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 You are in: Under Secretary for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs > Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs > Finance and Development > Organization > Investment Affairs > Investment Climate Statements: 2005

Honduras

2005 INVESTMENT CLIMATE STATEMENT -- HOUNDURAS

Openness to Foreign Investment

The Honduran government is generally open to foreign investment and welcomes it. Restrictions and performance requirements are fairly limited. U.S. companies tend to encounter problems investing in infrastructure and a few visible large projects like the airport, telecom and energy sectors, as domestic companies seek ways to keep the competition out.

In recent years, the Honduran government has taken steps to create a more favorable investment climate, especially in key sectors including energy and tourism. Relatively low labor costs, proximity to the U.S. market, and Central America’s best Caribbean port (Puerto Cortés) have also made Honduras increasingly attractive to investors. At the same time, however, Honduras’ investment climate is hampered by high levels of crime, a weak judicial system, high levels of corruption, low educational levels among the population, a troubled financial sector, and limited infrastructure.

The Constitution of Honduras requires that all foreign investment complement, but not substitute for, national investment. Companies that wish to take advantage of the Agrarian Reform Law, engage in commercial fishing, forestry, or local transportation activities, serve as representatives, agents, or distributors for foreign companies, or operate radio and television stations must be majority-owned by Hondurans.

The 1992 Investment Law, which still largely governs investment conditions in Honduras, guarantees national treatment to foreign private firms in Honduras, with only a few exceptions. The law does not limit foreign ownership of businesses, except for those specifically reserved for Honduran investors, i.e., small firms with capital less than 150,000 Lempiras (approx. $8,000). For all investments, at least 90 percent of a company’s labor force must be Honduran, and at least 85 percent of the payroll must be paid to Hondurans.

Additionally, government authorization is required for both foreign and domestic investors in the following areas:

- Basic health services,

- Telecommunications,

- Generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity,

- Air transport,

- Fishing, hunting and aquaculture,

- Exploitation of forestry resources,

- Investigation, exploration, and exploitation of mines, quarries, petroleum and related substances,

- Agricultural and agro-industrial activities exceeding land tenancy limits established by the Agricultural Modernization Law of 1992 and the Land Reform Law of 1974,

- Insurance and financial services, and

- Private education services.

Under the Government Contracting Law, which entered into force in October 2001, all public works contracts over one million lempiras (about $53,400 as of February 2005) must be offered through public competitive bidding. Public contracts between 500,000 and one million lempiras ($26,700 and $53,400) can be offered through a private bid, and contracts less than 500,000 lempiras ($26,700) are exempt from the bidding process. Currently, to participate in public tenders, foreign firms are required to act through a local agent (at least 51 percent Honduran-owned). The Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), if ratified, will eliminate this requirement. (For more on CAFTA-DR see section B, Bilateral Investment Agreements, below.)

In theory, foreign firms are granted national treatment for public bids. In practice, many U.S. firms complain about the mismanagement and lack of transparency of government bid processes. Under CAFTA-DR, U.S. suppliers will be granted non-discriminatory rights to bid on contracts from most Central American government entities, including key ministries and state-owned enterprises. CAFTA-DR also requires fair and transparent procurement procedures, such as advance notice of purchases and timely and effective bid review procedures.

The 1992 Investment Law requires that all local and foreign direct investment be registered with the Investment Office in the Ministry of Industry and Trade. Upon registration, an investor is issued an investment certificate, which provides investment protection under the law and guarantees investors’ international arbitration rights. The registration process is cumbersome and companies can expect delays in registering their company.

In 2002, the Government of Honduras ratified a law on simplification of administrative procedures in establishing a company. Through this new legislation, the government hoped to streamline procedures and eliminate a series of administrative obstacles involved in the process, reducing the steps for establishing an office from up to six months to a maximum of 40 days. Foreign businesses setting up operations in Honduras are subject to the Commercial Code, which recognizes several types of mercantile organizations: individual ownership, general partnership, simple limited partnership, limited liability company, corporation and joint stock company.

Management of Honduras’ four international airports was turned over to a consortium with majority U.S. investment in October 2000, the only major privatization effort in recent years. A dispute over the financing of certain projects that the consortium agreed to undertake soon developed, and the agreement between the consortium and the government was re-negotiated in 2003, and approved by the Honduran Congress in February 2004.

In September 2003, the GOH opened the telecommunications market for joint ventures with Hondutel, Honduras' state-owned telephone monopoly. Under the new program, foreign and domestic carriers can register with Honduras' regulatory body, Conatel, as sub-contractors for Hondutel fixed telephony services. Though full privatization is not anticipated until December 2005, this is a positive step towards the liberalization of the telecom sector. Cellular telephony services are open to full private ownership.

The National Electric Company (ENEE) has turned over most of its thermal energy generation to the private sector but retains responsibility for electricity transmission and distribution, as well as for almost all hydroelectric energy generation and distribution throughout the country. The GOH is working on a project to break up ENEE distribution and is working towards privatization, though there is no firm timeline set.

The GOH is working with the U.S. Trade and Development Agency to modernize Puerto Cortés. The ENP met International Maritime Organization requirements for port security by the July 1, 2004, deadline, and has created an autonomous unit that will be responsible for the port security program. Eventual privatization of the port has been raised as a possible policy objective, but no firm plans nor deadlines have been set.

A new law enacted in October 2003 grants municipalities the right to manage water distribution themselves, and, if they wish, to grant concessions to private enterprises. The law establishes a transition period of five years from its date of publication, after which the current national water service SANAA will be disbanded and exist only to provide technical assistance to the new service providers. As of February 2005, however, little progress has been made in the implementation of the new law.

Conversion and Transfer Policies

The 1992 Investment Law guarantees foreign investors access to foreign currency needed to transfer funds associated with their investments in Honduras. This includes:

- Imports of goods and services necessary to operate,

- Payment of royalty fees, rents, annuities and technical assistance, and

- Remittance of dividends and capital repatriation.

The Central Bank uses an auction system to regulate the allocation of foreign exchange. According to auction system regulations, dollar purchases are conducted within a band ranging from 7 percent above to 7 percent below the base price established every 5 days. All individuals, foreign residents or national, can participate in auction system dollar purchases with a minimum investment of $5,000 and a maximum of $300,000. In 2004 the Honduran currency, the Lempira, depreciated by 4.7 percent against the dollar.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Honduran government has the authority to expropriate property for purposes of land reform (usually related to a land invasion by farmer groups) or for public use. Disputes related to actions by the Honduran National Agrarian Institute (INA) are common for both Honduran and foreign landowners. According to the National Agrarian Reform Law, idle land fit for farming can be expropriated and awarded to landless poor. Generally, an INA expropriation case begins after squatters target and invade unprotected property. The squatters then file for the land with the INA under the Agrarian Reform Law. In most cases, claimants have found that pursuing the subsequent legal avenues is costly and time consuming, and rarely leads to positive results. Compensation for land expropriated under the Agrarian Reform Law, when awarded, is paid in 20-year government bonds.

Dispute Settlement

The Honduran government has a poor record of handling investment disputes, due to the outdated commercial code and the weak judicial system.

The Honduran Commercial Code is the main legislation that regulates the operations of businesses in the country. This code, however, was written in 1950 and needs to be updated. The application of the Commercial Code and its regulations falls under the jurisdiction of the Honduran civil court system.

Most investment and property disputes are long lasting and arduous. U.S. claimants frequently complain about the lack of transparency and the slow administration of justice in the courts. There are also complaints that the Honduran judicial system caters to favoritism, external pressure and bribes. While some U.S. firms have satisfactorily resolved their cases through the courts, the majority have difficulty navigating the legal system. Many U.S. citizens have also complained about the quality of legal representation they receive from Honduran attorneys.

Land title disputes are extremely common in Honduras, due to the problems with the Honduran judicial system and the lack of a clear land tenure system: see Land Rights in section A.7, below.

Arbitration: Between 1997 and 2001, the Inter-American Development Bank worked with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry to establish the framework for commercial arbitration. Honduras’ Conciliation and Arbitration Law (Decree 161-2000), which seeks to encourage arbitration and clarify the procedures under which arbitration takes place, entered into force in March 2001. In September 2001, Centers for Conciliation and Arbitration were established within the Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. Arbitration and conciliation are generally considered swifter and more cost-effective means of resolving disputes between commercial entities, and there may be the additional advantage that the arbitrator or mediator may have specialized expertise in the technical area involved in the dispute. However to date, U.S. companies and U.S. citizens who have gone through an arbitration process have expressed disappointment with both the slow pace and lack of transparency of the procedure.

Honduras is not a member of the ICSID (International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes).

Performance Requirements/Incentives

There are relatively few performance requirements in Honduras. The 1992 Investment Law guarantees freedom to export and import to all foreign investors, and eliminates the requirement of prior administrative permits and licenses, except for statistical registries and customs procedures.

Application procedures for service suppliers in all sectors are generally simple, clear and non-discriminatory. Honduras’ service sector is widely accessible to foreign companies, including current U.S. participation in the Honduran banking, insurance and accounting markets. In both the banking and insurance sectors, the general rule is that foreign companies operate on an equal footing with local companies, so long as the foreign company establishes a branch or subsidiary in Honduras. However, there are restrictions on cross-border services and offshore operations. Insurance may not be offered on a cross-border basis, and a foreign bank wishing to operate offshore must establish a representative office in Honduras, which entails reporting requirements and other procedures which are very cumbersome. Furthermore, a Honduran branch of a foreign bank may only operate based on its capital in Honduras, not on its global or regional capital.

Honduran law prohibits discriminatory or preferential export and import policies affecting foreign investors. In practice, however, the Honduran government has at times used phyto-sanitary and zoosanitary requirements to prevent imports of U.S. poultry, milk products, pork, feed grains and rice to Honduras. Changes in sanitary and phyto-sanitary requirements are not always reported to the WTO as required, which creates uncertainty among U.S. suppliers and Honduran importers. Under CAFTA-DR, Honduras has agreed to apply the science-based disciplines of the WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary Measures, and will move towards recognizing export eligibility for all plants inspected under the U.S. food safety and inspection system.

The Honduran government requires that sanitary permits be obtained from the Ministry of Health for all imported foodstuffs, and that all processed food products be labeled in Spanish and registered with the Division of Food Control (DFC) of the Ministry of Health. Some U.S. businesses have complained that delays in the process of granting these permits hamper their ability to import products into Honduras. U.S. companies have also reported that these regulations are not always strictly enforced for Honduran companies. If true, this lack of enforcement on the part of the Honduran government places any U.S. company that does comply with the regulations at a disadvantage.

Additional import restrictions, based mainly on public health, public morality, and national security grounds, remain in place. For example, restrictions are imposed on the importations of firearms and ammunitions, toxic chemicals and pornographic material.

U.S. citizens wishing to travel to Honduras do not need a visa prior to arrival. Foreigners interested in working in the country must obtain a resident visa from the Honduran Ministry of Government and a work permit from the Ministry of Labor. To process a request for a resident visa and work permit may take up to three months.

Incentives: In 1999, the Honduran National Congress passed a Tourism Incentives Law, which offers tax exemptions for national and international investment in tourism development projects in Honduras. The law provides income tax exemptions for the first ten years of the project and permits the duty-free import of goods needed for the project, including publicity materials. In June 2002 a reformed law was passed, offering the same basic incentives, but with a narrower definition of who may qualify for the incentives. For example, restaurants were included as a duty-free tourist activity in the 1999 law, but removed in the 2002 law. This change is due in large part to the current saturation of the fast food and restaurant market, since many franchises established locations in Honduras under the duty-free incentives of the 1999 law. Other enterprises now excluded from the law’s benefits are casinos, night clubs and movie theaters. In addition, a requirement was added that a business must be located in a designated tourism zone in order to qualify for tax exemptions and duty-free status.

For information on investment incentives offered in Free Trade Zones, see Section E, Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports, below.

Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The 1992 Investment Law guarantees both local and foreign investors the right to own property, subject to certain restrictions established by the Honduran Constitution and several laws relating to property rights. This guarantee includes the right to free acquisition, profit, use, disposition and any other right attributable to property ownership. The major exception is the constitutional prohibition of foreign ownership of land within 40 kilometers of international borders and shorelines, although Honduran law now permits foreign individuals to purchase properties in designated “tourism zones” (see section A.7, Land Rights, below.)

Investors have the right to freely establish, acquire and dispose of interests in business enterprises at market prices, under freely negotiated conditions and without government intervention. Private enterprises compete on an equal basis with public enterprises with respect to access to markets, credit and other business operations.

Protection of Property Rights

Intellectual Property Rights: Although Honduras has yet to experience large-scale in-country optical pirating, pirated goods are imported from neighboring countries, and the piracy of books, sound and video recordings, compact discs and computer software is widespread. Confiscation has been erratic, and usually involves minor seizures of compact discs. The illegitimate registration of well-known trademarks has also been a problem. Success in protecting intellectual property rights (IPR) rests primarily on the GOH’s ability to effectively implement its current laws, rather than a need for further legislation. Protection of intellectual property rights is handled by the Intellectual Property Division of the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

Honduras largely complied with the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement by the January 1, 2000, deadline. In December 1999, the Honduran Congress passed two laws to correct deficiencies in previous legislation concerning copyrights, patents and trademarks. The Copyright Law added more than 20 different criminal offenses related to copyright infringement and establishes fines and suspension of services that can be levied against offenders. The Law of Intellectual Property, which covers both trademarks and patents, included modifications on patent protection for pharmaceuticals, extending the term from seventeen to twenty years to meet international standards. As soon as two new laws governing the designs of integrated circuits and plant variety protection are approved by the National Congress, Honduras will be in complete TRIPS compliance. Current expectations are that no action will be taken on these two laws until after the ratification of CAFTA-DR.

Honduras and the U.S. initialed a bilateral IPR agreement in March 1999, but substantive issues arose during the language conformity process. Instead, recent efforts to push the GOH for additional IPR commitments were pursued as part of the CAFTA-DR negotiations. If ratified, CAFTA-DR should significantly improve the level of IPR protection in the region. Approval of CAFTA-DR by the Honduran Congress in 2005 is considered very likely.

Honduras became a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 1983, and became party to the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and the WIPO Performances and Phonogram Treaty (WPPT) in May 2002. Honduran law protects data exclusivity for a period of five years, and protects process patents, but does not recognize second-use patents.

Land Rights: Honduran laws and practices regarding real estate differ substantially from those in the United States, and there are many cases of disputed or fraudulent deeds and titles. Even areas which have been subjected to a cadastral survey have not been free of land disputes, as the lack of a single unified land registry makes adjudication of land tenure difficult. In addition, the Honduran judicial system is weak and inefficient, often prolonging disputed cases for many years before resolution. There have been claims of widespread corruption in land sales and the registry and dispute resolution process, including claims against attorneys, real estate companies, judges and local officials. Property registration often is not up to date, nor can the results of title searches be relied upon. There is no title insurance in Honduras. U.S. citizens have spent thousands of dollars in legal fees and years of frustration in trying to resolve property disputes.

A new property law passed in July 2004 should improve land registration procedures and allow for more security in land titling, and thus a reduction in land disputes. By providing clearer land title, it should also allow more people to apply for mortgages and increase land-related investments. However, the purchase of land in Honduras by foreigners should still be undertaken only with great caution.

Article 107 of the Honduran Constitution prohibits foreign ownership of property in Honduras that lies within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Fonseca, international borders, or on any of the islands and cays belonging to Honduras. However, recognizing that the constitutional prohibition of foreign property ownership in Honduras was a barrier to development of tourism and the economic potential of Honduras’ coastal and island areas, the Honduran National Congress passed a law in 1990 to allow foreigners to purchase properties in designated tourism zones established by the Ministry of Tourism in order to construct permanent or vacation homes. This law was challenged as unconstitutional in 2004, but in January 2005 the Supreme Court upheld the new law, thus permitting foreigners to continue to own littoral and frontier property.

Foreigners or foreign companies seeking to purchase property in designated tourism zones exceeding 3,000 square meters in size or for tourism or other development projects must present an application to the Honduran Tourism Institute at the Ministry of Tourism. In addition to providing the requested personal information, the potential buyer must also prove that a contract to buy a specific property exists and that it is registered with the Honduran Tourism Institute. The buyer must also present feasibility studies and plans about the proposed tourism or economic development project.

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Honduran government does not publish regulations before they enter into force and there is no formal mechanism for providing proposed regulations to the public for comment. Regulations must be published in the official government publication “The Gazette” in order to enter into force. Honduras lacks an indexed legal code and lawyers and judges must maintain and index the publication of laws on their own. Procedural red tape to obtain government approval for investment activities is very common.

Foreign market participants who are represented locally and are members of connected private sector groups essentially have access to the same information as their Honduran counterparts. The lack of a formal notification process excludes most non-governmental groups, including foreign companies, from commenting on regulations.

The Honduran legal system is not efficient or transparent: many U.S. claimants frequently complain about the lack of transparency and the slow administration of justice in the courts. There are also complaints that the Honduran judicial system caters to favoritism, external pressure and bribes. While some U.S. firms have satisfactorily resolved their cases through the courts, the majority have difficulty navigating the legal system. Many U.S. citizens have also complained about the quality of legal representation they receive from Honduran attorneys.

Efficient Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

There are no government restrictions on foreign investors' access to local credit markets. However, the local banking system is conservative and generally extends only limited amounts of credit. Interest rates have been steadily declining for several years, but remain high. As of November 2004, the average lending rate for a loan in Lempiras as was 19.67 percent, down slightly from 20.05 percent a year earlier, and for a loan in dollars was 8.47 percent, down from 9.20 percent a year earlier. Local banks should not be considered a significant source of start-up capital for new foreign ventures, unless they use specific business development credit lines made available by bilateral or multilateral financial institutions, such as the Central American Bank for Economic Integration. Loans from banks tend to be short-term, with substantial collateral and/or guarantee requirements.

There is a limited number of credit instruments available in the local market. The only security exchange operating in the country is the Central American Securities Exchange (BCV) in Tegugicalpa (www.bcv.hn). (Another securities exchange, the Honduran Securities Exchange (BHV) in San Pedro Sula, ceased operations in 2004.) The Central American Securities Exchange is supervised by the National Banking and Insurance Commission. Instruments that can be traded theoretically include bankers’ acceptances, reposition agreements, short-term promissory notes, Honduran government private debt conversion bonds and land reform repayment bonds. However, in practice, the market is nearly 100% composed of short-term government securities. No private firms currently sell commercial paper or corporate stock on the exchange. Any private business is eligible to trade its financial instruments on the exchange, and firms that participate are subject to a rigorous screening process. Historically, traded firms generally have had economic ties to the different business/financial groups represented as shareholders of the exchange, which has in the past led to lax risk management practices and an enduring loss of public confidence in the institution. Supervision of the exchange has traditionally been inadequate, even though a new law regulating security exchanges was passed in 2001. Investors should exercise caution before putting money into the BCV.

There is no regulatory body for the accounting profession in Honduras. The Association of Public Accountants is responsible for certifying practicing professionals. In general, Honduran businesses adhere to international Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). These principles are normally applied per guidelines from the Ministry of Finance's General Directorate for Taxation.

The Honduran financial system is comprised of commercial banks, state-owned banks, savings and loans and finance companies. There are currently 16 commercial banks operating in Honduras, which account for roughly 90 percent of the assets in the financial system. Of these 16 banks, 7 have majority foreign ownership, accounting for 31 percent of total bank capital (as of September 2004). There is limited off-shore banking in Honduras.

The Honduran banking sector is considered fragile and in need of consolidation. Between 1999 and 2002, four Honduran banks either collapsed or were liquidated. Bancorp collapsed in 1999 and Banhcreser in 2001; in each case allegations of corruption and wrongdoing emerged from the investigations into the causes of the bank’s failures. In 2002, the National Banking and Insurance Commission announced the forced liquidation of Banco Capital, and placed another bank, Banco Sogerin, under the supervision of the national Deposit Insurance Fund. With both Banco Sogerin and Banco Capital failing at the same time, the CNBS delayed the initial sale of Banco Sogerin for several months to prevent wider damage to the banking system. The sale of Banco Sogerin was finally announced in July 2003.

In September 2004, at the insistence of the IMF, the Honduran Congress passed a set of four financial sector reform laws that should lead to improved supervision of the banking system. The four laws reformed the Deposit Insurance Fund, the Central Bank, the National Banking and Insurance Commission, and the general system of financial supervision. A fifth law, passed in December 2004, establishes new and stronger penalties for financial crimes including bank fraud.

Political Violence

Honduras has not experienced major problems with domestic political violence. Political demonstrations do occur sporadically, and they can disrupt traffic, but they are generally announced in advance and are usually peaceful. Most major demonstrations occur in downtown Tegucigalpa. Travelers should avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place, and they should keep informed by following the local news and consulting hotel personnel and tour guides.

However, while political violence is not a major concern, levels of crime and violence are high, and do represent a major constraint on investment. In a World Bank survey conducted in 2002 of both Honduran and foreign firms operating in Honduras, one in three firms surveyed reported having suffered a criminal attack in the previous year. These attacks led to a loss of 0.9 percent of annual sales, and expenses devoted to security measures (hiring security guards, installing alarms, etc.) represented another 3.6 percent of annual sales. Total losses due to a lack of security therefore added up to 4.5 percent of sales - a significant proportion, second in the region only to Guatemala.

Corruption

Two codes regulate justice and provide for penalties against corruption: the Criminal Procedures Code (CPC) and the Penal Code (PC). In 2002, a reform of the CPC entered into force, changing the criminal judicial system from a traditional written inquisitorial trial system to an adversarial, oral, and public trial system. The new CPC is improving justice and accountability in a number of ways, including increased transparency in the criminal process.

The main responsibility for fighting corruption lies with the Public Ministry, under the direction of the Attorney General (Fiscal General). In 2002, the Government created a new control entity, the Supreme Court of Accounts (TSC) which brought together the Comptroller General of the Republic (CGR), the Directorate of Administrative Probity (Ethics office) and the Office of State Assets under one roof and under the direction of three members selected by Congress. While the TSC has undertaken numerous investigations, it has had no noticeable effect in limiting or reducing corruption in Honduras.

Historically, many U.S. firms and citizens operating in Honduras have found corruption to be a serious problem and a constraint to successful investment. In a World Bank survey conducted in 2002 of both Honduran and foreign firms operating in Honduras, corruption was identified as the single largest constraint to economic growth. In its 2004 perception survey of business persons, Transparency International named Honduras as one of the five most corrupt countries in the Western Hemisphere. Corruption appears to be most pervasive in government procurement, government permits, and in the buying and selling of real estate (land titling). With considerable U.S. help, the government is reforming Honduras' judicial system and reducing elite immunity and corruption, though serious problems remain in these areas. Bribery is a criminal act in Honduras and, depending on the degree of the offense, is subject to fines or incarceration. A bribe to a foreign official is also a criminal act under U.S. law (the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act).

Bilateral Investment Agreements

On July 12, 2001, a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between the U.S. and Honduras entered into force. The Treaty provides for equal protection under the law for U.S. investors in Honduras and permits expropriation only in accordance with international law standards and accompanied by adequate compensation. U.S. investors in Honduras also have the right to submit an investment dispute to binding international arbitration. The U.S.-Honduras Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Consular Rights (1928) provides for Most Favored Nation treatment for investors of either country. The U.S. and Honduras also signed an agreement for the guarantee of private investments in 1955 and an agreement on investment guarantees in 1966. Honduras signed a Tax Information Exchange Agreement with the U.S. in 1992.

Provisions for investment are included in bilateral commercial treaties between Honduras and Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama and the Dominican Republic. Honduras also has bilateral investment agreements with the United Kingdom and Spain.

In August 2004, Honduras signed the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), a multilateral trade agreement with the United States, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. The Honduran Congress is expected to ratify the agreement in the spring of 2005; however, the agreement will not enter force until the U.S. Congress also ratifies the agreement.

When implemented, CAFTA-DR will not only liberalize bilateral trade between the United States and the region, but will also further integration efforts among the countries of Central America, removing barriers to trade and investment in the region by U.S. companies. CAFTA-DR will also require the countries of Central America to undertake needed reforms to alleviate many of the systemic problems noted above, in areas including protection of intellectual property rights, openness of government procurement, financial services market access and protection, alleviation of sanitary and phyto-sanitary barriers, and others.

OPIC & Other Investment Insurance Programs

The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) provides loan guarantees, which are typically used for larger projects, and direct loans, which are reserved for projects sponsored by or substantially involving U.S. small businesses and cooperatives. OPIC can normally guarantee or lend from $100,000 to $250 million per project. OPIC also offers insurance against risks of currency inconvertibility, expropriation and political violence. In July 2004, OPIC concluded a new bilateral investment treaty with Honduras. The agreement updates one signed in 1966, and should streamline OPIC support for U.S. investment in Honduras.

Other countries, including Germany, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Japan provide insurance and guarantees for their companies doing business in Honduras. In addition, Honduras is a party to the World Bank's Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

Labor

Honduras has a significant availability of labor for industries with a demand for relatively low skilled workers, given the low average education level of its population. There is a limited supply of skilled workers in all technological fields, as well as in medical and high technology industries.

Union officials remain critical of what they perceive as inadequate enforcement by the Ministry of Labor (MOL) of workers' rights, particularly the right to form a union and bargain collectively, and the reinstatement of workers unjustly fired for union organizing activities. Through cooperation within the bipartite and tripartite commissions (unions, MOL, private sector) and other venues, MOL inspectors' access to maquila plants to enforce the labor code has improved, and MOL has continued to work to increase its effectiveness in enforcing worker rights and child labor laws.

The labor law prescribes a maximum 8-hour workday and 44-hour week. There is a requirement for at least one 24-hour rest period every week. The Labor Code provides for a paid vacation of 10 workdays after one year, and of 20 workdays after four years. The Constitution and Labor Code prohibit the employment of persons under the age of 16, except that a 15-year old may be permitted to work with the written permission of parents and the MOL. All persons under 18 years of age are prohibited from night work, dangerous work and full time work.

The Children's Code (September 10, 1996) prohibits a person of 14 years of age or less from working, even with parental permission, and establishes prison sentences of 3 to 5 years for individuals who allow children to work illegally. An employer who legally hires a 15-year-old must certify that the young person has finished or is finishing compulsory schooling. The MOL grants a number of work permits to 15-year-olds each year. Document fraud is prevalent among minors interested in working.

Additional information about Honduran labor legislation, including copies of the laws themselves, can be found (in Spanish only ) at www.leylaboral.com.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports

There are no known export subsidies provided by the Honduran government. The Temporary Import Law (RIT) allows exporters to introduce raw materials, parts and capital equipment (except vehicles) into Honduras exempt from surcharges and customs duties if the input is to be incorporated into a product for export (up to five percent can be sold locally). Export processing zones can be established anywhere in the country, and companies operating in export processing zones are exempt from paying import duties and other charges on goods and capital equipment. In addition, the production and sale of goods within export processing zones are exempt from state and municipal income taxes for the first ten years of operation. Companies operating in an export processing zone are permitted unrestricted repatriation of profits and capital and have access to onsite customs facilities. However, companies are required to purchase the Lempiras needed for their local operations from Honduran commercial banks or from foreign exchange trading houses registered with the Central Bank.

Most industrial parks and export processing zones are located in the northern Department of Cortés, with close access to Puerto Cortés, Honduras’ major Caribbean port, and San Pedro Sula, Honduras' major commercial city and a transportation crossroads. Industrial parks and export processing zones are treated as offshore operations. Subsequently, customs duties must be paid on products manufactured in the parks and sold in Honduras. In addition, if Honduran inputs are used in production, they are treated as exports and must be paid for in U.S. dollars. While most companies that operate in these parks are involved in apparel assembly, the government and park operators are beginning to diversify into other types of light industry, including automotive parts and electronics assembly.

Privately-owned tourism zones may be established to promote the development of the tourism industry in Honduras. The law allows the free importation of equipment, supplies, and vehicles to businesses operating in designated tourism zones, with certain restrictions (see the description of the tourism law in section A.5, above).

Foreign Direct Investment Statistics

According to Central Bank data, FDI flows to Honduras in 2003 totaled $198 million, a 13 percent increase over 2002, though still well off the historical high of $282 million reached in 2000. The U.S. continues to be the dominant source of FDI in Honduras: from 1993-2002, 44 percent of all FDI to Honduras came from the United States, and in 2002, the last year for which a country breakdown is yet available, nearly 83 percent of all direct foreign investment flows to Honduras were from the United States.

Table 1: Honduras - Foreign Investment
by Country of Origin
in US$ million

2000
2001
2002
United States
50.7
60.5
144.6
Canada
18.1
18.7
21.8
Mexico
0.2
6.6
1.2
El Salvador
9.7
-1.2
15.0
Guatemala
11.4
6.3
9.7
Nicaragua
3.2
19.5
8.3
Costa Rica
13.7
5.2
4.5
Dominican
Republic
0.1
0.1
0.1
Spain
8.7
11.0
9.0
Japan
0.5
5.3
5.3
Others
165.7
61.1
-44.3
Total
282.0
193.1
175.2

Source: Central Bank of Honduras. Country breakdown
for 2003 and 2004 not yet available as of February 2005.

Table 2: Honduras - GDP and
Foreign Investment Flows

2000
2001
2002
2003
GDP in US$m
5,952
6,247
6,405
6,709
FDI Flows
in US$m
282.0
193.1
175.7
198.0
FDI Flows
as % of GDP
4.7%
3.1%
2.7%
3.0%

Source: Central Bank of Honduras. Figures for 2003 and 2004
are not yet released as of February 2005.

Table 3: Selected Foreign Investments in Honduras

The following is a partial list of foreign firms and franchises of foreign firms operating in Honduras, with a description of the type of investment and country of origin.

Investor
Country
Type of Investment
Agro Internacional de Honduras U.S. Agricultural products
Alpha-Graphics U.S. Printing services
Alberti Food Co. U.S. Food products
Alimentos Concentrados Nacionales U.S. Veterinary food
American Airlines U.S. Air services
Americar U.S. Car distributors
America's Favorite Chicken U.S. Fast food
American Home Assurance Co. U.S. Insurance services
American International Group U.S. Insurance services
Americatel U.S. Telecommunications
Applewoods U.K. Cosmetics
Applebee's U.S. Restaurant
Arthur Andersen Consulting U.S. General business services
Astaldi ITA Engineering
Azucarera "La Grecia" Guatemala Sugar
BAC (Banco de América Central Honduras) Nicaragua Banking services
Banco Futuro Nicaragua Banking services
Banco Uno Nicaragua Banking services
Baskin-Robbins U.S. Ice Cream
BAT Industries PLC U.K. Tobacco products
Bay Island Fish Co. U.S. Seafood
Bayer Germany Pharmaceutical products
Benneton ITA Casual clothing
Best Western U.S. Hotel
BGA (Banco Grupo el Ahorro Hondureño) Panama Banking services
Bojangles U.S. Restaurant
Breakwater Resources Corp. CAN/U.S. Mining
Bristol Myers Squibb U.S. Beauty products
Budget Rent a Car U.S. Car rental
Burger King Inc. U.S. Fast food
Candy Bouquet U.S. Candy Store
Cargill, Inc. U.S. Animal feed, poultry & meat processing
Castle & Cooke, Inc. U.S. Bananas and other agricultural products; bottling and brewing
Caterpillar Tractors U.S. Spare parts, accessories
Cerveceria Hondurena, S.A. U.S. Soft drinks and beers
Chestnut Hill Farms U.S. Agricultural products
Chiquita Brands International U.S. Bananas and other agricultural products
Church's Chicken U.S. Fast food
Cinemark U.S. Entertainment
Cinnabon U.S. Fast food
Citigroup U.S. Banking and financial services
Citrus Development Corp. U.S. Citrus production and processing
Colgate-Palmolive U.S. Personal care products
Congelados Holanda Mexico Ice cream
Continental Airlines U.S. Air services
CPC International U.S. Corn starch
Crowley American Transport U.S. Ocean freight services
Cultivos Marinos U.S. Shrimp farm
Cybex U.S. Health & fitness
Daimler Crysler Corporation U.S. Cars
Demahsa Mexico Corn flour
DHL U.S. Air freight services
Dickies U.S. Textiles and apparel
Domino's Pizza U.S. Fast food
Dos Pinos Costa Rica Ice cream and milk products
Dry Cleaning USA U.S. Dry cleaning services
Dunkin' Donuts U.S. Fast food
Empacadora Cortes, S.A. U.S. Meat production; packing
Elektra Mexico Household goods/appliances
Ernst & Young International U.S. Accounting & auditing services
Exxon U.S. Petroleum products marketing
Federal Express U.S. Air freight services
Five Star Mining U.S. Mining exploration
From the Ground Up/Tippman U.S. Trading and consulting
G.B.M. de Honduras U.S. Computer services
Glamis Gold, Ltd. U.S./Canada Gold mining
Global One Communication U.S. Telecommunications
Gold's Gym U.S. Health & fitness
Grey Advertising Inc. U.S. Advertising services
Grupo Granjas Marinas U.S. Shrimp farms
H.B. Fuller U.S. Adhesives; paints
Hertz Rent a Car U.S. Car rental
Holiday Inn Hotel U.S. Hotel
Hotel intercontinental/Camino Real (Grupo Roble) El Salvador Hotel
Hotel Princess Guatemala Hotel
House of Windsor U.S. Tobacco
IBM U.S. Business machines; computer software
Industrial Engineers, Inc. U.S. Repair & construction, naval vessels
Kentucky Fried Chicken U.S. Fast food
Kimberly-Clark U.S. Paper products; Pharmaceutical products
KPMG Peat Marwick U.S. General business consultants
La Costena Mexico Canned foods
Little Caesar's Pizza U.S. Fast food
Lloyds TSB (Cuscatlan) El Salvador Banking services
Lucent Technologies U.S. Telecommunications
Maersk Sealand Denmark Shipping
Mail Boxes, etc. U.S. Courier services and copy center
Marriott U.S. Hotel
Martinizing U.S. Dry cleaning services
Mayan Gold, Inc. U.S. Mining
McDonald's U.S. Fast food
McCann Erickson U.S. Advertising; publicity
Midas International U.S. Automotive parts & Services
Motorola U.S. Telecommunications
Moore Business Forms U.S. Business forms
Multiplaza Malls (Grupo Roble) El Salvador Shopping center chain
Nestle Products Switzerland Food products
Oracle U.S. Software
Pakmail U.S. Packaging and Courier Services
Pan Bimbo Mexico Bread products
Pan American Life Ins. Co. U.S. Life insurance
Parker Tobacco U.S. Cigars
Payless U.S. Footwear
Paysen Germany Pharmaceutical products
Peat, Marwick, & Mitchell U.S. Accounting and auditing services
Phelps-Dodge U.S. Electric wire & Cable manufacturing
Pizza Hut International U.S. Fast food
Pollo Campero Guatemala Fast food; animal feed; poultry processing
Popeye’s U.S. Fast food
Price Smart U.S. Warehouse stores
Price Waterhouse U.S. Accounting & auditing services
Quick Internet U.S. Telecommunications, internet services
Quizno's U.S. Fast food
Radio Shack U.S. Electrical Appliances
RJR-Nabisco U.S. Food products
Rochez Brothers Entertainment U.S. Entertainment
Ruby Tuesday's U.S. Restaurant
Russell Corporation U.S. Textiles and apparel
Sabritas Mexico Snacks
Scott Paper, Inc. U.S. Paper products
Seaboard Marine Corp. U.S. Winter fruits & vegetables; aquaculture; ocean freight services
Sears U.S. Household goods
Select U.K. Convenience store
Shell U.K.
/Netherlands
Petroleum products marketing
Siemens Germany Telecommunications
Smith-Kline Beecham U.K. Pharmaceutical
Sprint U.S. Telecommunications products
Standard Fruit (Dole) U.S. Tropical fruits
Star Mart U.S. Convenience store
Stewart & Stevenson U.S. Electricity generation
Subway U.S. Fast food
TAHSA U.K. Tobacco
TACA El Salvador Air services
TCBY U.S. Fast food
Technology Research Corp. U.S. Electrical supplies
Texaco U.S. Petroleum products marketing
TGI Friday's U.S. Restaurant
3M U.S. Office supplies
Tony Roma's U.S. Restaurant
Tropical Gas Company U.S. Appliance and other equipment
Unilever U.K./Holland Cleaning Products, Beverages, Food
United Marketing (Unimerc) U.S. Marketing services
United Parcel Services (UPS) U.S. International Courier
United Technologies Automotive U.S. Automobile electronics assembly
U.S. Tobacco U.S. Cigars
Van Ommeren-Ceteco Netherlands Trading/retailing
Wellington Hall Caribbean, Inc. U.S. Furniture
Wendy's U.S. Fast food
Witten International U.S. Apparel
Xerox U.S. Business machine sales & services


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