Portugal - Country Commercial Guide
Investment Climate Statement

This information is derived from the State Department's Office of Investment Affairs’ Investment Climate Statement; EB-ICS-DL@state.gov.

Last published date: 2023-01-06

The U.S. Department of State Investment Climate Statements provide information on the business climates of more than 170 economies and are prepared by economic officers stationed in embassies and posts around the world. They analyze a variety of economies that are or could be markets for U.S. businesses.

Topics include Openness to Investment, Legal and Regulatory systems, Dispute Resolution, Intellectual Property Rights, Transparency, Performance Requirements, State-Owned Enterprises, Responsible Business Conduct, and Corruption.

These statements highlight persistent barriers to further U.S. investment. Addressing these barriers would expand high-quality, private sector-led investment in infrastructure, further women’s economic empowerment, and facilitate a healthy business environment for the digital economy. To access the ICS, visit the U.S. Department of State Investment Climate Statement website.

Executive Summary  

The Portuguese economy bounced back from the pandemic, expanding by 4.9 percent in 2021 after an 8.4 percent contraction the prior year, benefitting from EU fiscal and monetary stimulus and a very high vaccination rate. The labor market has shown remarkable resiliency, with unemployment at 6 percent in January 2022, down from 7 percent a year before. GDP is expected to grow again by an estimated 5 percent in 2022, despite the economic shocks from the Russian war against Ukraine

The country will have a chance to boost its economic recovery, deploying more than €16 billion in EU grants and credit expected to fund state coffers between 2021 and 2026. It is expected these funds will be allocated in support of energy and digital transitions.

Increased flows of fossil fuels contributed to a 40 percent jump in trade in goods and services between Portugal and the United States to a record $10 billion in 2021. However, bilateral trade remains lop-sided with a large U.S. trade deficit of around $2.2 billion. Many U.S. companies nvest in business/service delivery centers in Portugal, taking advantage of Portugal’s relatively low-cost, talented, and multilingual labor force.

The country continues to push to improve market attractiveness. Portugal’s export and FDI promotion agency (AICEP) celebrated a record €2.7 billion of contracted FDI in 2021, double that locked-in during the last (2019) high mark. Portugal’s metalworking, auto component, and machinery industries predominate the recent FDI trends, accounting for about 30 percent of the contracted flows, according to the Government .

Portugal’s tech startup scene is thriving, featuring at least six fast-growing firms with ‘Portuguese-U.S. DNA’ that achieved ‘unicorn’ status with valuations above $1 billion– Outsystems, Talkdesk, Feedzai, Remote, SwordHealth and Anchorage. These high-tempo firms are flourishing after tapping into opportunities in the U.S. startup ecosystem that provides not only funding but also knowhow, networks, and customers, ultimately producing jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.

Established in 2012, Portugal’s “Golden Visa” program gives fast-track residence permits to foreign investors who meet certain conditions, such as making substantial capital transfers or certain real estate acquisitions. Between 2012 and February 2022, Portugal issued 10,442 ‘Golden Visas’, representing €6.2 billion of investment, of which more than €5.6 billion went to real estate. Chinese nationals have been the main beneficiaries of the special program for residence permits, accounting for almost 50 percent (5,066) of the 10,442 total, followed by Brazilians with 1,072. Russian citizens were assigned 431 Golden visas since 2012. As of January 2022, Portugal modified the “Golden Visa” program to restrict the purchase of real estate to regions outside urban hotspots such as Lisbon, Porto, and overbuilt areas of the popular Algarve with the aim of boosting rural investment. Loopholes in the program appear to be enabling urban purchases in any event. On March 28, the European Commission urged member states to immediately repeal existing investor citizenship schemes, which the Commission claimed pose inherent risks.

In terms of risks, the independent Portuguese data protection agency (CNPD) has targeted U.S. companies by issuing a succession of judicial opinions warning against the use of U.S. technology firms – including Cloudflare, Respondus, and Amazon Web Services (AWS), arguing that as they are headquartered in the United States and therefore subject to U.S. law, by definition, they have inadequate data privacy standards. CNPD has not found any specific wrongdoing by any U.S. technology firm but bases its rulings on the grounds that a target company is headquartered in the United States. On March 25, President Biden and EU Commission President von der Leyen announced a deal in principle on the Trans-Atlantic Data Privacy Framework, which will supplement the U.S.-EU Privacy Shield Framework (Privacy Shield). However, it remains to be seen how this new Trans-Atlantic Data Privacy Framework will affect EU-U.S. data flows in Portugal.

Portugal ranks second highest in terms of PRC investments in Europe (in relation to GDP). These investments are predominantly in the premier Portuguese companies, which the PRC leverages to reach other markets in Europe, Latin America, and Africa. Portugal’s investment screening regime was established in 2014, but the Government of Portugal has never strictly enforced it.

Despite the security risks, the Government continues to allow investments by and collaboration with untrusted vendors in 5G and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Huawei is using its educational and gender-equity programs to increase influence with high achieving students and access to key technology policymakers in the Government and private sector. The PRC is also attempting to gain a foothold in Portuguese 5G, AI, solar, and related infrastructure industries.

Portugal’s public debt, estimated at 127percent of GDP at the end of 2021, remains an issue, particularly if there is a shift in the benign monetary and sovereign risk sentiment that enabled Lisbon to enjoy issuing debt at record low prices in the last few years. The pace of corporate and household indebtedness has also increased.

Portugal’s primary trading partners are Spain, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Portugal suffers an acute brain drain, with high emigration rates among professionals leaving for higher paying careers in Switzerland, France, the UK, and elsewhere.

Beyond Europe, Portugal maintains significant links with Portuguese-speaking countries including Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, and Guinea-Bissau. Portugal has one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe and net immigration (from Ukraine, Brazil, and other Portuguese-speaking countries) has prevented a fall in population.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will impact the Portuguese growth curve. Except for grain imports from Ukraine, energy intermediate goods, and liquified natural gas (LNG) imports from Russia, the country’s trade and investment relationship with both countries is limited. In LNG specifically, Russia accounted for 15 percent of imports, well below the 45 percent EU average. However, Portugal is a net importer of energy products, fully dependent on outside supply of crude and refined fossil fuels. It also imports natural gas for energy and generation, which acts as a key complement to the fast-growing renewable energy footprint of its solar, wind and hydro power assets. The country’s commercial balance will be negatively impacted by a long period of high global energy prices.

Portugal’s low installed solar capacity of about 7 percent of the energy mix is expected to reach 8 GW of solar capacity, or 27 percent of the mix by 2030. The Government is promoting significant investments in wind and solar energy development to meet its target of 47 percent energy from renewables by 2030. By 2021 the country reduced its external energy dependence by 9 percentage points (from 2005), seeking greater supply security by increasing domestic energy generation and reducing the consumption of primary energy by 17 percent. The Government has also talked about plans to launch a 2-5 GW offshore wind auction this summer (without providing details), in hopes of speeding up the deployment of large-scale offshore wind capacity to reduce energy dependence on Russia.

Portugal’s path to a carbon neutral economy includes incentives for energy efficiency; promoting diversification of energy sources; increasing electrification; reinforcing and modernizing infrastructure; developing more interconnections; market stability for investors; reconfiguring and digitalizing the market; incentives for research and innovation, promoting low-carbon processes, products and services; and improving energy services and information for consumers.

 

https://www.state.gov/reports/2022-investment-climate-statements/portugal