Uruguay - Country Commercial Guide
Market Overview
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Uruguay became a high-income country by World Bank standards in 2013, one of only two in South America, and has the second-highest GDP per capita in South America (about one-third of the United States).  Uruguay has a strong welfare state, with the most equal income distribution, largest middle class, and lowest percentage of the population in poverty in South America.  In April 2022, Standard & Poor’s affirmed Uruguay’s investment-grade BBB rating and stable outlook.  From 2004-2014, the economy grew robustly with 5.4 percent average annual growth, led by goods exports and private consumption, which was in turn driven by low unemployment, rising wages, and a strong peso.  A positive international environment – comprised of high commodity prices, low interest rates, and strong capital inflows – was a cornerstone of strong and sustained growth.  Since then, the economy has weathered regional economic downturns, but growth decelerated significantly to 1.3 percent annually from 2015-2019.  GDP contracted 6 percent in 2020 in face of the COVID-19 pandemic but in 2022 rebounded above pre-pandemic levels.  In 2022, unemployment hovered around 8 percent, below pre-pandemic levels of 9 percent on average.

Top six reasons why U.S. companies should consider exporting to Uruguay:

  • Uruguay is an institutionally stable democratic country with strong rule of law and a commitment to international agreements and norms.  In terms of political stability and democracy, Uruguay is the leader country in Latin America. 
  • Uruguay is extremely well connected, with over 90 percent of the population having access to the internet and 4G/LTE available in 94 percent of the country.
  • With a beneficial customs regime with Mercosur and its strategic location between Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay serves as a regional distribution platform through its free port, free airport regimes, and free trade zones (11 around the country).
  • Uruguay can function as a test market for those international companies that have no previous experience in the region.
  • The U.S.-Uruguay bilateral relationship is strong, and Uruguay’s government and business sectors have a favorable view of American business.
  • Foreign investment has been declared of national interest with a wide range of tax exemptions for investments. 

Economic Trends

Leading think tank CERES estimates the United States is now Uruguay’s largest export market when considering both goods and services, taking in 21.3 percent of total exports, just ahead of the People’s Republic of China (China) at 21 percent.  However, Uruguay does not include services in trade statistics and only reports on goods.  In 2021, Uruguay was the 65th largest export destination for U.S. exports of goods, and two-way trade in goods equaled $2.4 billion according to U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) statistics. Anchor

When only considering goods, and not services, according to the trade agency, Uruguay XXI, Uruguay´s top 2022 goods export destinations for goods were China (28 percent), EU (15 percent), Brazil (14 percent), Argentina (9 percent), the United States (6 percent), and Mexico (3 percent).  China remains the main destination of Uruguay´s goods exports, a position which they have held since 2013.  In 2022, the United States ranked fifth as a destination for Uruguay´s goods exports for a total of $784 million dollars.

Uruguay’s economic base is its agricultural sector, exporting products such as meat, cellulose, grains, dairy wood, pharmaceuticals, and services.  More than 80 percent of Uruguay’s total goods exports are agricultural-based products with its agricultural-based exports going to more than 160 countries and representing nearly ten times its 3.4-million-person population’s agricultural needs.  Approximately half of all Uruguayan industrial production is dedicated to food processing or agricultural product refinement with beef as its 2022 top export product.  Beef is Uruguay´s main goods export, accounting for 20 percent of total goods exports, with a value of $2.5 billion.  Uruguay’s second largest export good is soybean at $1.9 billion.  Cellulose ranked third among products, with exports totaling 1.8 billion in 2022.

In 2022, Uruguay imported a total of $10.9 billion dollars in goods (excluding petroleum), which implies a 22 percent increase year-on-year.  Vehicles represent the largest import product, totaling $1.079 million and a 28 percent increase on the previous year.  Agricultural chemicals were second, totaling $991 million.  Food imports increased by 16 percent year-on-year, totaling $615 million.  Clothing and footwear imports were fourth with a value of $525 million, followed by $486 million in technology imports.  Plastics imports were sixth, valued at $447 million dollars.

In 2022, Brazil was the main source of Uruguay’s imports representing 23 percent of the total, with China at second, with 21 percent.  Argentina was third, with 13 percent, and the United States was fourth representing 6 percent of the total.

Uruguay is also an attractive market for international companies and Uruguay has received foreign direct investment (FDI) given investor confidence in the country’s institutional framework and economic policies. In 2020 the United States had the fourth largest stock of FDI, reflecting its longstanding presence in the country.  About 170 U.S companies employ over 25.000 Uruguayans.  For more information on FDI into Uruguay, please see the Investment Climate Statement section of this document.

Political & Economic Environment:  State Department’s website for background on the country’s political environment.