Argentina - Country Commercial Guide
Distribution and Sales Channels

Discusses distribution network from how products enter to final destination, including reliability of distribution systems, distribution centers, ports, etc.

Last published date: 2021-11-10

Sales channel selection should be based on the nature of the product and the company’s knowledge of the Argentine market. Generally, firms new to this market find it more effective to sell through a distributor. Large firms generally buy directly from overseas suppliers, while smaller firms prefer to buy through intermediaries. Industrial equipment is sold by sales agents or through trade fairs, while consumer goods are increasingly sold through large outlets such as supermarkets and hypermarkets.

Warehouse and distribution

Distribution in Argentina tends to be radial, with all roads converging in the Port of Buenos Aires. This dates back to the early 20th century, when Argentina’s rail and road systems were developed by the British in order to bring products to the Port of Buenos Aires and satisfy foreign demand for commodities. The hub-oriented distribution system used in the United States does not exist in Argentina.

Land Transportation

Argentina stretches 4,000 km (2,500 mi.) from north to south, an expanse of land crossed by only a few major highways. Argentina’s 208,350 km (129,462 mi.) road network carries 85 percent of domestic freight traffic. Argentina has over 35,000 km (21,000 mi.) of railroads, but quality and speed vary widely. In general, the rail network requires significant investment to bring it up to international standards of speed and reliability.

River and Maritime Transportation

Almost 75 percent of Argentina’s foreign trade is carried by ship, and about 80 percent of the import and export transactions are carried out through the ports of Buenos Aires and La Plata. The Parana and Uruguay rivers are well-dredged and maintained. These rivers link the Port of Buenos Aires to internal Argentine ports, as well as to Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil.

Air Cargo

Terminal de Cargas Argentina (TCA) was created as a concessionary partnership established by the Government of Argentina for the operation of airfreight terminals at international airports. TCA is the logistics division of Aeropuertos Argentina 2000, Argentina’s dominant airport concessionaire, and provides full logistics and storage services to all foreign cargo agents. TCA’s primary business is bonded warehouse management at major Argentine international airports, where the company stores imported and exported cargo while their consignees perform relevant formalities with the Customs Administration or Dirección General de Aduanas (DGA). TCA’s headquarters are located at Ezeiza Airport, Argentina’s main international airport just outside the city of Buenos Aires. The company also has branches in Córdoba, Mendoza, Mar del Plata, and Jorge Newbery Airport (Autonomous City of Buenos Aires). 

The Retail Network

There are two types of traditional sales channels in Argentina. One is through large-scale retailers with a defined, but limited, share of the market. The other is through the many specialized retailers that seek to protect their niches. The food retail market is loosely separated into three categories: traditional “mom and pop” stores scattered throughout local neighborhoods, self-service mini-markets and drugstores, and the supermarkets and hypermarkets. Consumers generally prefer hypermarkets and supermarkets for lower prices on weekly and monthly purchases.

Establishing an Office

Foreign companies may carry out any single transaction. To carry on a routine activity, however, a foreign company must establish a branch (sucursal) in Argentina. An individual must be appointed as the company’s legal representative, although assignment of capital to the branch is not necessary. Foreign investors may do business in Argentina as individuals or through corporations, branches of foreign corporations, limited liability companies, limited partnerships, general partnerships, and joint ventures. Foreign corporations often operate in Argentina through a separately incorporated subsidiary rather than through a branch, primarily to reduce their potential liability. If a branch is used, all of the foreign corporation’s assets, not only its Argentine assets, may be subject to potential liability. In contrast, if an Argentine or foreign subsidiary is used, the foreign corporation’s liability generally will be limited to the assets owned by that subsidiary. Corporate directors, however, may be held liable for unpaid tax obligations.

Corporations are set up with the approval of at least two legal or naturalized persons, whether Argentine or foreign. The corporation may not be a partner in a partnership. A corporation can usually be established in three to four weeks if capital is supplied only in cash. If supplied in kind, the corporation can be established in about two months. A minimum of two founders is required with no maximum limit. Company founders must report a domicile in Argentina. A minimum of two shareholders is required. No maximum is prescribed. Should a foreign company wish to act as shareholder of a local company, the company must be “qualified.” The cost of qualification proceedings is similar to the incorporation cost. U.S. firms considering establishing operations in Argentina should fully investigate the tax and legal aspects of establishing a business with Argentine legal counsel before making any final decisions.

Franchising

The local franchising industry has evolved into a challenging and highly competitive environment for international franchisors seeking local partners. Market size during 2019 was approximately US$6.6 billion, with an annual growth rate of approximately 10 percent. Currently, 90 percent of local franchises are of Argentine origin and approximately 10 percent are of international ownership. The low level of foreign peneration in the sector is in part due to strict regulations for transfer of funds. After decades of unregulated expansion, the Civil and Commercial Code of the Nation (CCCN) came into force in 2015 and established a legal framework for franchising agreements. The CCCN covers franchise agreements in Chapter 19, Articles 1,512 through 1,524.

There are approximately 400 franchise brands in the market. The most popular sectors for international franchisors are fast food, foreign language training, dry cleaning, hotels, and rental car services. Starbucks entered the Argentine market in 2008, opening 136 stores since its arrival. Other significant U.S. market players include Kodak Express, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Cartridge World, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Subway. Real estate franchises have also entered the market, including Re-Max, Keller-Williams, Coldwell Banker, and Century 21.

Local franchises have been particularly successful in apparel, food, ice cream, “empanada” delicacies, fitness and health clubs, and education. Apparel franchising, however, has suffered in recent years due to import restrictions.  Coffee shops and stores, before 2020 during the pandemic environment, were experiencing a growth stage, with local brands such as Havanna and Bonafide competing with Starbucks. Franchise contracts are generally protected under the aforementioned Argentine Commercial Code, which is still rather vague. The scope of the service, commercial trade name, market expertise, and shared production elements are covered by contractual obligations of both the franchisor and the franchisee. Elements of the contract include the license, methods and systems of operation, proprietary information transferred to a franchisee, inputs supply, sales methods, and quality standards. The franchisor has the ultimate control of the contract elements.

Franchising models have been successfully used in Argentina, but the obligations of the franchisor must be clearly established in the contract to avoid potential liabilities related to the operator, such as defaulting, declaring bankruptcy, etc. The Civil and Commercial Code gives a legal framework for franchising agreements, although enforcement of these laws is still in the beginning stages. Therefore, legal counsel should be sought prior to entering the Argentine marketplace and appointing a franchisee.

Direct Marketing

In 2019, the GoA implemented a new door-to-door system, which is web-based and no longer requires a trip to Customs for package pick-up. The system allows for online tracking of packages. Argentine customers can now receive up to 12 orders per year with a value of up to US$50 each. Customers register online in Correo Argentino’s web portal and are notified via email when packages arrive. Customers must declare the shipment’s content, and pay mail handling fees and customs duties, if applicable, through Correo Argentino’s webportal. Formerly, this process was cumbersome, and had to be done through AFIP’s web portal. These changes simplify the door-to-door service of international purchases and brings transparency to the mail handling process. For updated information, please refer to AFIP’s website:  https://www.afip.gob.ar/puertaapuerta/puertaApuerta.asp. Sellers should be aware that as of December 2019 the government of Argentina imposed a 30 percent “PAIS” tax on purchases made abroad or invoiced in foreign currency to include tourism services, online services (e.g., Netflix) or purchases abroad using Argentine credit and debit cards. In September 2020, the government added an additional 35 percent withholding income tax on purchases of dollars or overseas card payments.

Joint Ventures/Licensing

Argentine legislation permits the establishment of temporary associations, equivalent to joint ventures, known as UT (unión transitoria). This is an association of two or more individuals or companies that contribute assets to develop or perform a particular transaction in Argentina or outside the country using Argentina as its base of operations. UTs are not considered companies or legal entities in their own right. Participants may be resident businesspeople, locally constituted entities, or non-resident companies that have established a separate branch or other type of Argentine presence.

A contract must be signed and registered with the Public Commercial Registry at the Office of the Inspector General of Justice (Inspección General de Justicia) in the City of Buenos Aires, or in the provincial office of the Inspector General of Justice. The contract must contain the objective, duration, name, and specific information regarding the partners’ responsibilities and financial contribution, among other clauses.  It must also provide for the appointment of a legal representative in charge of management.

Express Delivery

International courier delivery services are very active and most global express delivery firms have significant operations in Argentina, including FedEx-Argentina, DHL-Argentina, and UPS-Argentina. Express delivery and courier services are widely used in Argentina for both national and international transportation of packages. The shipping times to Argentina will depend on the type of courier service used. Expedited shipping can arrive within two to five working days, whereas some economy services may take three weeks or more. It also depends what part of Argentina you are shipping to, as packages going to a city will arrive more quickly than those going to a rural area. Postal codes in Argentina are called CPA. They start with a single letter that represents the province, followed by four digits that show the town or city, and then three letters to display the side of the city the address is located.

Due Diligence

Companies interested in Argentina should always conduct due diligence before entering into business ventures or other commercial arrangements. The U.S. Commercial Service in Argentina provides U.S. firms with information that can assist them in vetting a specific Argentine company to help determine its suitability as a potential business partner. We can investigate the capabilities, legitimacy, and financial strength of an Argentine company and provide useful information gleaned from government, industry and financial contacts, local press, and other sources. In addition, through its International Company Profile (ICP) service, the U.S. Commercial Service in Argentina will provide a background report based on site visits and interviews with key personnel of Argentine firms with whom U.S. firms wish to begin or maintain a business relationship. Our assistance provides valuable information in your company’s due diligence process to help assist you in finding a legitimate partner.