In line with our objectives, VTZ Law Firm has developed a Doing Business in Mexico Guide with a strong focus on foreign investment in manufacturing activities. It is our goal as trusted advisors and business facilitators to guide foreign investors, providing insights in a concise manner.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, economists predicted that Mexico was heading to be the seventh economy of the world in 2050. Mexico would be growing at a 3.5% annual average rate over the next three decades, a growth rate superior to that of developed economies. Mexico’s size of the economy, demographic, sound macroeconomics, stable public finances, as well as recent amendments to strategic economic sectors have contributed to a better economic performance according to the OECD.
Today, Mexico is one of the most attractive foreign investment destinations. Besides being the 15th largest economy in the world, Mexico is a “free market” economy that is opened to international trade and foreign investment. As a result, Mexico has a highly diversified economy, modern industries, and a developed financial market. This is the result of a shift from protectionist towards liberal economic policies since the beginning of the 1990s, particularly, with the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Needless to say, there is still much work to be done to improve the general conditions of life for Mexicans, as well as for the business environment. For instance, the World Economic Forum identifies Mexico’s five most problematic factors for business: corruption, crime and theft, inefficient government bureaucracy, tax rates, and tax regulations. However, there is hope. In recent years, business facilitation measures have been in the political agenda as well as tackling corruption, which is now more relevant than ever as a result of Mexico’s modern free trade agreements (FTAs). In fact, it is clear that Mexico’s competitiveness relies on its extensive FTAs network as a pivotal force for its economic development.
Therefore, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which entered into force in July 2020, will continue to consolidate the country as an attractive business destination as long as Mexico successfully implements said agreement.
Mexico is living a historic moment. The political map changed significantly following the general elections held in July 2018. Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), and his party, the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), have continued the trend to promote, for instance, free trade agreements, but they have also adopted new and controversial policies. For instance, Mexico’s investment and trade promotion agency, PROMEXICO, was extinguished as result of “austerity” measures.
Vázquez Tercero & Zepeda (VTZ) seeks to fill that void and promote Mexico as a business destination for international companies and foreign investors in an honest and concise manner. This is why VTZ has developed Doing Business in Mexico 2020, which is divided into seven chapters:
In these executive guides, VTZ aims to help and to provide insights regarding relevant legal topics on business, trade, tax, and labor for potential investors, that seek to reap the best out of Mexico and the manufacturing industry.
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Business Law, Creating a Company in Mexico, Doing Business in Mexico, featured, Foreign Direct Investment, Guide, International Trade, labor, Manufacturing Industry, Migration in Mexico, Taxation in Mexico
Our first chapter of Doing Business in Mexico, Why Invest in Mexico?, will serve as an introduction providing a general overview of the current economic and business environment.
VTZ Law Firm analyzes Mexico’s doing business rankings and economic indicators –positive and negative– from the World Bank and the World Economic Forum.
Also, we summarize trade and foreign direct investment statistics with a strong focus on the manufacturing industry, land in Mexico for industrial purposes, and security considerations.
Although Mexico is not one of the most competitive countries in the world, Mexico is the second Latin American most competitive economy according to the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the World Bank (WB). WEF’s Global Competitiveness Index 2019, a yardstick for policymakers, analyzes 12 “broad” pillars that shape an economy of a country. Meanwhile, the WB’s Doing Business gathers information regarding the regulatory environment and how it impacts in local firms, reporting 10 key indicators.
Mexico stands out in macroeconomic stability (41st) and market size (11th) pillars, which are very relevant indicators to invest or do business in Mexico. This is no surprise as Mexico’s inflation has been controlled, around 3% to 4% per year; its GDP has had a stable growth, about 3%, in the last decades; and, its public debt has been properly managed.
Needless to say, inflation has had few spikes, notably in 2017, as a result of the liberalization of energy goods; and, despite having the second largest market of Latin America (124 million people), Mexico has a low GDP per capita or purchasing power.
Furthermore, Mexico also stands out in the following specific indicators: budget transparency (6th), energy efficiency regulation (30th), renewable energy regulation (30th), road connectivity (22nd), airport connectivity (15th), liner shipping connectivity (34th), electricity access (% of population) (2nd), debt dynamics (36), trade openness (27), ease of hiring foreign labor (48), financial stability (30), cluster development (36), among others.
Mexico is ranked in 60th place overall, out of 190 economies, and is one of the top business-friendly environments in Latin America, only behind Chile that ranks in the 59th position. Mexico’s top three topics or indicators are getting credit (11th), resolving insolvency (33), and contract enforcement (43rd).
As a result of strong legal rights in relation to collateral laws (securities) as well as a robust credit reporting system, Mexico outperforms most economies in getting credit. Mexico also has a decent performance in the resolving insolvency and contract enforcement indicators, particularly, due to time to carry out a dispute in a court (under certain assumptions) and strength of insolvency framework index.
Unsurprisingly, Mexico underperforms in the Institution and Labor Market pillars of the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Index 2019. Although serious legislative steps have been made on security, corruption, and “regulatory improvement”, Mexico continues to rank particularly low in a handful of matters that fall under the Institution pillar such as security (138th), burden of government regulation (116th), judicial efficiency (116th), judicial independence (103rd), as well as incidence to corruption (116th).
Insecurity is a concern not only for foreign investors. We note that the new administration has pushed for constitutional and legal reforms that have overhauled security bodies, the attorney general’s office, and powers to the Tax Authority (SAT, acronym in Spanish) against tax evasion schemes. The Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF, acronym in Spanish) has been tackling high profile individuals and companies that are allegedly involved in laundering money or in corrupt practices.
As for the Labor Market pillar, Mexico underperforms in redundancy costs (e.g. severance of labor contracts) (103rd), as well as labour tax rates (116). Needless to say, Mexican Labor Law has undergone a significant overhaul as a result of USMCA’s Labor Chapter, which seeks to protect collective labor rights. However, neither redundancy costs nor labor tax rates (i.e. a state tax) were addressed in such reform.
Known to have a complicated tax environment, Mexico is ranked in the 120th position out of 190 economies in the Paying Taxes topic of WB’s Doing Business 2020. Under normal circumstances, a company would have to pay six taxes throughout the year, namely corporate income tax, value-added tax, security social contributions, payroll tax, property tax*, and vehicle tax*.
Despite a low number of tax payments as compared to other jurisdictions, Mexico’s tax environment is poorly ranked especially due to (1) total tax and contribution rate and (2) the post-filing index. For instance, Mexico’s statutory tax rates for the corporate income and VAT, which are the most time consuming and prone to tax audits, are set at 30% and 16% respectively. Furthermore, VAT refunds or income tax corrections take a considerable amount of time and effort.
Mexico’s also underperforms in Starting a Business (107th). Though starting a business is discussed in the Chapter – Creating a Company in Mexico, the process to incorporate a company appears, in its face, straightforward in Mexico. According to the guide, a non-foreign entrepreneur has to complete eight procedures to incorporate a company and to have all registrations in order; however, a significant practical hurdle is that concerning to the company’s registration before SAT.
Likewise, the number of procedures and time are factors that negatively affect Mexico’s score in Getting Electricity (106th), meanwhile the number of procedures, cost, among other matters, influence Mexico’s negative performance in Registering Property (105th).
Mexico’s foreign direct investment (FDI) and international trade are, to a great extent, attributable to the established manufacturing sector, which convinces foreign investors to invest in Mexico. According to UNCTAD’s World Investment Report 2020, Mexico is the 14th country with most FDI inflows in the world in 2019. In sum, Mexico is a top FDI destination.
As noted by the WEF, Mexico has a strong cluster development. This feature explains why almost half of Mexico’s FDI inflows are related to the manufacturing sector.
Investment Inflows in the Mexican Manufacturing Sector
The top five manufacturing sub-sectors that have attracted investment from 1999 to 2019 are (1) transport equipment (e.g. auto), (2) beverages and tobacco, (3) chemical, (4) computer, communication, and measurement equipment, and (5) the food industry.
For instance, FDI in the transport equipment (or auto sector) has amounted to 79,053 million USD since 1999, which represents 21% of Mexico’s total foreign direct investment inflows as noted in the table below:
Mexico has different levels of industrialization. In fact, most of the manufacturing sector has established itself in the north and the center of the country. For instance, the (passenger) auto industry and the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturers) are located in the States as indicated in the image below.
International Trade and Manufactured Goods
Establishing itself as an important manufacturing hub, Mexico is an economy with a significant presence in international trade. Mexico ranks in 12th place among world economies in both exports and imports, its trade balance amounts to 916 billion USD in 2019. The World Trade Organization describes Mexico as:
“a ‘buyer’ in GVCs and therefore has a significant rate of GVC backward participation, standing at 36 percent in 2015. The economy imports inputs mostly from the United States and China to produce its exports.”
Mexico’s main exports include (1) manufactured goods, (2) fuels and mining products, (3) agricultural products that amount a total of 461 billion USD.
In 2019, Mexico exported 461 billion USD. Unsurprisingly, Mexico’s main export destination is USA exports amounting to $371 billion USD, followed by the European Union $24 billion USD, Canada $14 billion USD, and China $7 billion USD%.
As for import data, US imports amount to 205.733 billion USD, China 83.052 billion USD, European Union imports amount to 51.237 billion USD, Japan 17.963 billion USD, and Korea 17.649 billion USD
Comparing the US-China trade relations, US exports more goods in value to Mexico than to China. For instance, US exports to China amounted to $106 billion in 2019.
Land in Mexico may be purchased or leased for industrial purposes. Needless to say, Mexican law has restrictions as to the ownership of land when, for instance, it is located in the northern border strip or near the coastline (see our Foreign Investment Chapter)…..
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Mexico limps from security-related matters that affect its competitiveness indicators significantly, which may affect decisions to invest in Mexico. We cannot turn a blind eye on this fact, and foreign investors normally pose the question:
How risky is Mexico?
The American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico (Amcham), which we are members, published…
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 World Trade Organization, World Trade Statistical Review 2019, pg. 43
In our Trading Room economic newsletter, we address Robert Lighthizer’s appearance before the U.S. Senate to share the 2020 Trade Policy Agenda, where he commented on possible USMCA Labor Disputes and the use of the rapid response labor mechanism as well as WTO actions; we also address the selection process for the WTO Director-General.
On Thursday, June 17, the US Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, appeared before the Senate to share the Trade Policy Agenda 2020. We highlight the following two points of his participation:
Lighthizer noted that as of July 1, the U.S. will meet with the corresponding committees to discuss the possible use of TMEC’s enforcement mechanisms in environmental and labor matters.
In labor matters, the dispute settlement mechanisms are essentially the State-State dispute settlement panels (chapter 31 of the TMEC) and the rapid response labor mechanism
Mexican news outlets have reported that the possible first labor disputes could relate to child labor and forced labor issues, particularly in the agricultural sector; however, the freedom of association (i.e. unions) and collective bargaining should not be excluded.
The US-Mexico Bar Association (USMBA) earlier this month organized the webinar “Labor & Trade: Is Mexico Ready for USMCA’s Labor Chapter?”, where our Jr. Partner Emilio Arteaga participated. The panelists discussed the rapid response labor mechanism as well as the current labor environment in Mexico, the video of the webinar is available in the USMBA’s website:
In addition, VTZ will organize a series of Labor & Trade webinar (in Spanish) on the specific challenges for the Mexican manufacturing industry. If you are interested in attending, please click the following link:
Regarding environmental disputes, it is reported that it could be about agricultural biotech products because Mexico has not granted the necessary permits to import said goods since 2018.
Robert Lighthizer also noted that the U.S. bound tariffs in the WTO are outdated; U.S. bound tariffs are notoriously low with an overall 4.6%.
In this sense, Mr. Lighthizer pointed out that the U.S.’ bound tariffs no longer reflect the economic and political conditions of WTO members, some who continue to maintain very high tariffs compared to the U.S.
In short, the U.S. may seek to increase its bound tariffs in the WTO. If such event occurs, such change would impact products originating from WTO members that do not have a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., such as China However, all WTO members must agree with any change regarding in the Schedule of Concessions (i.e. the bound tariffs) of another WTO Member. In other words, the process is not unilateral and requires negotiations.
It should be noted that since last year, President Trump has questioned the developing status of certain WTO members (e.g. China) and the benefits that it entails.
On June 8, 2020, the Mexican government formally submitted Jesús Seade, USMCA chief negotiator and current Under Minister for North America, as a candidate for the Director-General of the World Trade Organization.
Seade’s candidacy sparked diverse opinions among renowned Mexican professionals in the international trade arena that were reported on a news outlet. For example, an opinion is that the Director-General must have a certain status, that is being an ex-minister or former head of state, and he must have sufficient leadership to overcome the paralysis situation in the WTO.
It is expected that the selection process will last 3 months, so the WTO may have a new Director-General by the 1st of September. So far, three other candidates appear along with the Seade: the Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Egyptian Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh, and the Moldovan Mr. Tudor Ulianovschi.
In the end, how much will the Mexican reactions affect Seade’s aspirations to Director-General?