic zone (BEZ) in 43 municipalities in six northern border states within 15.5 miles from the U.S. border. The BEZ program entails: 1) a fiscal stimulus decree reducing the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 16 percent to 8 percent and the Income Tax (ISR) from 30 percent to 20 percent, 2) a minimum wage increase to MXN 176.72 (USD 8.75) per day, and 3) the gradual harmonization of gasoline, diesel, natural gas, and electricity rates with neighboring U.S. states. The purpose of the BEZ program is to boost investment, promote productivity, and create more jobs in the region. Interested businesses or individuals must apply to the government’s “Beneficiary Registry” by March 31 demonstrating income from border business activities comprise at least 90 percent of total income. The company headquarters or branch must be located in the border region for at least 18 months prior to the application. Sectors excluded from the preferential ISR rate include financial institutions, the agricultural sector, and export manufacturing companies (maquilas).
Separately, the administration announced plans to review and possibly end the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) program throughout the country.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Mexican labor law requires at least 90 percent of a company’s employees be Mexican nationals. Employers can hire foreign workers in specialized positions as long as foreigners do not exceed 10 percent of all workers in that specialized category. Mexico does not follow a “forced localization” policy—foreign investors are not required by law to use domestic content in goods or technology. However, investors intending to produce goods in Mexico for export to the United States should take note of the rules of origin prescriptions contained within NAFTA if they wish to benefit from NAFTA treatment.
Mexico does not have any policy of forced localization for data storage, nor must foreign information technology (IT) providers turn over source code or provide backdoors into hardware or software. Within the constraints of the Federal Law on the Protection of Personal Data, Mexico does not impede companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the country.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Mexico ranked 103 out of 190 countries for ease of registering property in the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business report, falling four places from its 2018 report. Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution guarantees the inviolable right to private property. Expropriation can only occur for public use and with due compensation. Mexico has four categories of land tenure: private ownership, communal tenure (ejido), publicly owned, and ineligible for sale or transfer.
Mexico prohibits foreigners from acquiring title to residential real estate in so-called “restricted zones” within 50 kilometers (approximately 30 miles) of the nation’s coast and 100 kilometers (approximately 60 miles) of the borders. “Restricted zones” cover roughly 40 percent of Mexico’s territory. Foreigners may acquire the effective use of residential property in “restricted zones” through the establishment of an extendable trust (fideicomiso) arranged through a Mexican financial institution. Under this trust, the foreign investor obtains all property use rights, including the right to develop, sell, and transfer the property. Real estate investors should be careful in performing due diligence to ensure that there are no other claimants to the property being purchased. In some cases, fideicomiso arrangements have led to legal challenges. U.S.-issued title insurance is available in Mexico and U.S. title insurers operate here.
Additionally, U.S. lending institutions have begun issuing mortgages to U.S. citizens purchasing real estate in Mexico. The Public Register for Business and Property (Registro Publico de la Propiedad y de Comercio) maintains publicly available information online regarding land ownership, liens, mortgages, restrictions, etc.
Tenants and squatters are protected under Mexican law. Property owners who encounter problems with tenants or squatters are advised to seek professional legal advice, as the legal process of eviction is complex.
Mexico has a nascent but growing financial securitization market for real estate and infrastructure investments, which investors can access via the purchase/sale of Fideocomisos de Infraestructura y Bienes Raíces (FIBRAs) and Certificates of Capital Development (CKDs) listed on Mexico’s BMV stock exchange.
Intellectual Property Rights
Intellectual Property Rights in Mexico are covered by the Industrial Property Law (Ley de la Propiedad Industrial) and the Federal Copyright Law (Ley Federal del Derecho de Autor). Responsibility for the protection of IPR is spread across several government authorities. The Office of the Attorney General (PGR) oversees a specialized unit that prosecutes IPR crimes. The Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI), the equivalent to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, administers patent and trademark registrations, and handles administrative enforcement cases of IPR infringement. The National Institute of Copyright (INDAUTOR) handles copyright registrations and mediates certain types of copyright disputes, while the Federal Commission for the Prevention from Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS) regulates pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and processed foods. The Mexican Customs Service’s mandate includes ensuring illegal goods do not cross Mexico’s borders.
The process for trademark registration in Mexico normally takes six to eight months. The registration process begins by filing an application with IMPI, which is published in the Official Gazette. IMPI first undertakes a formalities examination, followed by a substantive examination to determine if the application and supporting documentation fulfills the requirements established by law and regulation to grant the trademark registration. Once the determination is made, IMPI then publishes the registration in the Official Gazette. A trademark registration in Mexico is valid for 10 years from the filing date, and is renewable for 10-year periods. Any party can challenge a trademark registration through the new opposition system, or post-grant through a cancellation proceeding. IMPI employs the following administrative procedures: nullity, expiration, opposition, cancellation, trademark, patent and copyright (trade-based) infringement. Once IMPI issues a decision, the affected party may challenge it through an internal reconsideration process or go directly to the Specialized IP Court for a nullity trial. An aggrieved party can then file an appeal with a Federal Appeal Court based on the Specialized IP Court’s decision. In cases with an identifiable constitutional challenge, the plaintiff may file an appeal before the Supreme Court of Justice.
The USPTO has a Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) agreement with IMPI. Under the PPH, an applicant receiving a ruling from either IMPI or the USPTO that at least one claim in an application is patentable may request that the other office expedite examination of the corresponding application. The PPH leverages fast-track patent examination procedures already available in both offices to allow applicants in both countries to obtain corresponding patents faster and more efficiently. The PPH permits USPTO and IMPI to benefit from work previously done by the other office, which reduces the examination workload and improves patent quality.
Mexico is plagued by widespread commercial-scale infringement that results in significant losses to Mexican, U.S., and other IPR owners. There are many issues that have made it difficult to improve IPR enforcement in Mexico, including legislative loopholes; lack of coordination between federal, state, and municipal authorities; a cumbersome and lengthy judicial process; and widespread cultural acceptance of piracy and counterfeiting. In addition, the involvement of transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), which control the piracy and counterfeiting markets in parts of Mexico, continue to impede federal government efforts to improve IPR enforcement. TCO involvement has further illustrated the link between IPR crimes and illicit trafficking of other contraband, including arms and drugs.
Mexico remained on the Watch List in the 2019 Special 301 report. Obstacles to U.S. trade include the wide availability of pirated and counterfeit goods in both physical and virtual notorious markets. The 2018 USTR Out-Of-Cycle Review of Notorious Markets listed two Mexican markets: Tepito in Mexico City and San Juan de Dios in Guadalajara.
Mexico is a signatory to numerous international IP treaties, including the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Bern Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, and the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.
Resources for Rights Holders
- Intellectual Property Rights Attaché for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean
U.S. Trade Center
Liverpool No. 31 Col. Juárez
C.P. 06600 Mexico City
Tel: (52) 55 5080 2189
- National Institute of Copyright (INDAUTOR)
- Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI)
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The Mexican government is generally open to foreign portfolio investments, and foreign investors trade actively in various public and private asset classes. Foreign entities may freely invest in federal government securities. The Foreign Investment Law establishes foreign investors may hold 100 percent of the capital stock of any Mexican corporation or partnership, except in those few areas expressly subject to limitations under that law. Foreign investors may also purchase non-voting shares through mutual funds, trusts, offshore funds, and American Depositary Receipts. They also have the right to buy directly limited or nonvoting shares as well as free subscription shares, or “B” shares, which carry voting rights. Foreigners may purchase an interest in “A” shares, which are normally reserved for Mexican citizens, through a neutral fund operated by one of Mexico’s six development banks. Finally, Mexico offers federal, state, and local governments bonds that are rated by international credit rating agencies. The market for these securities has expanded rapidly in past years and foreign investors hold a significant stake of total federal issuances. However, foreigners are limited in their ability to purchase sub-sovereign state and municipal debt. Liquidity across asset classes is relatively deep.
Mexico established a fiscally transparent trust structure known as a FICAP in 2006 to allow venture and private equity funds to incorporate locally. The Securities Market Law (Ley de Mercado de Valores) established the creation of three special investment vehicles which can provide more corporate and economic rights to shareholders than a normal corporation. These categories are: (1) Investment Promotion Corporation (Sociedad Anonima de Promotora de Inversion or SAPI); (2) Stock Exchange Investment Promotion Corporation (Sociedad Anonima Promotora de Inversion Bursatil or SAPIB); and (3) Stock Exchange Corporation (Sociedad Anonima Bursatil or SAB). Mexico also has a growing real estate investment trust market, locally referred to as Fideicomisos de Infraestructura y Bienes Raíces (FIBRAS) as well as FIBRAS-E, which allow for investment in non-real estate investment projects. FIBRAS are regulated under Articles 187 and 188 of Mexican Federal Income Tax Law.
Money and Banking System
Financial sector reforms signed into law in 2014 have improved regulation and supervision of financial intermediaries and have fostered greater competition between financial services providers. While access to financial services – particularly personal credit for formal sector workers – has expanded in the past four years, bank and credit penetration in Mexico remains low compared to OECD and emerging market peers. Coupled with sound macroeconomic fundamentals, reforms have created a positive environment for the financial sector and capital markets. According to the National Banking Commission (CNBV), the banking system remains healthy and well capitalized. Non-performing loans have fallen sixty percent since 2001 and now account for 2.1 percent of all loans.
Mexico’s banking sector is heavily concentrated and majority foreign-owned: the seven largest banks control 85 percent of system assets and foreign-owned institutions control 70 percent of total assets. Under NAFTA’s national treatment guarantee, U.S. securities firms and investment funds, acting through local subsidiaries, have the right to engage in the full range of activities permitted in Mexico.
Banco de Mexico (Banxico), Mexico’s central bank, maintains independence in operations and management by constitutional mandate. Its main function is to provide domestic currency to the Mexican economy and to safeguard the Mexican Peso’s purchasing power by gearing monetary policy toward meeting a 3 percent inflation target over the medium term.
Mexico’s Financial Technology (FinTech) law came into effect in March 2018, creating a broad rubric for the development and regulation of innovative financial technologies. Although investors await important secondary regulations that will fully define the rules of the game for FinTech firms, the law covers both cryptocurrencies and a regulatory “sandbox” for start-ups to test the viability of products, placing Mexico among the FinTech policy vanguard.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
The Government of Mexico maintains a free-floating exchange rate.
Mexico maintains open conversion and transfer policies. In general, capital and investment transactions, remittance of profits, dividends, royalties, technical service fees, and travel expenses are handled at market-determined exchange rates. Mexican Peso (MXN)/USD exchange is available on same day, 24- and 48-hour settlement bases. In order to prevent money-laundering transactions, Mexico imposes limits on USD cash deposits. Border- and tourist-area businesses may deposit more than USD 14,000 per month subject to reporting rules and providing justification for their need to conduct USD cash transactions. Individuals are subject to a USD 4,000 per month USD cash deposit limit. In 2016, Banxico launched a central clearing house to allow for USD clearing services wholly within Mexico, which should improve clearing services significantly for domestic companies with USD income.
There have been no recent changes in Mexico’s remittance policies. Mexico continues to maintain open conversion and transfer policies.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
The Mexican Petroleum Fund for Stability and Development (FMP) was created as part of 2013 budgetary reforms. Housed in Banxico, the fund distributes oil revenues to the national budget and a long-term savings account. The FMP incorporates the Santiago Principles for transparency, placing it among the most transparent Sovereign Wealth Funds in the world. Both Banxico and Mexico’s Supreme Federal Auditor regularly audit the fund. Mexico is also a member of the International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds. The Fund is expected to receive MXN 520.6 billion (approximately USD 26 billion) in income in 2019. The FMP is required to publish quarterly and annual reports, which can be found at .
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Mexico’s private and public sectors have worked to promote and develop corporate social responsibility (CSR) during the past decade. CSR in Mexico began as a philanthropic effort. It has evolved gradually to a more holistic approach, trying to match international standards such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the United Nations Global Compact.
Responsible business conduct reporting has made progress in the last few years with more companies developing a corporate responsibility strategy. The government has also made an effort to implement CSR in state owned companies such as Pemex, which has published corporate responsibility reports since 1999. Recognizing the importance of CSR issues, the Mexican Stock Exchange (Bolsa Mexicana de Valores) launched a sustainable companies index, which allows investors to specifically invest in those companies deemed to meet internationally accepted criteria for good corporate governance.
In October 2017, Mexico became the 53rd member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which represents an important milestone in its effort to establish transparency and public trust in its energy sector.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Mexico’s 57.4 percent rate of informality remains higher than countries with similar GDP per capita levels. High informality, defined as those working in unregistered firms or without social security protection, distorts labor market dynamics, contributes to persistent wage depression, drags overall productivity, and slows economic growth. Mexico’s efforts to increase formality over the past four years reduced the rate by 2.4 percentage points, a modest decrease given the scope of the problem. In the formal economy, there is a general surplus of labor but a shortage of technically skilled workers and engineers. Manufacturing companies, particularly along the U.S.-Mexico border and in the states of Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Querétaro, report labor shortages and an inability to retain staff.
Mexico’s labor relations system has been widely criticized as skewed to represent the interests of employers and the government at the expense of workers. Mexico’s legal framework governing collective bargaining created the possibility of negotiation and registration of initial collective bargaining agreements without the support or knowledge of the covered workers. These agreements are commonly known as protection contracts and constitute a gap in practice with international labor standards regarding freedom of association. The percentage of the economy covered by collective bargaining agreements is between five and 10 percent.
The first element of a labor justice reform package was passed into law February 24, 2017, replacing biased tripartite dispute resolution entities (Conciliation and Arbitration Boards) with independent judicial bodies. In terms of labor dispute resolution mechanisms, the Conciliation and Arbitration Boards (CABs) previously adjudicated all individual and collective labor conflicts. The constitutional labor reform requires complementary revisions to the existing labor law. The lower house of the Mexican Congress approved a bill with the requisite revisions in April 2019. Full congressional approval is expected once the Senate has also considered the bill.
Labor experts predict approval and implementation of the labor reform legislation, as required under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), will likely result in a greater level of labor actionas well as inter-union and intra-union competition. Employer association and organized labor representatives agree, but differ on how much and how quickly labor actions will spread. The increasingly friendly political and legal environment for independent unions is already changing the way established unions manage disputes with employers, prompting more authentic collective bargaining. As independent unions compete with corporatist unions to represent worker interests, workers are likely to be further emboldened in demanding higher wages.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), government enforcement was reasonably effective in enforcing labor laws in large and medium-sized companies, especially in factories run by U.S. companies and in other industries under federal jurisdiction. Enforcement was inadequate in many small companies and in the agriculture and construction sectors, and it was nearly absent in the informal sector. Workers organizations have made numerous complaints of poor working conditions in maquiladoras and in the agricultural production industry. Low wages, poor labor conditions, long work hours, unjustified dismissals, lack of social security benefits and safety in the workplace, and lack of freedom of association were among the most common complaints.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
The data included in the IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey is consistent with Mexican government data.
|Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data, 2017|
|From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)|
|Inward Direct Investment||Outward Direct Investment|
|Total Inward||$490,574||100%||Total Outward||$172,919||100%|
|United States||$215,899||44%||United States||$73,199||42%|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.|
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
The data included in the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS) is consistent with Mexican government data.
|Portfolio Investment Assets, June 2018|
|Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)|
|Total||Equity Securities||Total Debt Securities|
|All Countries||$62,148||100%||All Countries||$39,738||100%||All Countries||$22,410||100%|
|United States||$28,487||45.8%||Not specified||$21,340||54%||United States||$17,441||78%|
|Not specified||$24,204||39%||United States||$11,046||28%||Not specified||$2,864||13%|