Welcome – “Bienvenidos”! Uruguay is a great place to do business, and the Commercial Section at the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo has compiled this guide to provide you with a brief background on the Uruguayan market as you consider export opportunities. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Embassy at anytime.
Uruguay is a market-oriented economy in which the State still plays a role. From 2004 through 2008 it experienced robust rates of growth ranging from 5.0% to 9.0%. The 2008 – 2009 global financial crisis put a brake on growth, mainly through lower foreign trade and investment, but had a very limited impact on wages and employment. In 2008 and 2009 Uruguay managed to avoid economic recession and growth of 2.0% and 4.0% is expected for 2009 and 2010.
Uruguay has diversified its trade in recent years and reduced its longstanding dependency on Argentina and Brazil. It is a founding member of MERCOSUR, the Southern Cone trading bloc also composed of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, which is in the process of integrating Venezuela.
Preliminary 2009 figures show that Uruguay’s exports of goods (FOB) totaled $5.5 billion and imports (CIF) $6.3 billion. Brazil was the top export market (20%) followed by, Argentina (6%), China (4%), Russia (4%), Venezuela and the U.S. (with 3% each). Exports are concentrated in a few products, with meat, soy, rice, leather, dairy products and wood accounting for over half of total sales. Uruguay’s top imports are oil and capital goods.
Imports from the United States surged in recent years following the economic upturn, from under $200 million in 2003 to $620 million in 2009. The U.S. was fourth in market share with 10%. The top suppliers were Brazil (20%), Argentina (19%) and China (13%). Key U.S. sales in 2009 were fuels, fertilizers, computers and high-tech and agricultural machinery.
Exports to the U.S. dropped 16 percent in 2009, for a total of $180 million, as beef sales were shifted to other markets. Sales to the U.S. are concentrated in beef, wood, leather, food preparations and soy. Bilateral trade amounted to about $800 million in 2009, with a favorable trade balance with the U.S. of $437 million.
The investment climate is generally positive. Foreign and national investors are treated alike, there is complete, free remittance of capital and profits, and investments are allowed without prior authorization. A 2007 decree that offers significant tax benefits to investors has helped prompt an increase in investment.
Uruguay and the U.S. signed a latest-generation Bilateral Investment Treaty in 2005 and an Open Skies Agreement in 2004. In early 2007 both countries signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement that is providing a platform for active work on commercial issues.
The Frente Amplio, the current ruling coalition, won a second term during the recent election held on October 2009. The new president will take office on March 1, 2010.
The challenges Uruguay faces in promoting its local market are its small size (3.3 million) and the lack of trade-related financing. Uruguay is largely unknown to many U.S. companies. Local companies traditionally look first to neighboring MERCOSUR countries to develop trade. In recent years, attention has been increasingly turning to China. U.S. exporters need to be flexible in their minimum sales and payment requirements.
While the government-elect recognizes the need to expand trade relations with all the countries across the board, it may focus more attention on regional markets. Bilateral relations with the U.S. during the first Frente Amplio Administration (2005-2010) have been considered by both governments as optimal and are expected to continue with the new authorities after March 1, 2010. Commercial relations continue to be strengthened through work under the auspices of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).
Government procurement and bidding processes are generally transparent, but slow. The bureaucracy for obtaining official investment information and procedures is also slow at times.
High interest rates, limited financing for SMEs, and an almost non-existent capital market can limit market opportunities.
Current dollar depreciation and euro appreciation vis-à-vis the Uruguayan peso offers rising market opportunities for U.S. exports.
Chemicals, Information technology and telecommunication equipment are the top U.S. exports to Uruguay, followed by fertilizers, medical equipment and supplies, and agricultural machinery.
Uruguay offers good opportunities as a test market for the region, given the small size of its market, respect for the rule of law and good investment climate.
Uruguay also boasts a highly educated population (97% literacy rate) and a dynamic services sector. Software development in particular is a growing sector, with Uruguay a leading software exporter in Latin America.
New cellulose investment projects in the pipeline provide opportunities for U.S. companies in the forestry and paper and pulp sectors.
All import channels exist -- agents, distributors, importers, trading companies, subsidiaries, and branches of foreign firms. Sales outlets and supermarkets are traditional storefronts. There are no discount general merchandisers.
U.S. suppliers should be thorough in their selection of a local agent or representative. The contractual relationship (employer-employee or commission-based) should be made clear. Failure to do so could result in supplier liability for severance if the U.S. company decides to end the business relationship.
The best strategy recommended to enter the local market is to visit Uruguay, interview potential partners, and name a representative/agent. Business relationships and creative financing terms are very important.
U.S. exporters are encouraged to take advantage of the export promotion services provided by the Commercial Section in the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo. Please check in http://www.buyusa.gov/uruguay/en/10.html for the full list of services provided. Another useful site for U.S. exporters is http://www.export.gov.
Country Commercial Guides can be ordered in hard copy or on diskette from the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) at 1-800-553-NTIS.
The Country Commercial Guide contains the following chapters:
1. Doing Business In Uruguay
3. Selling U.S. Products and Services
4. Leading Sectors for U.S. Export and Investment
5. Trade Regulations and Standards
6. Investment Climate
7. Trade and Project Financing
8. Business Travel
9. Contacts, Market Research and Trade Events
10. Guide to Our Services
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