El Salvador - Country Commercial Guide
Market Challenges
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The most common challenges U.S. companies experience in El Salvador include an unpredictable regulatory environment and customs delays.

Many regulations are approved with limited to no public consultation period. The Administrative Procedures Law in El Salvador mandates a 15-day notice and comment period for private sector contribution to regulation development. However, not all government entities comply, and there is no single website or standardized process for providing notice and soliciting comments on proposed regulations and reforms.

Market entry requirements for importing goods and services are often related to environmental controls, consumer protection, and controlled products. U.S. and local companies have raised concerns about customs and non-tariff barriers, including tariff code reclassification, labeling requirements, inconsistent application of customs regulations, and delays in the registration of products. However, the National Trade Facilitation Committee, reactivated under the Bukele Administration and in conjunction with the private sector, has identified measures intended to simplify customs procedures, reduce costs, and improve the process for moving products through some border crossings. As of December 2023, the Salvadoran government continues negotiations to proceed with Customs Union implementation with Guatemala and Honduras, which is another positive step forward for facilitating the movement of goods across borders. 

According to the World Bank, El Salvador’s economy had a 2.8% growth rate in 2022 and is expected to average 2.3% in 2023. Potentially unsustainable public finances and a growing public debt-to-GDP ratio are significant risks to the economy and create uncertainty regarding El Salvador’s ability to pay its debts. The government’s bitcoin initiative and limited scope for local and international market financing negatively influence risk assessments.

El Salvador scored 33 points out of 100 and ranked 116 out of 180 on the 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International, which scores countries on their perceived levels of corruption. Soliciting, offering, or accepting a bribe are considered criminal acts, and U.S. companies doing business in El Salvador are subject to the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). 

In March 2022, the Legislative Assembly approved the State of Emergency in El Salvador to crack down on gang-related violence. This measure has been extended multiple times in 30-day intervals without a defined end date. Within this State of Emergency, the Executive Branch allows contracting and acquisitions without adhering to the Public Procurement Law if they can demonstrate ties with the emergency. This creates a fast-moving and nontransparent procurement process.