In 2020, Mexico became the United States’ third largest trading partner in goods and services and second largest in goods only. It remains one of our most important investment partners. Bilateral trade grew 482.2 percent from 1993-2020, and Mexico is the United States’ second largest export market. The United States is Mexico’s top source of foreign direct investment (FDI) with USD 100.9 billion (2019 total per the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis), or 39.1 percent of all inflows (stock) to Mexico, according to Mexico’s Secretariat of Economy.
The Mexican economy averaged 2 percent GDP growth from 1994-2020, but contracted 8.5 percent in 2020. The economic downturn due to the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic was the major reason behind the contraction, with FDI decreasing 11.7 percent. The austere fiscal policy in Mexico resulted in primary surplus of 0.1 percent in 2020. The government has upheld the central bank’s (Bank of Mexico) independence. Inflation remained at 3.4 percent in 2020, within the Bank of Mexico’s target of 3 percent ± 1 percent. The administration maintained its commitment to reducing bureaucratic spending in order to fund an ambitious social spending agenda and priority infrastructure projects, including the Dos Bocas Refinery and Maya Train. President Lopez Obrador leaned on these initiatives as it devised a government response to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.
Mexico approved the amended United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) protocol in December 2019, the United States in December 2019, and Canada in March 2020, providing a boost in confidence to investors hoping for continued and deepening regional economic integration. The USMCA entered into force July 1, 2020. President Lopez Obrador has expressed optimism it will buoy the Mexican economy.
Still, investors report sudden regulatory changes and policy reversals, the shaky financial health of the state oil company Pemex, and a perceived weak fiscal response to the COVID-19 economic crisis have contributed to ongoing uncertainties. In the first and second quarters of 2020, the three major ratings agencies (Fitch, Moody’s, and Standard and Poor’s) downgraded both Mexico’s sovereign credit rating (by one notch to BBB-, Baa1, and BBB, respectively) and Pemex’s credit rating (to junk status). The Bank of Mexico revised upward Mexico’s GDP growth expectations for 2021, from 3.3 to 4.8 percent, as did the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to 5 percent from the previous 4.3 percent estimate in January. Still, IMF analysts anticipate an economic recovery to pre-pandemic levels could take five years. Moreover, uncertainty about contract enforcement, insecurity, informality, and corruption continue to hinder sustained Mexican economic growth. Recent efforts to reverse the 2014 energy reforms, including the March 2021 electricity reform law prioritizing generation from the state-owned electric utility CFE, further increase uncertainty. These factors raise the cost of doing business in Mexico.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2020||124 of 180||https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi#|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2020||60 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2020||55 of 131||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||2019||$100,888||https://apps.bea.gov/international/di1usdbal|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2019||$9,480||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
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 proximity to the United States and preferential access to the U.S. market, macroeconomic stability, large domestic market, growing consumer base, and increasingly skilled yet cheap labor combine to attract foreign investors. The COVID-19 economic crisis showed how linked North American supply chains are and highlighted new opportunities for partnership and investment. Still, recent policy and regulatory changes have created doubts about the investment climate, particularly in the energy and the formal employment pensions management sectors.
Historically, the United States has been one of the largest sources of FDI in Mexico. According to Mexico’s Secretariat of Economy, FDI flows for 2020 totaled USD 29.1 billion, a decrease of 11.7 percent compared to the preliminary information for 2019 (USD 32.9 billion), and a 14.7 percent decline compared to revised numbers. The Secretariat cited COVID’s impact on global economic activity as the main reason for the decline. From January to December 2020, 22 percent of FDI came from new investment. New investment in 2020 (USD 6.4 billion) was only approximately half of the new investments received in 2019 (USD 12.8 billion), and 55.4 percent came from capital reinvestment while 24.9 percent from parent company accounts. 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 the administration is focused on attracting investment to the region, including through large infrastructure projects such as the Maya Train, the Dos Bocas refinery, and the trans-isthmus rail project.
The 1993 Foreign Investment Law, last updated in March 2017, governs foreign investment in Mexico, including which business sectors are open to foreign investors and to what extent. It provides national treatment, eliminates performance requirements for most foreign investment projects, and liberalizes criteria for automatic approval of foreign investment. 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 administration has integrated components of the government’s investment agency into other ministries and offices.
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. Still, the Lopez Obrador administration has made significant regulatory and policy changes that favor Pemex and CFE over private participants. The changes have led private companies to file lawsuits in Mexican courts and several are considering international arbitration.
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 nine auctions allowing private companies to bid on exploration and development rights to oil and gas resources in blocks around the country. Between 2015 and 2018, Mexico auctioned more than 100 land, shallow, and deep-water blocks with significant interest from international oil companies. The administration has since postponed further auctions but committed to respecting the existing contracts awarded under the previous administration. Still, foreign players were discouraged when Pemex sought to take operatorship of a major shallow water oil discovery made by a U.S. company-led consortium. The private consortium had invested more than USD 200 million in making the discovery and the outcome of this dispute has yet to be decided.
Telecommunications: Mexican law states telecommunications and broadcasting activities are public services and the government will at all times maintain ownership of the radio spectrum. In January 2021, President Lopez Obrador proposed incorporating the independent Federal Telecommunication Institute (IFT) into the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (SCT), in an attempt to save government funds and avoid duplication. Non-governmental organizations and private sector companies said such a move would potentially violate the USMCA, which mandates signatories to maintain independent telecommunications regulators. As of March 2021, the proposal remains pending. Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Tatiana Clouthier underscored in public statements that President López Obrador is committed to respecting Mexico’s obligations under the USMCA, including maintaining an autonomous telecommunications regulator.
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.
The USMCA, which entered into force July 1, 2020, maintained several NAFTA provisions, granting U.S. and Canadian investors national and most-favored-nation treatment in setting up operations or acquiring firms in Mexico. Exceptions exist for investments restricted under the USMCA. Currently, the United States, Canada, and Mexico have the right to settle any legacy disputes or claims under NAFTA through international arbitration for a sunset period of three years following the end of NAFTA. Only the United States and Mexico are party to an international arbitration agreement under the USMCA, though access is restricted as the USMCA distinguishes between investors with covered government contracts and those without. Most U.S. companies investing in Mexico will have access to fewer remedies under the USMCA than under NAFTA, as they will have to meet certain criteria to qualify for arbitration. Local Mexican governments must also accord national treatment to investors from USMCA 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
There has not been an update to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) trade policy review of Mexico since June 2017 covering the period to year-end 2016.
According to the World Bank, on average registering a foreign-owned company in Mexico requires 11 procedures and 31 days. Mexico ranked 60 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s ease of doing business report in 2020. 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 are supposed to be able to register a new company online in 24 hours. Still, it can take between 66 and 90 days to start a new business in Mexico, according to the World Bank. The Government of Mexico maintains a business registration website: www.tuempresa.gob.mx. 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.
Since October 2019, SAT has launched dozens of tax audits against major international and domestic corporations, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax assessments, penalties, and late fees. Multinational and Mexican firms have reported audits based on diverse aspects of the tax code, including adjustments on tax payments made, waivers received, and deductions reported during the Enrique Peña Nieto administration.
Changes to ten-digit tariff lines conducted by the Secretariat of Economy in 2020 created trade disruptions with many shipments held at the border, stemming from lack of clear communication between government agencies that resulted in different interpretation by SAT.
Various offices at the Secretariat of Economy and the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs handle promoting Mexican outward investment and assistance to Mexican firms acquiring or establishing joint ventures with foreign firms. Mexico does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
Bilateral Investment Treaties
The USMCA entered into force on July 1, 2020, containing 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 finalized a FTA in May 2020, but it still must undergo legal scrub and translation. Mexico and the United Kingdom (UK) also signed an agreement to continue trading under existing terms following the UK’s exit from the European Union in December 2020.
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.
In 2019, the administration approved a value-added tax (VAT) on digital services. Since June 30, 2020, foreign digital companies are required to register with SAT and to collect VAT on the majority of goods and services customers purchase online and remit the VAT and sales reports to SAT. SAT is authorized to block a foreign digital company’s internet protocol (IP) address in Mexico for non-compliance with tax requirements until the company complies. The administration also introduced a series of fiscal measures in 2019 to combat tax evasion and fraud.
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 Pemex effort to establish transparency and public trust in its energy sector.
Department of State
- Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/);
- Trafficking in Persons Report (https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/);
- Guidance on Implementing the “UN Guiding Principles” for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities (https://www.state.gov/key-topics-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/due-diligence-guidance/) and;
- North Korea Sanctions & Enforcement Actions Advisory (https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/126/dprk_supplychain_advisory_07232018.pdf).
Department of Labor
- Findings on the Worst forms of Child Labor Report (https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings);
- List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor (https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods);
- Sweat & Toil: Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking Around the World (https://www.dol.gov/general/apps/ilab) and;
- Comply Chain (https://www.dol.gov/ilab/complychain/).