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Argentina

Executive Summary

Argentina presents investment and trade opportunities, particularly in agriculture, energy, health, infrastructure, information technology, and mining. However, economic uncertainty, interventionist policies, high inflation, and persistent economic stagnation have prevented the country from maximizing its potential. The economy fell into recession in 2018, the same year then-President Mauricio Macri signed a three-year $57 billion Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). President Alberto Fernandez and Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s (CFK) took office on December 10, 2019, and reversed fiscal austerity measures, suspended the IMF program, and declared public debt levels unsustainable.

In September 2020, Argentina restructured $100 billion in foreign and locally issued sovereign debt owed to international and local private creditors. Together, these transactions provide short-term financial relief by clearing principal payments until 2024. Unable to access international capital markets, the government relied on Central Bank money printing to finance the deficit, further fueling inflation. Although Argentina’s economy rebounded 10.3 percent in 2021, offsetting a 10 percent decline in 2020, the economy remains below pre-recession levels. In 2021, the Argentine peso (official rate) depreciated 17 percent, inflation reached 50.9 percent, and the poverty rate reached 37.3 percent.

Even as the pandemic receded and economic activity rebounded, the government cited increased poverty and high inflation as reasons to continue, and even expand, price controls, capital controls, and foreign trade controls. Agricultural and food exports such as beef, soy, and flour were frequent targets for government intervention. Beginning in May 2021, the government introduced bans and other limits on beef exports to address increasing domestic prices. However, the government also implemented incentives for exporters and investors in other industries. It eliminated export taxes for specific businesses and industries, including small and medium sized enterprises; auto and automotive parts exports over 2020 volumes; and information technology service exports from companies enrolled in the knowledge-based economy promotion regime. There were also investment promotion incentives in key export sectors such as agriculture, forestry, hydrocarbons, manufacturing, and mining.

The high cost of capital affected the level of investments in developing renewable energy projects, despite the potential for both wind and solar power. In an effort to expand production of oil and natural gas, the current administration provides benefits to the fossil fuel industry that impact the cost-competitiveness of renewable energy technologies. The government has encouraged the use of biofuels and electric vehicles. A proposed Law for the Promotion of Sustainable Mobility includes incentives and 20-year timelines to promote the use of technologies with less environmental impact in transportation.

After the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Argentina in March 2020, the country imposed a strict nationwide quarantine that became one of the longest in the world. Argentina reopened its borders to tourists and non-residents on November 21, 2021. Hotel and lodging, travel and tourism, and entertainment activities have reopened, although many businesses went bankrupt during the shutdown. Most of the pandemic-related economic relief measures were phased out during 2021.

Both domestic and foreign companies frequently point to a high and unpredictable tax burden and rigid labor laws as obstacles to further investment in Argentina. In 2021, Argentina ranked 73 out of 132 countries evaluated in the Global Innovation Index, which is an indicator of a country’s ability to innovate, based on the premise that innovation is a driver of a nation’s economic growth and prosperity. In the latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Argentina ranked 96 out of 180 countries in 2021, dropping 18 places compared to 2020.

As a Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) member, Argentina signed a free trade and investment agreement with the European Union (EU) in June 2019. Argentina has not yet ratified the agreement. During 2021 there was little progress on trade negotiations with South Korea, Singapore, and Canada. Argentina ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement on January 22, 2018. Argentina and the United States continue to expand bilateral commercial and economic cooperation to improve and facilitate public-private ties and communication on trade, investment, energy, and infrastructure issues, including market access and intellectual property rights. More than 265 U.S. companies operate in Argentina, and the United States continues to be the top investor in Argentina with more than USD $8.7 billion (stock) of foreign direct investment as of 2020.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perception Index 2021 96 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 73 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 $8.7 billion https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 $9,070 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is an increasing awareness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and responsible business conduct (RBC) among both producers and consumers in Argentina. RBC and CSR practices are welcomed by beneficiary communities throughout Argentina. There are many institutes that promote RBC and CSR in Argentina, the most prominent being the Argentine Institute for Business Social Responsibility (http://www.iarse.org/ ), which has been working in the country for 20 years and includes among its members many of the most important companies in Argentina.

Argentina is a member of the United Nation’s Global Compact. Established in April 2004, the Global Compact Network Argentina is a business-led network with a multi-stakeholder governing body elected for two-year terms by active participants. The network is supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Argentina in close collaboration with other UN Agencies. The Global Compact Network Argentina is the most important RBC/CSR initiative in the country with a presence in more than 20 provinces. More information on the initiative can be found at: http://pactoglobal.org.ar .

Foreign and local enterprises tend to follow generally accepted CSR/RBC principles. Argentina subscribed to the Declaration on the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises in April 1997.

Many provinces, such as Mendoza and Neuquén, have or are in the process of enacting a provincial CSR/RBC law. There have been many previously unsuccessful attempts to pass a CSR/RBC law. Distrust over the State’s role in private companies had been the main concern for legislators opposed to these bills.

In February 2019, the Argentine government joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).  Argentina published its first report in 2020 (https://eiti.org/document/argentina-2018-eiti-report ). Argentina´s next Validation against the 2019 EITI Standard started January 1, 2022.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of the Treasury

Department of Labor

Climate Issues

The Government of Argentina created its national climate strategy, the National Plan for Adaptation and Mitigation (PANyMCC), to implement its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). This plan calls for developing a long-term strategy under the Paris Agreement as well as delineating the revision, improvement, and monitoring of the Sector Action Plans for the main emissions sectors. Multiple laws exist to control water and air pollution and to protect natural ecosystems. Despite the existing strategy and monitoring framework, stakeholders note limited transparency around both climate-related and energy sector planning and policymaking.

Challenges in the business and investment climate impact the country’s attractiveness for developing renewable energy projects, despite the potential for both wind and solar power. The fossil fuel industry is strongly supported by the government through public subsidies, which impair the cost-competitiveness of renewable energy technologies.

Renewable energy development is still a focus for the government. Law 27.191 set a goal that 20 percent of the energy matrix needed to come from renewable sources by 2025, this was later updated in the energy sector’s action plan under PANyMCC to 25 percent by 2030. The 2021 updated NDC submitted at COP26 set a goal of 30 percent by 2030. Several tax benefits exist to support renewable energy projects through Law 27.191. No new projects have been approved since the previous administration through the RenovAr program, which offered IFC funding and World Bank guarantees. The RenovAr program has faced multiple hurdles such as increased capital costs, currency volatility, and the impact of capital controls. Given the current state of energy transmission infrastructure in the country, smaller scale projects for on-site energy consumption are more likely to succeed.

The Government of Argentina has historically focused on the transportation sector by encouraging the use of biofuels and electric vehicles. The country requires all gasoline to be a mixture between petroleum products and biofuels. In 2021, the Biofuels Regulatory Framework extended tax exemptions and benefits for biofuel producers but at the same time reduced the quantity of biofuels that are required to be used. The reduction in biofuel use is inconsistent with the climate change mitigation commitments Argentina has made.

While still not approved, the draft Law for the Promotion of Sustainable Mobility includes incentives and objectives to promote the use of technologies with less environmental impact for mobility. The proposed scheme would be temporary but offers benefits over 20 years for the production and importation of electric vehicles and parts.

There are regulatory requirements for labelling of products according to energy efficiency standards. Products including home construction supplies, vehicles, gas powered appliances, and domestic electronics are required to be labeled, some with minimum efficiency standards. Additionally, incandescent light bulbs are no longer permitted to be produced or imported into the country to encourage the use of more energy-efficient lighting sources. More information on labeling standards can be found here: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/economia/energia/eficiencia-energetica/etiquetado-en-eficiencia-energetica

9. Corruption

Argentina’s legal system incorporates several measures to address public sector corruption. The foundational law is the 1999 Public Ethics Law (Law 25,188), the full text of which can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do?id=60847 . A March 2019 report by the OECD’s Directorate for Public Governance underscored, however, that the law is heterogeneously implemented across branches of the government and that the legislative branch has not designated an application authority, approved an implementing regulation, or specified sanctions. It also noted that Argentina has a regulation on lobbying, but that it only applies to the executive branch, and only requires officials to disclose meetings with lobbyists. With regards to political parties, the report noted anonymous campaign donations are banned, but 90 percent of all donations in Argentina are made in cash, making it impossible to identify donors. Furthermore, the existing regulations have insufficient controls and sanctions, and leave gaps with provincial regulations that could be exploited.

Within the executive branch, the government institutions tasked with combatting corruption include the Anti-Corruption Office (ACO), the National Auditor General, and the General Comptroller’s Office. Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, and the Ministry of Justice’s ACO is responsible for analyzing and investigating federal executive branch officials based on their financial disclosure forms—which require the disclosure of assets directly owned by immediate family members. The ACO is also responsible for investigating corruption within the federal executive branch or in matters involving federal funds, except for funds transferred to the provinces. While the ACO does not have authority to independently prosecute cases, it can refer cases to other agencies or serve as the plaintiff and request that a judge initiate a case.

Argentina enacted a new Corporate Criminal Liability Law in November 2017 following the advice of the OECD to comply with its Anti-Bribery Convention. The full text of Law 27,401 can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/295000-299999/296846/norma.htm  . The new law entered into force in early 2018. It extends anti-bribery criminal sanctions to corporations, whereas previously they only applied to individuals; expands the definition of prohibited conduct, including illegal enrichment of public officials; and allows Argentina to hold Argentines responsible for foreign bribery. Sanctions include fines and blacklisting from public contracts. Argentina also enacted an express prohibition on the tax deductibility of bribes.

Official corruption remains a serious challenge in Argentina. In its March 2017 report, the OECD expressed concern about Argentina’s enforcement of foreign bribery laws, inefficiencies in the judicial system, politicization, and perceived lack of independence at the Attorney General’s Office, and lack of training and awareness for judges and prosecutors. According to the World Bank’s worldwide governance indicators, corruption remains an area of concern in Argentina. In the latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Argentina ranked 96 out of 180 countries in 2020, dropping 12 places compared to 2019. Allegations of corruption in provincial as well as federal courts remained frequent. Few Argentine companies have implemented anti-foreign bribery measures beyond limited codes of ethics.

In September 2016, Congress passed a law on public access to information. The law explicitly applies to all three branches of the federal government, the public justice offices, and entities such as businesses, political parties, universities, and trade associations that receive public funding. It requires these institutions to respond to citizen requests for public information within 15 days, with an additional 15-day extension available for “exceptional” circumstances. Sanctions apply for noncompliance. As mandated by the law, the executive branch created the Agency for Access to Public Information in 2017, an autonomous office that oversees access to information. In early 2016, the Argentine government reaffirmed its commitment to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), became a founding member of the Global Anti-Corruption Coalition, and reengaged the OECD Working Group on Bribery.

Argentina is a party to the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Convention against Corruption. It ratified in 2001 the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (Anti-Bribery Convention). Argentina also signed and ratified the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and participates in UNCAC’s Conference of State Parties. Argentina also participates in the Mechanism for Follow-up on the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (MESICIC).

Since Argentina became a party to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, allegations of Argentine individuals or companies bribing foreign officials have surfaced. A March 2017 report by the OECD Working Group on Bribery indicated there were 13 known foreign bribery allegations involving Argentine companies and individuals as of that date. According to the report, Argentine authorities investigated and closed some of the allegations and declined to investigate others. The authorities determined some allegations did not involve foreign bribery but rather other offenses. Several such allegations remained under investigation.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at the government agency or agencies that are responsible for combating corruption:

Felix Pablo Crous
Director
Government of Argentina Anti-Corruption Office
Oficina Anticorrupción, 25 de Mayo 544, C1002ABL, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires.
Phone: +54 11 5300 4100
Email:  anticorrupcion@jus.gov.ar  and http://denuncias.anticorrupcion.gob.ar/ 

Contact at a “watchdog” organization:
Poder Ciudadano (Local Transparency International Affiliate)
Piedras 547, C1070AAK, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires
Phone: +54 11 4331 4925 ext. 225
Fax: +54 11 4331 4925
Email: comunicaciones@poderciudadano.org 
Website: http://www.poderciudadano.org 

10. Political and Security Environment

Demonstrations are common in metropolitan Buenos Aires and in other major cities and rural areas. Nevertheless, political violence is not widely considered a hindrance to the investment climate in Argentina.

Protesters regularly block streets, highways, and major intersections, causing traffic jams and delaying travel. While demonstrations are usually non-violent, individuals sometimes seek confrontation with the police and vandalize private property. Groups occasionally protest in front of the U.S. Embassy or U.S.-affiliated businesses. In March 2022, thousands protested in front of Congress against a bill approving a new agreement with the IMF.

In December 2017, while Congress had called an extraordinary session to address the retirement system reforms, several demonstrations against the bill turned violent, causing structural damage to public and private property, injuries to 162 people (including 88 policemen), and arrests of 60 people. The demonstrations ultimately dissipated, and the government passed the bill.

Union disputes and politicized worker movements are common in CABA and the Provinces. In 2019 and early 2020, foreign-owned diamond mining companies in Neuquén were targeted by work stoppages and insider attacks in failed attempts to intimidate and force employers to increase salaries and benefits. These protesters were seemingly allowed to act without fear of response from local police forces, even after direct requests for assistance had been made. The companies believe the unions and protesters feel emboldened by the government’s stance towards Western companies and were forced to shut down operations for weeks in December 2019 and January 2020, in fear of the safety of their personnel at the local headquarters.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Argentine workers are among the most highly educated and skilled in Latin America. Foreign investors often cite Argentina’s skilled workforce as a key factor in their decision to invest in Argentina. Argentina has relatively high social security, health, and other labor taxes, however, high labor costs are among foreign investors’ most often cited operational challenges. The unemployment rate dropped to 8.6 percent at the end of 2021, according to official statistics. The government estimated unemployment for workers below 29 years old as more than double the national rate. Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, analysts estimate informality that it stands between 20 to 40 percent.

During 2020, the Argentine government implemented measures to alleviate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and employment. The government introduced measures to stimulate the economy and employment through public works and price limits; to protect workers in the workplace by promoting telework and offering leave for workers; and to support jobs and worker income by prohibiting employers from terminating employment. The government also facilitated social dialogue between the private sector and unions. The government has postponed implementation of Argentina’s ambitious Teleworking Contracts Regime, Law 27555, passed by Congress on July 30, 2020, and ratified by President Fernandez on August 14, 2020. The law entered into force on April 1, 2021. This law provides the legal framework for teleworking in employment settings that allow it.

Labor laws are comparatively protective of workers in Argentina, and investors cite labor-related litigation as an important factor increasing labor costs in Argentina. For example, one of the first measures passed by President Fernandez after he took office was Decree 34/2019 which established that employees dismissed without cause have the right to double the legal severance payment, the measure was extended until December 31, 2021, through Decree 39/2021. There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in the Foreign Trade Zones. Organized labor plays an important role in labor-management relations and in Argentine politics. Under Argentine law, the Ministry of Labor recognizes one union per sector per geographic unit (e.g., nationwide, a single province, or a major city) with the right to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement for that sector and geographic area. Roughly 40 percent of Argentina’s formal workforce is unionized. The Ministry of Labor ratifies collective bargaining agreements. Collective bargaining agreements cover workers in a given sector and geographic area whether they are union members or not, so roughly 70 percent of the workforce was covered by an agreement. While negotiations between unions and industry are generally independent, the Ministry of Labor often serves as a mediator. Argentine law also offers recourse to mediation and arbitration of labor disputes.

During 2021, the Ministry of Labor registered 855 labor and collective bargaining agreements. These agreements covered approximately 5.4 million workers.

Tensions between management and unions occur. Many managers of foreign companies say they have good relations with their unions. Others say the challenges posed by strong unions can hinder further investment by their international headquarters. Depending on how sectors are defined, some activities such as oil and gas production or aviation involve multiple unions, which can lead to inter-union power disputes that can impede the companies’ operations.

The Fernandez government does not intend to pursue a broad labor reform bill, preferring instead to allow firms and workers to negotiate any adjustments to labor conditions through the collective bargaining process. The Ministry of Labor has indicated interest in proposing a “gig economy” bill (ley de plataformas) that would extend basic labor rights to, e.g., delivery workers coordinated through information technology applications. Labor-related demonstrations in Argentina occurred periodically in 2021. Reasons for strikes include job losses, high taxes, loss of purchasing power, and wage negotiations. Labor demonstrations may involve tens of thousands of protestors. Past demonstrations have essentially closed sections of a city for a few hours or impeded traffic.

The Ministry of Labor has hotlines and an online website to report labor abuses, including child labor, forced labor, and labor trafficking. The Superintendent of Labor Risk (Superintendencia de Riesgos del Trabajo) has oversight of health and safety standards. Unions also play a key role in monitoring labor conditions, reporting abuses and filing complaints with the authorities. Argentina has a Service of Mandatory Labor Conciliation (SECLO), which falls within the Ministry of Labor. Provincial governments and the city government of Buenos Aires are also responsible for labor law enforcement.

The minimum age for employment is 16. Children between the ages of 16 and 18 may work in a limited number of job categories and for limited hours if they have completed compulsory schooling, which normally ends at age 18. The law requires employers to provide adequate care for workers’ children during work hours to discourage child labor. The Department of Labor’s 2020 Worst Form of Child Labor for Argentina can be accessed here: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/argentina 

The Department of State’s 2020 Human Rights Report for Argentina can be accessed here:

https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/argentina/

Argentine law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, nationality, religion, political opinion, union affiliation, or age. The law also prohibits employers, either during recruitment or time of employment, from asking about a worker’s political, religious, labor, and cultural views or sexual orientation. These national anti-discrimination laws also apply to labor relations and other social relations.

Argentina has been a member of the International Labor Organization since 1919.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $389,064 2020 $383.10 www.worldbank.org/en/country

www.indec.gob.ar

Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 N/A 2020 $8.730 billion BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 N/A 2020 $627 million BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 N/A 2020 1.0% UNCTAD data available at

https://unctad.org/topic/investment/
world-investment-report   

* Source for Host Country Data: Not available

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (through 2020)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 84,319 100% Total Outward 40,985 100%
United States 20,015 23.74% Uruguay 19,715 48.10%
Spain  4,013 13.58% United States 5,242 12.79%
Netherlands 9,997 11.86% Paraguay 2,439 5.95%
Brazil 4,614 5.47% Mexico 1,323 3.23%
Chile 4,237 5.02% Brazil 649 1.58%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

 

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section
U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires
Avenida Colombia 4300
(C1425GMN)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
+54-11-5777-474
ECONBA@state.gov

Brazil

Executive Summary

Brazil is the second largest economy in the Western Hemisphere behind the United States, and the twelfth largest economy in the world (in nominal terms) according to the World Bank. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) named Brazil the seventh largest destination for global foreign direct investment (FDI) flows in 2021 with inflows of $58 billion, an increase of 133percent in comparison to 2020 but still below pre-pandemic levels (in 2019, inflows totaled $65.8 billion). In recent years, Brazil has received more than half of South America’s total amount of incoming FDI, and the United States is a major foreign investor in Brazil. According to Brazilian Central Bank (BCB) measurements, U.S. stock was 24 percent ($123.9 billion) of all FDI in Brazil as of the end of 2020, the largest single-country stock by ultimate beneficial owner (UBO), while International Monetary Fund (IMF) measurements assessed the United States had the second largest single-country stock of FDI by UBO, representing 18.7 percent of all FDI in Brazil ($105 billion) and second only to the Netherlands’ 19.9 percent ($112.5 billion). The Government of Brazil (GoB) prioritized attracting private investment in its infrastructure and energy sectors during 2018 and 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 delayed planned privatization efforts and despite government efforts to resume in 2021, economic and political conditions hampered the process.

The Brazilian economy resumed growth in 2017, ending the deepest and longest recession in Brazil’s modern history. However, after three years of modest recovery, Brazil entered a recession following the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic in 2020. The country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased 4.6 percent in 2021, in comparison to a 4.1 percent contraction in 2020. As of February 2022, analysts had forecasted 0.3 percent 2022 GDP growth. The unemployment rate was 11.1 percent at the end of 2021, with over one-quarter of the labor force unemployed or underutilized. The nominal budget deficit stood at 4.4 percent of GDP ($72.4 billion) in 2021, and is projected to rise to 6.8 percent by the end of 2022 according to Brazilian government estimates. Brazil’s debt-to-GDP ratio reached 89.4 percent in 2020 and fell to around 82 percent by the end of 2021. The National Treasury projections show the debt-to-GDP ratio rising to 86.7 percent by the end of 2022, while the Independent Financial Institution (IFI) of Brazil’s Senate projects an 84.8 percent debt-to-GDP ratio. The BCB increased its target for the benchmark Selic interest rate from 2 percent at the end of 2020 to 9.25 percent at the end of 2021, and 11.75 percent in March 2022. The BCB’s Monetary Committee (COPOM) anticipates raising the Selic rate to 12.25 percent before the end of 2022.

President Bolsonaro took office on January 1, 2019, and in that same year signed a much-needed pension system reform into law and made additional economic reforms a top priority. Bolsonaro and his economic team outlined an agenda of further reforms to simplify Brazil’s complex tax system and complicated code of labor laws in the country, but the legislative agenda in 2020 was largely consumed by the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the Brazilian government passed a major forex regulatory framework and strengthened the Central Bank’s autonomy in executing its mandate. The government also passed a variety of new regulatory frameworks in transportation and energy sectors, including a major reform of the natural gas market. In addition, the government passed a law seeking to improve the ease of doing business as well as advance the privatization of its major state-owned enterprise Electrobras.

Brazil’s official investment promotion strategy prioritizes the automobile manufacturing, renewable energy, life sciences, oil and gas, and infrastructure sectors. Foreign investors in Brazil receive the same legal treatment as local investors in most economic sectors; however, there are foreign investment restrictions in the health, mass media, telecommunications, aerospace, rural property, and maritime sectors. The Brazilian congress is considering legislation to liberalize restrictions on foreign ownership of rural property.

Analysts contend that high transportation and labor costs, low domestic productivity, and ongoing political uncertainties hamper investment in Brazil. Foreign investors also cite concerns over poor existing infrastructure, rigid labor laws, and complex tax, local content, and regulatory requirements; all part of the extra costs of doing business in Brazil.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perception Index 2021 96 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 57 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 $70,742 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 $7,850 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Most state-owned and private sector corporations of any significant size in Brazil pursue corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. Brazil’s new CFIAs (see sections on bilateral investment agreements and dispute settlement) contain CSR provisions. Some corporations use CSR programs to meet local content requirements, particularly in information technology manufacturing. Many corporations support local education, health, and other programs in the communities where they have a presence. Brazilian consumers, especially the local residents where a corporation has or is planning a local presence, generally expect CSR activity. Corporate officials frequently meet with community members prior to building a new facility to review the types of local services the corporation will commit to providing. Foreign and local enterprises in Brazil often advance United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of their CSR activity, and will cite their local contributions to SDGs, such as universal primary education and environmental sustainability. Brazilian prosecutors and civil society can be very proactive in bringing cases against companies for failure to implement the requirements of the environmental licenses for their investments and operations. National and international nongovernmental organizations monitor corporate activities for perceived threats to Brazil’s biodiversity and tropical forests and can mount strong campaigns against alleged misdeeds. A common challenge for foreign businesses, especially as it relates to child and forced labor, is a lack of transparency in supply chains.

The U.S. diplomatic mission in Brazil supports U.S. business CSR activities through the +Unidos Group (Mais Unidos), a group of multinational companies established in Brazil, which support public and private CSR alliances in Brazil. Additional information can be found at: www.maisunidos.org  

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of the Treasury

Department of Labor

Climate Issues

Brazil is the world’s 12th largest greenhouse gas emitter. At COP 26 in November 2021, Brazil committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, ten years ahead of its previous commitment, ending illegal deforestation by 2028, and announced a plan to implement a Brazilian carbon market in 2022. However, rates of illegal deforestation continue to rise from a 2012 low; in 2021, illegal deforestation increased by 22 percent from the previous year. Private sector operators, especially in the agricultural sector, are concerned that consumer reaction to environmental issues in Brazil, especially deforestation in the Amazon Basin, could result in the boycott of Brazilian exports and a loss of market share. Such boycotts have already occurred in some supermarket chains in Europe.

Brazil established a National Policy on Climate Change in 2009 for climate change mitigation, adaptation, and consolidation of a low carbon economy. During COP 26 in Glasgow, Brazil published guidelines to update its national climate strategy, focusing on consolidating various initiatives to develop a low carbon economy. The strategy includes goals such as eliminating illegal deforestation, restoring forests, a “National Green Growth Plan,” and financing directed at developing a green economy.

In biodiversity, the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment coordinates and supports actions aimed at identifying species of native fauna and flora, monitoring and evaluating the conservation status of an increasingly significant portion of these species. To ensure the conservation of native species, the Ministry creates development models that encourage the sustainable use of biodiversity, along the lines of what is encouraged under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

In October 2021, the government launched the National Green Growth Program. The Program uses new resources from the BRICS Development Bank for forest conservation projects, the rational use of natural resources, and the generation of green jobs. The new program will have national and international resources, public and private, reimbursable and non-reimbursable impact funds and risk investments. The plan focuses on six areas: renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, low-emission industry, basic sanitation, waste treatment, and ecotourism. At the program launch, the Brazilian Ministry of Environment stated that the federal government has a total credit line of 411 billion reais ($82.2 million) allocated for green projects. However, critics argue that the program is just a repackaging of several initiatives that already existed in the government, claiming that of the 400 billion reais planned, only 12 billion ($2.4 million, 3 percent of the total) were new funds.

At COP 26, Brazil signed the Global Methane Pledge to reduce global methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. In February 2022, the Ministry of Environment announced that it would soon present a “Methane Zero” plan that would incentivize biomethane capture/production from landfills, sugar cane waste, and dairy barns; however, as of March 2022 the plan has not been announced.

The government expects active participation from the private sector through contributions to the Ministry of Environment’s projects. For example, the “Adopt-a-Park” program was established to gather resources for the conservation of national parks and is directed at national and foreign companies or individuals that are interested in contributing to environmental protection in Brazil. Through the program, resources are invested by the adopter in services such as remote monitoring, wildland firefighting and prevention, actions against illegal deforestation, and recovery of degraded areas.

In 2019, Brazil launched the National Biofuels Policy (RenovaBio) to comply with its Paris Agreement commitments by promoting the expansion of biofuels in the energy matrix and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The policy established annual national decarbonization targets for the fuel sector, divided into mandatory individual targets for fuel distributors. To comply with the targets, fuel distributors purchase Decarbonization Credits (CBIO), a financial asset tradable on the stock exchange since 2020 derived from the certification of the biofuel production process and that corresponds to one ton of carbon dioxide. According to the Brazilian government, the program reached 85 percent of its targets in 2021, preventing the emission of 24 million tons of greenhouse gases and trading $212 million-worth of CBIOs in the stock market.

9. Corruption

Brazil has laws, regulations, and penalties to combat corruption, but enforcement activities against corruption are inconsistent. Several bills to revise the country’s regulation of the lobbying/government relations industry have been pending before Congress for years. Bribery is illegal, and a bribe by a Brazilian-based company to a foreign government official can result in criminal penalties for individuals and administrative penalties for companies, including fines and potential disqualification from government contracts. A company cannot deduct a bribe to a foreign official from its taxes. While federal government authorities generally investigate allegations of corruption, there are inconsistencies in the level of enforcement among individual states. Corruption is problematic in business dealings with some authorities, particularly at the municipal level. U.S. companies operating in Brazil are subject to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Brazil signed the UN Convention against Corruption in 2003 and ratified it in 2005. Brazil is a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and a participating member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery. It was one of the founders, along with the United States, of the intergovernmental Open Government Partnership, which seeks to help governments increase transparency.

In 1996, Brazil signed the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption (IACAC), developed within the Organization of American States (OAS). It was incorporated in Brazil by Legislative Decree 152 and went into force in 2002.

In 2020, Brazil ranked 96th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. The full report can be found at: https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/2021 

From 2014-2021, the complex federal criminal investigation known as Operação Lava Jato (Operation Carwash) investigated and prosecuted a complex web of public sector corruption, contract fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion stemming from systematic overcharging for government contracts, particularly at parastatal oil company Petrobras. The investigation led to the arrests and convictions of Petrobras executives, oil industry suppliers, executives from Brazil’s largest construction companies, money launderers, former politicians, and political party operators. Appeals of convictions and sentences continue to work their way through the Brazilian court system. On December 25, 2019, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro signed a packet of anti-crime legislation into law, which included several anti-corruption measures. The new measures include regulation of immunity agreements – information provided by a subject in exchange for reduced sentence – which were widely used during Operation Carwash. The legislation also strengthens Brazil’s whistleblower mechanisms, permitting anonymous information about crimes against the public administration and related offenses. Operation Carwash was dissolved in February 2021. In March 2021, the OECD established a working group to monitor anticorruption efforts in Brazil.

In December 2016, Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht and its chemical manufacturing arm Braskem agreed to pay the largest FCPA penalty in U.S. history and plead guilty to charges filed in the United States, Brazil, and Switzerland that alleged the companies paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to government officials around the world. The U.S. Department of Justice case stemmed directly from the Lava Jato investigation and focused on violations of the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. Details on the case can be found at: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/odebrecht-and-braskem-plead-guilty-and-agree-pay-least-35-billion-global-penalties-resolve  

In January 2018, Petrobras settled a class-action lawsuit with investors in U.S. federal court for $3 billion, which was one of the largest securities class action settlements in U.S. history. The investors alleged that Petrobras officials accepted bribes and made decisions that had a negative impact on Petrobras’ share value. In September 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Petrobras would pay a fine of $853.2 million to settle charges that former executives and directors violated the FCPA through fraudulent accounting used to conceal bribe payments from investors and regulators.

In October 2020, Brazilian meatpacking and animal protein company JBS reached two settlements in the United States to pay fines to settle charges of corruption. The company is part of the J&F Group, which was also a part of the settlements. The group agreed to pay over $155 million in fines for violations of U.S. laws due to misconduct by J&F and failure to maintain accounting records by JBS. Lava Jato investigations also resulted in the arrest of several JBS executives who also signed plea bargains in the 2020 settlements.

Resources to Report Corruption

Secretaria de Cooperação Internacional – Ministério Público Federal

SAF Sul Quadra 04 Conjunto C Bloco “B” Sala 509/512

pgr-internacional@mpf.mp.br 
stpc.dpc@cgu.gov.br 
https://www.gov.br/cgu/pt-br/anticorrupcao 

Transparência BrasilR. Bela Cintra, 409; Sao Paulo, Brasil+55 (11) 3259-6986http://www.transparencia.org.br/contato

10. Political and Security Environment

Strikes and demonstrations occasionally occur in urban areas and may cause temporary disruption to public transportation. Brazil has over 41,000 murders annually, with low rates of murder investigation case completions and convictions.

Non-violent pro- and anti-government demonstrations have occurred periodically in recent years.

Although U.S. citizens usually are not targeted during such events, U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Brazil are advised to take common-sense precautions and avoid any large gatherings or any other event where crowds have congregated to demonstrate or protest. For the latest U.S. State Department guidance on travel in Brazil, please consult www.travel.state.gov.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The Brazilian labor market is composed of approximately 107.8 million workers, including employed (95.7 million) and unemployed (12 million). Among employed workers, 38.95 million (40.7 percent) work in the informal sector. Brazil had an unemployment rate of 11.1 percent in the last quarter of 2021, although that rate was more than double (22.8 percent) for workers ages 18-24. Low-skilled employment dominates Brazil’s labor market. The nearly 40 million workers in the informal sector do not receive the full benefits that formal workers enjoy under Brazil’s labor and social welfare system. The informal market represents approximately 16.8 percent of Brazil’s GDP. In 2021, employees’ average monthly income reached the lowest level in recorded history, at R$ 2,587 ($488).

Since 2012, women have on average been unemployed at a higher rate than their male counterparts, a scenario worsened by the pandemic. Between 2012 and 2019, the difference in average employment rates between men and women was 3.3 percentage points. In 2020, the average rate difference reached 4.5 percentage points and in 2021, 5.8 percentage points. In the last quarter of 2021, the Brazilian men’s unemployment rate was 9 percent, while the women’s unemployment rate was 13.9 percent. This discrepancy in employment rates is also traditionally observed for people of color in Brazil: while unemployment rates for whites is 9 percent (below the national average), blacks and mixed-race unemployment rates are significantly higher, at 13.6 percent and 12.6 percent respectively.

Foreign workers made up less than one percent of the overall labor force, but the arrival of more than 305,000 economic migrants and refugees from Venezuela since 2016 has led to large local concentrations of foreign workers in the border state of Roraima and the city of Manaus. Since April 2018, the Brazilian government, through Operation Welcome’s voluntary interiorization strategy, has relocated more than 68,000 Venezuelans from the northern border region to cities with more economic opportunities. Migrant workers within Brazil play a significant role in the agricultural sector.

Workers in the formal sector contribute to the Time of Service Guarantee Fund (FGTS) the amount of one month’s salary over the course of a year. If a company terminates an employee, the employee can access the full amount of their FGTS contributions, or if the employee leaves voluntarily they are entitled to 20 percent of their contributions. Brazil’s labor code guarantees formal sector workers 30 days of annual leave and severance pay in the case of dismissal without cause. Unemployment insurance also exists for laid-off workers, equal to the country’s minimum salary (or more depending on previous income levels) for six months. The government does not waive any labor laws to attract investment.

Collective bargaining is common, and there are 17,630 labor unions operating in Brazil in 2022. Labor unions, especially in sectors such as metalworking and banking, are well organized in advocating for wages and working conditions. In some sectors, federal regulations mandate collective bargaining negotiations across the entire industry. A new labor law in November 2017 ended mandatory union contributions, which has reduced union finances by as much as 90 percent according to the Inter-Union Department of Statistics and Socio-economic Studies (DIEESE). According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), the share of unionized workers dropped to 11.2 percent of the workforce in 2019. The Ministry of Labor reported 7,854 collective bargaining agreements in 2021, an increase compared to the 6,118 agreements reported in 2020. Employer federations also play a significant role in both public policy and labor relations. Each state has its own federations of industry and commerce, which report respectively to the National Confederation of Industry (CNI), headquartered in Brasilia, and the National Confederation of Commerce (CNC), headquartered in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil has a dedicated system of labor courts that are charged with resolving routine cases involving unfair dismissal, working conditions, salary disputes, and other grievances. Labor courts have the power to impose an agreement on employers and unions if negotiations break down and either side appeals to the court system. As a result, labor courts routinely are called upon to determine wages and working conditions in various industries across the country. The labor courts system has millions of pending legal cases on its docket, although the number of new filings has decreased since November 2017 labor law reforms.

Strikes occur periodically, particularly among public sector unions. A strike organized by truckers’ unions protesting increased fuel prices paralyzed the Brazilian economy in May 2018 and led to billions of dollars in losses to the economy. Trucker strikes in 2021, however, had more limited impact.

Brazil has ratified 98 International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions and is party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and major ILO conventions concerning the prohibition of child labor, forced labor, and discrimination. For the past four years (2018-2021), the Department of Labor, in its annual publication “Findings on the Worst forms of Child Labor,” has recognized Brazil for its moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. On July 28, 2021, President Jair Bolsonaro re-established the Ministry of Labor and Welfare as a separate ministry, reversing its January 2019 merger into the Ministry of Economy. In 2021, the GoB inspected 443 properties, resulting in the rescue of 1,937 victims of forced labor. Additionally, in 2020 GoB officials removed 810 child workers from situations of child labor, compared to 1,040 children in 2019.

Colombia

Executive Summary

With improving security conditions in metropolitan areas, a market of 50 million people, an abundance of natural resources, and an educated and growing middle-class, Colombia continues to be an attractive destination for foreign investment in Latin America. Colombia ranked 67 out of 190 countries in the “Ease of Doing Business” index of the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report (most recent report).

The Colombian economy grew by 10.6 percent in 2021, the largest increase in gross domestic product (GDP) since the statistical authority started keeping records in 1975. This followed a 6.8 percent collapse in 2020 due to the negative effects of the pandemic and lower oil prices, the first economic contraction in more than two decades. In July 2021, rating agencies Fitch and Standard & Poor’s (S&P) downgraded Colombia below investment grade status, citing the increasing fiscal deficit (7.1 percent of GDP for 2021) as the main reason for the downgrade. The Colombian Government passed a tax reform that entered into effect in January 2022, the Social Investment Law, that seeks to reactivate the economy, generate employment, and contribute to the fiscal stability of the country.

Colombia’s legal and regulatory systems are generally transparent and consistent with international norms. The country has a comprehensive legal framework for business and foreign direct investment (FDI). The 2012 U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CTPA) has strengthened bilateral trade and investment. Colombia’s dispute settlement mechanisms have improved through the CTPA and several international conventions and treaties. Weaknesses include protection of intellectual property rights (IPR), as Colombia has yet to implement certain IPR-related provisions of the CTPA. Colombia became the 37th member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2020, bringing the obligation to adhere to OECD norms and standards in economic operations.

The Colombian government has made a concerted effort to develop efficient capital markets, attract investment, and create jobs. Restrictions on foreign ownership in specific sectors still exist. FDI inflows increased 4.8 percent from 2020 to 2021, with 67 percent of the 2021 inflow dedicated to the extractives sector. Roughly half of the Colombian workforce in metropolitan areas is employed in the informal economy, a share that increases to four-fifths in rural areas. In 2021, the unemployment rate was 13.7 percent with 3.4 million people unemployed. The employed population reached 21.6 million, an increase of 0.9 percent compared to 2020.

Since the 2016 peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia has experienced a significant decrease in terrorist activity. Several powerful narco-criminal operations still pose threats to commercial activity and investment, especially in rural zones outside of government control.

Corruption remains a significant challenge. The Colombian government continues to work on improving its business climate, but U.S. and other foreign investors continue to voice complaints about non-tariff, regulatory, and bureaucratic barriers to trade, investment, and market access at the national, regional, and municipal levels. Stakeholders express concern that some regulatory rulings in Colombia target specific companies, resulting in an uneven playing field. Investors generally have access at all levels of the Colombian government, but cite a lack of effective and timely consultation with regulatory agencies in decisions that affect them. Investors also note concern regarding the national competition and regulatory authority’s (Superintendencia de Industria y Comercio, SIC) differing rulings for different companies on similar issues, and slow processing at some regulatory agencies, such as at food and drug regulator INVIMA.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 87 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 67 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 $7,767 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 $5,790 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Since 2015, the Government of Colombia has concentrated its industrial and commercial enterprises under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance. According to Ministry’s 2019 annual report, there are 105 state-owned companies, with a combined value of USD 20 billion. The government is the majority shareholder of 39 companies and a minority shareholder in the remaining 66. Among the most notable companies with a government stake are Ecopetrol (Colombia’s majority state-owned and privately-run oil company), ISA (electricity distribution), Banco Agrario de Colombia, Bancoldex, and Satena (regional airline). SOEs competing in the Colombian market do not receive non-market-based advantages from the government. The Ministry of Finance normally updates their annual report on SOEs every June. Decree 2111 of 2019, formalized the creation of financial holding company Grupo Bicenterario. The holding company seeks to optimize the administration of Colombia’s state-owned enterprises, centralize property rights, and incorporate recommendations from the OECD regarding the composition of their boards of directors.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

In 2020, the Colombian government released its second National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights for the period 2020-2022, which responds to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Colombia also adheres to the corporate social responsibility (CSR) principles outlined in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. CSR cuts across many industries and Colombia encourages public and private enterprises to follow OECD CSR guidelines. Beneficiaries of CSR programs include students, children, populations vulnerable to Colombia’s armed conflict, victims of violence, and the environment. Larger companies structure their CSR programs in accordance with accepted international principles. Companies in Colombia have been recognized on an international level for their CSR initiatives, including by the State Department.

9. Corruption

Corruption, and the perception of it, is a serious obstacle for companies operating or planning to invest in Colombia. Analyses of the business environment, such as the WEF Global Competitiveness Index, consistently cite corruption as a problematic factor, along with high tax rates, inadequate infrastructure, and inefficient government bureaucracy. Transparency International’s latest “Corruption Perceptions Index” ranked Colombia 87nd out of 180 countries assessed and assigned it a score of 39/100, a slight improvement from the year prior. Customs, taxation, and public works contracts are commonly-cited areas where corruption exist and there are multiple corruption convictions and investigations involving the highest levels of government, including former Supreme Court Justices, ministers, and regional governors.

Colombia has adopted the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and is a member of the OECD Anti-Bribery Committee. It also passed a domestic anti-bribery law in 2016. In 2021, Colombia implemented a law that increased private sector responsibilities to implement internal prevention procedures and liability for participating in acts of corruption related to public contracting. Colombia has signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention and adopted the OAS Convention against Corruption. The CTPA protects the integrity of procurement practices and criminalizes both offering and soliciting bribes to/from public officials. It requires both countries to make all laws, regulations, and procedures regarding any matter under the CTPA publicly available. Both countries must also establish procedures for reviews and appeals by any entities affected by actions, rulings, measures, or procedures under the CTPA.

10. Political and Security Environment

Security in Colombia has improved significantly over recent years, most notably in large urban centers. Terrorist attacks and powerful narco-criminal group operations pose a threat to commercial activity and investment in some rural zones where government control is weak. In 2016, Colombia signed a peace agreement with the FARC to end half a century of confrontation. Congressional approval of that peace accord put in motion a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process, which granted the FARC status as a legal political organization and took over 13,000 combatants off the battlefield. Currently the peace negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN), which began in 2017, are suspended. This terrorist group continues a low-cost, high-impact asymmetric insurgency, including an attack on the Colombian police academy in 2019 that killed 22 cadets. The ELN often focuses attacks on oil pipelines, mines, roads, and electricity towers to disrupt economic activity and pressure the government. The ELN also extorts businesses in their areas of operation, kidnaps personnel, and destroys property of entities that refuse to pay for protection.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

An OECD economic survey of Colombia was published in February 2022. The report mentions Colombia’s economy has recovered well from the COVID-19 crisis, but that the labor market remains weak. Colombia has one of the highest levels of poverty, income inequality, and labor market informality in Latin America. At the end of 2021, 46.8 percent of the urban workforce was working in the informal economy, with the national average hovering around 60 percent. The overall unemployment rate was 13.7 percent. The Colombian workforce has a wide range of skills, including managerial-level employees who are often bilingual, but faces large skills gaps and challenges in labor productivity. Colombia has made strong efforts to incorporate Venezuelan migrants into the formal economy, most notably the February 2021 announcement of ten-year Temporary Protected Status for the country’s estimated 1.8 million Venezuelan migrants.

Labor rights in Colombia are set forth in its Constitution, the Labor Code, the Procedural Code of Labor and Social Security, sector-specific legislation, and ratified international conventions, which are incorporated into national legislation. Colombia’s Constitution guarantees freedom of association and provides for collective bargaining and the right to strike (with some exceptions). It also addresses forced labor, child labor, trafficking, discrimination, protections for women and children in the workplace, minimum wages, working hours, skills training, and social security. Colombia has ratified all eight of the International Labor Organization’s (ILO’s) fundamental labor conventions, and all are in force. Colombia has also ratified conventions related to hours of work, occupational health and safety, and minimum wage.

The 1991 Constitution protects the right to constitute labor unions. Pursuant to Colombia’s labor law, any group of 25 or more workers, regardless of whether they are employees of the same company or not, may form a labor union. Employees of companies with fewer than 25 employees may affiliate themselves with other labor unions. Colombia has a low trade union density (9.5 percent). Where unions are present, multiple affiliation sometimes poses challenges for collective bargaining. The largest and most influential unions are composed mostly of public-sector employees, particularly of the majority state-owned oil company and the state-run education sector. Only 6.2 percent of all salaried workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), according to the OECD. The Ministry of Labor has expressed commitment to working on decrees to incentivize sectoral collective bargaining and to strengthen union representation within companies and regulate strikes in the essential public services sector. Strikes, when held in accordance with the law, are recognized as legal instruments to obtain better working conditions, and employers are prohibited from using strike-breakers at any time during the course of a strike. After 60 days of strike action, the parties are subject to compulsory arbitration. Strikes are prohibited in certain “essential public services,” as defined by law, although Colombia has been criticized for having an overly-broad interpretation of “essential.”

Foreign companies operating in Colombia must follow the same hiring rules as national companies, regardless of the origin of the employer and the place of execution of the contract. No labor laws are waived to attract or retain investment. In 2010, Law 1429 eliminated the mandatory proportion requirement for foreign and national personnel; 100 percent of the workforce, including the board of directors, can be foreign nationals. Labor permits are not required in Colombia, except for minors of the minimum working age. Foreign employees have the same rights as Colombian employees. Employers may use temporary service agencies to subcontract additional workers for peaks of production. Employers must receive advance permission from the Ministry of Labor before undertaking permanent layoffs. The Ministry of Labor typically does not grant permission to lay off workers who have enhanced legal protections (for example, those with work-related injuries or union leaders). The Ministry of Labor has committed to address using temporary or contract workers for jobs that are not temporary in nature, although significant challenges remain in this area.

Reputational risks to investors come with a lack of effective and systematic enforcement of labor law, especially in rural sectors. Homicides of unionists (social leaders) remain an ongoing concern. In January 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a public report of review in response to a submission filed under Chapter 17 (the Labor Chapter) of the CTPA by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and five Colombian workers’ organizations that alleged failures on the part of the government to protect labor rights in line with CTPA commitments. In October 2021, the Department of Labor published the second periodic review of progress to address issues identified in the submission report. For these reports and additional information on labor law enforcement see:

14. Contact for More Information

U.S. Embassy Bogota
Economic Section
Carrera 45 #22B-45, Bogota, Colombia
(+57)1 275-2000
BogotaECONShared@state.gov

Mexico

Executive Summary

In 2021, Mexico was the United States’ second largest trading partner in goods and services.  It remains one of our most important investment partners.  Bilateral trade grew 482 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 a stock of USD 184.9 billion (2020 per the International Monetary Fund’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey).

The Mexican economy averaged 2.1 percent GDP growth from 1994 to 2021, contracted 8.3 percent in 2020 — its largest ever annual decline — and rebounded 5 percent in 2021.  Exports surpassed pre-pandemic levels by five percent thanks to the reopening of the economy and employment recovery.  Still, supply chain shortages in the manufacturing sector, the COVID-19 omicron variant, and increasing inflation caused the economic rebound to decelerate in the second half of 2021.  Mexico’s conservative fiscal policy resulted in a primary deficit of 0.3 percent of GDP in 2021, and the public debt decreased to 50.1 percent from 51.7 percent of GDP in 2020.  The newly appointed Central Bank of Mexico (or Banxico) governor committed to upholding the central bank’s independence.  Inflation surpassed Banxico’s target of 3 percent ± 1 percent at 5.7 percent in 2021.  The administration maintained its commitment to reducing bureaucratic spending to fund an ambitious social spending agenda and priority infrastructure projects, including the Dos Bocas Refinery and Maya Train.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) entered into force July 1, 2020 with Mexico enacting legislation to implement it.  Still, the Lopez Obrador administration has delayed issuance of key regulations across the economy, complicating the operating environment for telecommunications, financial services, and energy sectors.  The Government of Mexico (GOM) considers the USMCA to be a driver of recovery from the COVID-19 economic crisis given its potential to attract more foreign direct investment (FDI) to Mexico.

Investors report the lack of a robust fiscal response to the COVID-19 crisis, regulatory unpredictability, a state-driven economic policy, and the shaky financial health of the state oil company Pemex have contributed to ongoing uncertainties.  The three major ratings agencies (Fitch, Moody’s, and Standard and Poor’s) maintained their sovereign credit ratings for Mexico unchanged from their downgrades in 2020 (BBB-, Baa1, and BBB, lower medium investment grade, respectively).  Moody’s downgraded Pemex’s credit rating by one step to Ba3 (non-investment) July 2021, while Fitch and S&P maintained their ratings (BB- and BBB, lower medium and non-investment grades, respectively.  Banxico cut Mexico’s GDP growth expectations for 2022, to 2.4 from 3.2 percent, as did the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to 2.8 percent from the previous 4 percent estimate in October 2021.  The IMF anticipates weaker domestic demand, ongoing high inflation levels as well as global supply chain disruptions in 2022 to continue impacting the economy.  Moreover, uncertainty about contract enforcement, insecurity, informality, and corruption continue to hinder sustained Mexican economic growth.  Recent efforts to reverse the 2013 energy reforms, including the March 2021 changes to the electricity law (found to not violate the constitution by the supreme court on April 7 but still subject to injunctions in lower courts), the May 2021 changes to the hydrocarbon law (also enjoined by Mexican courts), and the September 2021 constitutional amendment proposal prioritizing generation from the state-owned electric utility CFE, further increase uncertainty.  These factors raise the cost of doing business in Mexico.

Table 1:  Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 124 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi#
Global Innovation Index 2021 55 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $184,911

1st out of top 5

https://data.imf.org/?sk=40313609-
F037-48C1-84B1-E1F1CE54D6D5&
sId=1482331048410
World Bank GNI per capita  (current US$) 2020 $8,480 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

There are two main SOEs in Mexico, both in the energy sector.  Pemex operates the hydrocarbons (oil and gas) sector, which includes upstream, mid-stream, and downstream operations.  Pemex historically contributed one-third of the Mexican government’s budget but falling output and global oil prices alongside improved revenue collection from other sources have diminished this amount over the past decade to about 8 percent.  The Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) operates the electricity sector.  While the GOM maintains state ownership, the 2013 constitutional reforms granted Pemex and CFE management and budget autonomy and greater flexibility to engage in private contracting.

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.

9. Corruption

Corruption exists in many forms in the GOM and society, including corruption in the public sector (e.g., demand for bribes or kickbacks by government officials) and private sector (e.g., fraud, falsifying claims, etc.), as well as conflict of interest issues, which are not well defined in the Mexican legal framework.

Government and law enforcement officials are sometimes complicit with criminal elements, posing serious challenges for the rule of law.  Some of the most common reports of official corruption involve government officials stealing from public coffers, creating fake companies to divert public funds, or demanding bribes in exchange for not prosecuting criminal activity or awarding public contracts.  The current administration supported anti-corruption reforms (detailed below) and judicial proceedings in several high-profile corruption cases, including former governors.  However, Mexican civil society asserts that the government must take more systematic, effective, and frequent action to address corruption at the institutional level.

Mexico adopted a constitutional reform in 2014 to transform the current Office of the Attorney General into an Independent Prosecutor General’s office to increase its independence.  President Lopez Obrador’s choice for Prosecutor General was confirmed by the Mexican Senate January 18, 2019.  In 2015, Mexico passed a constitutional reform creating the National Anti-Corruption System (SNA) with an anti-corruption prosecutor and a citizens’ participation committee to oversee efforts.  The system is designed to provide a comprehensive framework for the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of corruption cases, including delineating acts of corruption considered criminal acts under the law.  The legal framework establishes a basis for holding private actors and private firms legally liable for acts of corruption involving public officials and encourages private firms to develop internal codes of conduct.  After seven years of operation, commentators attribute few successes to the SNA.  The implementation status of the mandatory state-level anti-corruption legislation varies.

The reform mandated a redesign of the Secretariat of Public Administration to give it additional auditing and investigative functions and capacities in combatting public sector corruption.  Congress approved legislation to change economic institutions, assigning new responsibilities and in some instances creating new entities.  Reforms to the federal government’s structure included the creation of a General Coordination of Development Programs to manage the federal-state coordinators (“superdelegates”) in charge of federal programs in each state.  The law also created the Secretariat of Public Security and Citizen Protection, and significantly expanded the power of the president’s Legal Advisory Office (Consejería Jurídica) to name and remove each federal agency’s legal advisor and clear all executive branch legal reforms before their submission to Congress.  The law eliminated financial units from ministries, with the exception of the Secretariat of Finance, SEDENA, and SEMAR, and transferred control of contracting offices in other ministries to the Hacienda.  Separately, the law replaced the previous Secretariat of Social Development (SEDESOL) with a Welfare Secretariat in charge of coordinating social policies, including those developed by other agencies such as health, education, and culture.  The Labor Secretariat gained additional tools to foster collective bargaining, union democracy, and to meet International Labor Organization (ILO) obligations.

Mexico ratified the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery and passed its implementing legislation in May 1999.  The legislation includes provisions making it a criminal offense to bribe foreign officials.  Mexico is also a party to the Organization of American States (OAS) Convention against Corruption and has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption.  The government has enacted or proposed laws attacking corruption and bribery, with average penalties of five to 10 years in prison.

Mexico is a member of the Open Government Partnership and enacted a Transparency and Access to Public Information Act in 2015, which revised the existing legal framework to expand national access to information.  Transparency in public administration at the federal level improved noticeably but expanding access to information at the state and local level has been slow.  According to Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perception Index, Mexico ranked 124 of 180 nations.  Civil society organizations focused on fighting corruption are high-profile at the federal level but are few in number and less powerful at the state and local levels.

Business representatives, including from U.S. firms, believe public funds are often diverted to private companies and individuals due to corruption and perceive favoritism to be widespread among government procurement officials.  The GAN Business Anti-Corruption Portal states compliance with procurement regulations by state bodies in Mexico is unreliable and that corruption is extensive, despite laws covering conflicts of interest, competitive bidding, and company blacklisting procedures.

The U.S. Embassy has engaged in a broad-based effort to work with Mexican agencies and civil society organizations in developing mechanisms to fight corruption and increase transparency and fair play in government procurement.  Efforts with specific business impact include government procurement best practices training and technical assistance under the U.S. Trade and Development Agency’s Global Procurement Initiative.  Mexico ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption in 2004.  It ratified the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 1999.

10. Political and Security Environment

Mass demonstrations are common in the larger metropolitan areas and in the southern Mexican states of Guerrero and Oaxaca. While political violence is rare, drug and organized crime-related violence has increased significantly in recent years. Political violence is also likely to accelerate in the run-up to the June 2022 elections as criminal actors seek to promote election of their preferred candidates. The national homicide rate dropped to 27 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2021 from 29 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2020, although aggregate homicides remain near all-time highs. For complete security information, please see the Safety and Security section in the Consular Country Information page at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Mexico.html. Conditions vary widely by state. For a state-by-state assessment please see the Consular Travel Advisory at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/mexico-travel-advisory.html.

Companies have reported general security concerns remain an issue for those looking to invest in the country. The American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico estimates in a biannual report that security expenses cost business as much as 5 percent of their operating budgets. Many companies choose to take extra precautions for the protection of their executives. They also report increasing security costs for shipments of goods. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) monitors and reports on regional security for U.S. businesses operating overseas. OSAC constituency is available to any U.S.-owned, not-for-profit organization, or any enterprise incorporated in the United States (parent company, not subsidiaries or divisions) doing business overseas ( https://www.osac.gov/Country/Mexico/Detail ).

11. Labor Policies and Practices

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’s 56 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. In the formal economy, there exist large labor shortages due to a system that incentivizes informality. 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 due to wages sometimes being less that what can be earned in the informal economy, although the recent increases in the minimum wage are leading to increases in entry level wages which are attracting more workers. Shortages of skilled workers and engineers continue due to a mismatch between industry needs and what schools teach. Mexico has one of the lowest female labor participation rates in the OECD, 45 percent to a 76 percent male participation rate among people legally allowed to work (15 years or older). Barriers for female workers include the culturally assigned role for them as caretakers of children and the elderly. Most Mexican workers work for a micro business (41 percent) and 59 percent earn between USD 8.6 and USD 17 per day. The unemployment rate in Mexico has maintained a stable path ranging from 3.5 percent to 4.9 percent (its highest peak during the pandemic). This rate, however, masks the high level of underemployment (14.8 percent) in Mexico (those working part time or in the informal sector when they want full time, formal sector jobs). For 2020 the informal economy accounted for 22 percent of total Mexican GDP according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography. Informal businesses span across all economic activities from agriculture to manufacturing. In Mexico labor informality also spans across all economic activities with formal businesses employing both formal and informal workers to reduce their labor costs.

On May 1, 2019, Lopez Obrador signed into law a sweeping reform of Mexico’s labor law, implementing a constitutional change and focusing on the labor justice system. The reform replaces tripartite dispute resolution entities (Conciliation and Arbitration Boards) with independent judicial bodies and conciliation centers. In terms of labor dispute resolution mechanisms, the Conciliation and Arbitration Boards (CABs) previously adjudicated all individual and collective labor conflicts. Under the reform, collective bargaining agreements will now be adjudicated by federal labor conciliation centers and federal labor courts.

Labor experts predict the labor reform will result in a greater level of labor action stemming from more inter-union and intra-union competition. The Secretariat of Labor, working closely with Mexico’s federal judiciary, as well as state governments and courts, created an ambitious state-by-state implementation agenda for the reforms, which started November 18, 2020, and will end during the second semester of 2022. On November 18, 2020 the first phase of the labor reform implementation began in eight states: Durango, State of Mexico, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas, Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco, and Hidalgo. On November 3, 2021 the second phase started in 13 additional states, and the third phase will start during 2022 in 11 states. Further details on labor reform implementation can be found at: www.reformalaboral.stps.gob.mx .

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, of which more than half are believed to be protection contracts. As of March 7, 2022, 3,267 collective bargaining contracts have been legitimized (reviewed and voted on by the workers covered by them), according to the Secretariat of Labor. The reform requires all collective bargaining agreements to be submitted to a free, fair, and secret vote every two years with the objective of getting existing protectionist contracts voted out. The increasingly permissive 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.

The USMCA’s labor chapter (Chapter 23) contains specific commitments on union democracy and labor justice which relate directly to Mexico’s 2019 labor reform and its implementation. In addition, the USMCA’s dispute settlement chapter (Chapter 31) includes a facility-specific labor rapid response mechanism to address labor rights issues and creates the ability to impose facility specific remedies to ensure remediation of such situations.

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
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2021 MXN 26,213 billion* 2021 USD 1,293 billion *https://www.inegi.org.mx/

https://www.imf.org/en/
Publications/WEO

Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($billion USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2020 USD 184.9  billion IMF’s CDIS:
https://data.imf.org/?sk=40313609-
F037-48C1-84B1-E1F1CE54D6D5&sId=
1482331048410
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2020 USD 20.9 billion BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2021 2.45%* 2020 2.7% *https://www.inegi.org.mx/
UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html

 

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data* 2020
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 545,612 100 % Total Outward 189,536 100 %
United States 184,911 34 % United States 96,706 51 %
Netherlands 112,657 21 % Spain 21,543 11 %
Spain 88,430 16 % United Kingdom 17,163 9 %
Canada 35,664 7 % Brazil 10,203 5 %
United Kingdom 25,423 5 % Netherlands 8,908 5 %
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

* data from the IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CCIS)
( https://data.imf.org/?sk=40313609-F037-48C1-84B1-E1F1CE54D6D5&sId=1482331048410 )

14. Contact for More Information

William Ayala
AyalaWM@state.gov
Economic Section
U.S. Embassy in Mexico
Paseo de la Reforma 305
Colonia Cuauhtemoc
06500 Mexico, CDMX

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