Transparency of the Regulatory System
In the 2020 World Bank Doing Business report, Brazil ranked 124th out of 190 countries in terms of overall ease of doing business in 2019, a decrease of 15 positions compared to the 2019 report. According to the World Bank, it takes approximately 17 days to start a business in Brazil. Brazil is seeking to streamline the process and decrease the amount to time it takes to open a small or medium enterprise (SME) to five days through its RedeSimples Program. Similarly, the government has reduced regulatory compliance burdens for SMEs through the continued use of the SIMPLES program, which simplifies the collection of up to eight federal, state, and municipal-level taxes into one single payment.
The 2020 World Bank study noted Brazil’s lowest score was in annual administrative burden for a medium-size business to comply with Brazilian tax codes at an average of 1,501 hours, a significant improvement from 2019’s 1,958 hour average, but still much higher than the 160.7 hour average of OECD high-income economies. The total tax rate for a medium-sized business is 65.1 percent of profits, compared to the average of 40.1 percent in OECD high-income economies. Business managers often complain of not being able to understand complex — and sometimes contradictory — tax regulations, despite having large local tax and accounting departments in their companies.
Tax regulations, while burdensome and numerous, do not generally differentiate between foreign and domestic firms. However, some investors complain that in certain instances the value-added tax collected by individual states (ICMS) favors locally-based companies who export their goods. Exporters in many states report difficulty receiving their ICMS rebates when their goods are exported. Taxes on commercial and financial transactions are particularly burdensome, and businesses complain that these taxes hinder the international competitiveness of Brazilian-made products.
Of Brazil’s ten federal regulatory agencies, the most prominent include:
- ANVISA, the Brazilian counterpart to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has regulatory authority over the production and marketing of food, drugs, and medical devices;
- ANATEL, the country’s telecommunications agency, which handles telecommunications as well as licensing and assigning of radio spectrum bandwidth;
- ANP, the National Petroleum Agency, which regulates oil and gas contracts and oversees auctions for oil and natural gas exploration and production;
- ANAC, Brazil’s civil aviation agency;
- IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental licensing and enforcement agency; and
- ANEEL, Brazil’s electricity regulator that regulates Brazil’s power sector and oversees auctions for electricity transmission, generation, and distribution contracts.
In addition to these federal regulatory agencies, Brazil has at least 27 state-level regulatory agencies and 17 municipal-level regulatory agencies.
The United States and Brazil conduct regular discussions on trade facilitation, good regulatory practices, and standards. The 17th plenary of the Commercial Dialogue took place in September 2019, and regular exchanges at the working level between U.S. Department of Commerce, Brazil’s Ministry of Economy, and other agencies and regulators occur throughout the year.
Regulatory agencies complete Regulatory Impact Analyses (RIAs) on a voluntary basis. The Senate approved a bill on Governance and Accountability (PLS 52/2013 in the Senate, and PL 6621/2016 in the Chamber) into Law 13,848 in June 2019. Among other provisions, the law makes RIAs mandatory for regulations that affect “the general interest.”
The Chamber of Deputies, Federal Senate, and the Office of the Presidency maintain websites providing public access to both approved and proposed federal legislation. Brazil is seeking to improve its public comment and stakeholder input process. In 2004, the GoB opened an online “Transparency Portal” with data on funds transferred to and from federal, state, and city governments, as well as to and from foreign countries. It also includes information on civil servant salaries.
In 2019, the Department of State found that Brazil had met its minimum fiscal transparency requirements in its annual Fiscal Transparency Report. The Open Budget Index ranked Brazil on par with the United States in terms of budget transparency in its most recent (2017) index. The Brazilian government demonstrates adequate fiscal transparency in managing its federal accounts, although there is room for improvement in terms of completeness of federal budget documentation. Brazil’s budget documents are publicly available, widely accessible, and sufficiently detailed. They provide a relatively full picture of the GoB’s planned expenditures and revenue streams. The information in publicly available budget documents is considered credible and reasonably accurate.
International Regulatory Considerations
Brazil is a member of Mercosul – a South American trade bloc whose full members include Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. While Brazil routinely implements Mercosul common regulations, it still adheres to Brazilian regulations.
Brazil is a member of the WTO and the government regularly notifies draft technical regulations, such as potential agricultural trade barriers, to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Brazil has a civil legal system with state and federal courts. Investors can seek to enforce contracts through the court system or via mediation, although both processes can be lengthy. The Brazilian Superior Court of Justice (STJ) must accept foreign contract enforcement judgments for the judgments to be considered valid in Brazil. Among other considerations, the foreign judgement must not contradict any prior decisions by a Brazilian court in the same dispute. The Brazilian Civil Code regulates commercial disputes, although commercial cases involving maritime law follow an older Commercial Code which has been otherwise largely superseded. Federal judges hear most disputes in which one of the parties is the Brazilian State and also rule on lawsuits between a foreign state or international organization and a municipality or a person residing in Brazil.
The judicial system is generally independent. The Supreme Federal Court (STF), charged with constitutional cases, frequently rules on politically sensitive issues. State court judges and federal level judges below the STF are career officials selected through a meritocratic examination process. The judicial system is backlogged, however, and disputes or trials of any sort frequently require years to arrive at a final resolution, including all available appeals. Regulations and enforcement actions can be litigated in the court system, which contains mechanisms for appeal depending upon the level at which the case is filed. The STF is the ultimate court of appeal on constitutional grounds; the STJ is the ultimate court of appeal for cases not involving constitutional issues.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Brazil is in the process of setting up a “one-stop-shop” for international investors. According to its website: “The Direct Investments Ombudsman (DIO) is a ‘single window’ for investors, provided by the Executive Secretariat of CAMEX. It is responsible for receiving requests and inquiries about investments, to be answered jointly with the public agency responsible for the matter (at the Federal, State and Municipal levels) involved in each case (the Network of Focal Points). This new structure allows for supporting the investor, by a single governmental body, in charge of responding to demands within a short time.” Private investors have noted this is better than the prior structure, but still has kinks that need to be massaged to effectively become a true “one-stop-shop” to facilitate international investment. The DIO’s website in English is: http://oid.economia.gov.br/en/menus/8
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The Administrative Council for Economic Defense (CADE), which falls under the purview of the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for enforcing competition laws, consumer protection, and carrying out regulatory reviews of proposed mergers and acquisitions. CADE was established in 2011 through Law 12529, combining the antitrust functions of the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Finance. The law brought Brazil in line with U.S. and European merger review practices and allows CADE to perform pre-merger reviews, in contrast to the prior legal regime that had the government review mergers after the fact. In October 2012, CADE performed Brazil’s first pre-merger review.
In 2019, CADE conducted 433 total formal investigations, of which 89 related to cases that allegedly challenged the promotion of the free market. It approved 406 merger and/or acquisition requests and did not reject any requests.
Expropriation and Compensation
Article 5 of the Brazilian Constitution assures property rights of both Brazilians and foreigners that own property in Brazil. The Constitution does not address nationalization or expropriation. Decree-Law 3365 allows the government to exercise eminent domain under certain criteria that include, but are not limited to, national security, public transportation, safety, health, and urbanization projects. In cases of eminent domain, the government compensates owners at fair market value.
There are no signs that the current federal government is contemplating expropriation actions in Brazil against foreign interests. Brazilian courts have decided some claims regarding state-level land expropriations in U.S. citizens’ favor. However, as states have filed appeals of these decisions, the compensation process can be lengthy and have uncertain outcomes.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
In 2002, Brazil ratified the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards. Brazil is not a member of the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Brazil joined the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) in 2010, and its membership will expire in 2022.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Article 34 of the 1996 Brazilian Arbitration Act (Law 9307) defines a foreign arbitration judgment as any judgment rendered outside the national territory. The law established that the Superior Court of Justice (STJ) must ratify foreign arbitration awards. Law 9307, updated by Law 13129/2015, also stipulates that a foreign arbitration award will be recognized or executed in Brazil in conformity with the international agreements ratified by the country and, in their absence, with domestic law. A 2001 Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (STF) ruling established that the 1996 Brazilian Arbitration Act, permitting international arbitration subject to STJ Court ratification of arbitration decisions, does not violate the Federal Constitution’s provision that “the law shall not exclude any injury or threat to a right from the consideration of the Judicial Power.”
Contract disputes in Brazil can be lengthy and complex. Brazil has both a federal and a state court system, and jurisprudence is based on civil code and contract law. Federal judges hear most disputes in which one of the parties is the State and rule on lawsuits between a foreign State or international organization and a municipality or a person residing in Brazil. Five regional federal courts hear appeals of federal judges’ decisions. The 2020 World Bank Doing Business report found that on average it took 801 days to litigate a breach of contract.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Brazil ratified the 1975 Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (Panama Convention) and the 1979 Inter-American Convention on Extraterritorial Validity of Foreign Judgments and Arbitration Awards (Montevideo Convention). Law 9307/1996 amplifies Brazilian law on arbitration and provides guidance on governing principles and rights of participating parties. Brazil developed a new Cooperation and Facilitation Investment Agreement (CFIA) model in 2015 (https://concordia.itamaraty.gov.br/ ), but it does not include ISDS mechanisms. (See sections on bilateral investment agreements and responsible business conduct.)
Brazil’s commercial code governs most aspects of commercial association, while the civil code governs professional services corporations. In 2005, bankruptcy legislation (Law 11101) went into effect creating a system modeled on Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code. Critics of Law 11101 argue it grants equity holders too much power in the restructuring process to the detriment of debt holders. Brazil is drafting an update to the bankruptcy law aimed at increasing creditor rights, but it has not yet been presented in Congress. The World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report ranks Brazil 77th out of 190 countries for ease of “resolving insolvency.”