Includes typical use of agents and distributors and how to find a good partner, e.g., whether use of an agent or distributor is legally required.
The principal-agent relationship in Honduras is governed by the civil and commercial code, Decree Law No. 549, Official Register (La Gaceta) No. 22366, of December 7, 1977. This law, entitled "Law on Agents, Distributors and Representatives of Domestic and Foreign Companies," includes a provision for penalties for wrongful termination that discourages exclusive distribution agreements. For new-to-market or new-to-export companies, authorized distributorship arrangements or renewable periods of representation are recommended over exclusivity contracts, unless the relationship has proven to be stable and profitable for both parties.
For contractual relations entered into after the date of entry into force of the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), April 1, 2006, the following special regime obligations apply:
- Honduras may not require that a representative, agent, or distributor be a national of Honduras or an enterprise controlled by Honduran nationals;
- Honduras may not require a goods or service supplier of another Party to supply such goods or services in Honduras by means of a representative, agent, or distributor, except as otherwise provided by law for reasons of health, safety, or consumer protection;
- Honduras shall provide that: the fact that a contract of representation, distribution, or agency has reached its termination date shall be considered just cause for goods or service supplier of another Party to terminate the contract or allow the contract to expire without renewal; and any damages or indemnity for terminating a contract of representation, distribution, or agency, or allowing it to expire without renewal, without just cause shall be based on the general law of contracts.
- Honduras shall provide that: if the amount and form of any indemnification payment is not established in a contract of representation, distribution, or agency and a party wishes to terminate the contract, the parties may agree to resolve any dispute regarding such payment in the Center for Conciliation and Arbitration of Honduras, or if the parties agree otherwise, to another arbitration center; and in such proceeding general principles of contract law will be applied; in any decision awarding an indemnity calculated under Article 14 of Decree Law No. 549, the amount shall be calculated as of the date of entry into force of the CAFTA-DR Agreement, expressed in terms of Honduran Lempiras as of that date, and converted into U.S. dollars at the exchange rate in effect on the date of the decision. Decree Law No. 549 applies to a contract only if the representative, distributor, or agent has registered with the Ministry of Economic Development (SDE).
Although a U.S. firm may export directly to Honduran companies, appointing a local agent, representative, or legal advisor is strongly recommended to help with import procedures and regulations, sales promotion and after-sales service. Independent intermediaries are especially important for smaller companies, as their knowledge of the market and of the relevant business customs and practices adds to the strength of the U.S. manufacturer/exporter. U.S. companies are advised to evaluate local prospects in terms of the services and benefits provided, considering factors such as location, financial strength, quality of the sales force, warehousing facilities, reputation in the market, outlay for advertising, product compatibility and overall experience. As a primary step in any international business venture, verifying the identity of a potential partner is of vital importance. Prior to engaging in a commercial relationship, U.S. companies should visit potential partners or agents in Honduras.
Renewable periods for representation and non-exclusive relationships are strongly recommended when drawing up the agent/distributor agreement. After successfully locating prospective intermediaries, U.S. exporters should contact a Honduran lawyer for assistance with key issues such as contract arrangements, taxation, residence permits, and advice on protection of intellectual property. The Embassy Commercial, Economic, and Consular Sections can provide a list of attorneys (see web resources section). A written agreement often avoids later disputes and misunderstandings between the U.S. firm and the local partner. Two of the country’s largest chambers of commerce, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Tegucigalpa (CCIT) and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Cortés (CCIC), have established International Arbitration Centers for alternative dispute resolution.
Exporters of pharmaceuticals, agricultural chemicals, food items, animal feeds, and medicines are required to register their products before they can be sold in the Honduran marketplace. Pharmaceuticals, food items and medicine-related products must be registered with the Sanitary Regulation Agency (ARSA). Agricultural chemicals and animal feeds must be registered with the Ministry of Natural Resources & the Environment (SERNA).
In compliance with the CAFTA-DR agreement, U.S. firms are no longer required to participate in public tenders through a local authorized agent or representative. In terms of participation in international public bids in general, foreign firms engaged in the execution of construction, design, consulting, and rehabilitation projects are required, under the State Contracting Law, to register provisionally at the Company Registration and Classification Committee of Civil Engineers (CIRCE). Once a contract for a specific project has been awarded, foreign firms are required to register on a permanent basis with the Honduran Organization of Civil Engineers (CICH). In general, since the time frame between the public bid announcement and the presentation of bids is often short, having a local partner enhances the U.S. firm's ability to prepare a competitive offer.
Selection of the appropriate agent or distributor in Honduras requires time and effort. The U.S. Department of Commerce offers several services to U.S. firms interested in finding a partner or distributor for their product or service. The U.S. Commercial Service (USCS) offers free and intensive one-on-one counseling plus low-cost, highly effective programs to help U.S. businesses establish or expand their foreign markets. The Commercial Section of U.S. Embassy Tegucigalpa can help locate interested, qualified representatives in potential markets in Honduras through its International Partner Search (IPS) service. A U.S. firm may also check the background and reputation of a prospective partner through the International Company Profile Report (ICP). Through its Gold Key Service, the Commercial Section can schedule appointments, arrange translators and make reservations for U.S. businesses searching for partners or customers in Honduras. The IPS and ICP, as well as other valuable services, are also available for a nominal fee through the U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEACs) of the U.S. Department of Commerce. For additional information on export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government, U.S. companies may call 1-800-USA-TRADE.