Mexican President Visits Washington

With the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) recently going into effect on July 1, the President of Mexico made his first visit to the United States on Wednesday, July 8. This marks his first visit to the White House and his first foreign trip since taking office in December 2018; it comes ahead of the U.S. election cycle in November. President Andres Manuel López Obrador’s delegation includes Secretary of Foreign Relations Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon; Mexican Ambassador to the United States Martha Bárcena Coqui; Secretary of Economy Graciela Márquez Colín, and the head of the Office of the Presidency, Alfonso Romo Garza. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to join the meeting, which initially had been envisioned as a two-day North American Leaders Summit but has been pared back to one day.
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Mexican Supreme Court issues an injunction of the SENER Policy

On June 22, 2020, Mexico’s independent antitrust regulator (“COFECE”) filed a legal claim (controversia constitucional) with the nation’s Supreme Court arguing that the Ministry of Energy’s (“SENER”) Agreement setting forth the Policy of Reliability, Safety, Continuity, and Quality of the National Electric System (“Policy”), as published in the Official Gazette of the Federation on May 15, 2020, not only violates articles 16, 28, and 133 of the Mexican Constitution, but also Mexican laws applicable to the energy sector. COFECE asks the Supreme Court to clarify the limits of SENER’s authority “concerning the constitutional principles of competition when [SENER] issues a regulation that severely affects the competitive dynamic[s] of a market.” On June 29, 2020, the Supreme Court agreed with COFECE granting an injunction against the “effects and consequences” of the Policy until the matter is definitively resolved. Continue Reading

Mexican Court Orders a Definitive Suspension of the Enforcement of SENER and CENACE Measures

On Wednesday, June 10, the Mexican court specialized in economic competition issued an order granting the definitive suspension of the Ministry of Energy’s (“SENER”) Agreement setting forth the Policy of Reliability, Safety, Continuity, and Quality of the National Electric System (“Policy”) and the independent system operator’s (“CENACE”) preoperative testing restrictions. This means that neither the Policy nor CENACE’s restrictions may be further pursued or enforced until a final judicial order on the matter is issued (“Order”). The Order is one of a growing number of judicial orders against the López Obrador administration’s recent attempts to restructure the Mexican electricity market to the detriment of renewable energy producers and outside of the established regulatory and legal parameters.

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CRE Adds its Name to the List of Agencies Disturbing Mexico’s Legal and Regulatory Certainty

Since our May 20 blog post, the Energy Regulatory Commission (“CRE”) added its name to the list of agencies disturbing Mexico’s legal and regulatory certainty. Additionally, the López Obrador administration has spent time publicly defending recent Ministry of Energy (“SENER”) and independent system operator (“CENACE”) regulatory changes affecting renewable energy projects.

On the evening of May, 28, 2020, CRE, in extraordinary session, passed two resolutions modifying the tariffs applicable to the transmission services used by “legacy renewable and cogeneration energy contracts” (those contracts executed prior to the 2013 Energy Reforms, “Legacy Contracts”), to bring them to 2018 tariffs. In support of the new tariff structure, the head of the Federal Electricity Commission (“CFE”) publicly asserted that renewable energy engages in unfair competition because they do not pay for access to the grid and get paid even when they do not consistently produce energy. This assertion is incorrect. Although Legacy Contracts receive “preferential” treatment, such projects are required to pay interconnection tariffs, albeit low interconnection tariffs. Legacy Contracts receive preferential treatment because, at the time they were executed, the Mexican government sought to promote renewable energy project development in Mexico. Since renewable energy projects were more expensive to develop versus projects using conventional energy sources, Legacy Contracts enjoyed an economic incentive to development in the form of low interconnection tariffs. Legacy Contracts were also specifically carved-out of the Ley de Industria Electrica’s application, which means the they should continue to enjoy such treatment and be governed by the Ley del Servicio Público de Energía Eléctrica until the end of their term.

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COVID-19 and Construction in Latin America

The impact of COVID-19 on global economies is being unfolded as we continue to experience the period of prolonged economic uncertainty. As the virus’ epicenter has shifted from Asia to Europe, and now Latin America, financial markets have plummeted and with them sectors such as the project development, infrastructure or construction sector on a worldwide scale. The construction sector, has started to experience the effects of the pandemic, nonetheless, the coming months will unravel the extent to which the effects will affect the sector in Latin America.

As witnessed, the majority of Latin American governments set strict quarantine measures almost at the same time as Europe began its lock down. Along with the international travel bans and internal mobility restrictions, measures to ensure employee health and safety, supply and material delay have decreased the expectations for the rest of 2020 and upcoming years. These factors have meant a major setback for the construction sector at all levels, from project planning, to proposals and bidding, to the most affected of all, ongoing construction projects. The impossibility of workers to go on site given lock down provisions, health and safety adjustment in the work place and job cuts, have slowed down the sector.

For Latin American workers, household incomes have reduced dramatically, causing a decrease and slow-down in the development of the local economy. As a response, the majority of Latin American governments have put in place stimulus packages with special focus in infrastructure and construction sectors as key areas of investment to get the economy back on track. In addition, mobility restrictive measures such as quarantines, have been eased for construction, maintenance or other project development purposes, in both private and public ventures in order for employees to attend the work sites, as well as for companies to continue carrying out their activities in order to meet execution dates, installments and deadlines. For companies, this means the possibility of executing projects within the foreseen terms, avoid entering into default and securing payment and cash flow to pay both employees and suppliers.

The region is also calling for a “green” recovery and a promotion of technological infrastructure with a special focus on improving or developing ports, roads, railways and transportation facilities. These go along with both multilateral organizations and investors looking over to align the projects with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Upcoming Dominican Republic Presidential Elections; Possible Challenges

With presidential and congressional elections scheduled to take place on July 5, 2020,[1] the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina Sánchez, announced last Sunday May 17, 2020, a set of measures for a staged reopening of the Dominican economy. This raises the question of what happens if these reopening measures result in drastic spikes of new COVID-19 cases and the elections are therefore not held on July 5, 2020.

There is a lot riding on this question as any postponement of the elections beyond the August 16 constitutional end-date of the terms of the President, Vice President and 222 legislators could result in a political, institutional and constitutional crisis. This in turn could deal a serious blow to the country’s democratic system, rule of law, and business and investment climate.

The Dominican legal system does not expressly address a situation where presidential and congressional elections cannot be held before the end of respective terms. For general guidance, one may look to basic constitutional principles and value, however, this may imply serious inconveniences. Two lines of thought of how the situation should be handled, based on interpretations of the existing Dominican Constitutional provisions, are currently being publicly debated. The first suggests the President and Vice-President should step down from office on August 16, 2020, because the Constitution provides such date as the term of their mandates. Pursuant to this line of thought, the President of the Supreme Court of Justice would provisionally act as President of the country according to the succession rules set forth by articles 126 and 129 of the Dominican Constitution or a Governance Board would temporarily manage the government until elections could be held. The second line of thought suggests that the current authorities should remain in office until their replacements are elected, based on the principle of continuity of government (a principle deriving from an interpretation of article 275 of the Dominican Constitution) and on the democratic principle considering that those authorities where duly elected. Both of these approaches, however, would require approval and implementation of certain measures by the National Congress (Senators and Deputies), the tenure of most members of which also will expire on August 16, 2020.

Another legal option under debate is an amendment to the Dominican constitution to address specifically the issue. A major hurdle to this option, however, is that the Constitution expressly prohibits any amendments being made during a state of exception[2]. Nevertheless, several proposals have been suggested, such as: (i) the modification to the presidential rules of succession to expressly include the possibility of the current authorities remaining in office until their replacements are elected; (ii) the inclusion of transitional language extending, on an exceptional basis and in light of circumstances, the current Executive and Congressional terms;[3] (iii) the inclusion of language that contemplates the possibility of some members of the National Congress assuming temporary executive functions until the elections can be held, and (iv) the inclusion of a provision holding that the Electoral Authority assumes the Executive Power until elections can be held.

These options seek to limit political influence in case elections cannot be held by August 16, 2020, and to ensure adequate governance and economic stability. The Dominican political panorama should be more clear on July 5, 2020, assuming elections are held, which are expected to conclude in a peaceful transition of power.

 

***

[1] The Constitution of the Dominican Republic stipulates that presidential and congressional elections shall be held every four years on the third Sunday of May. This year, however, on April 13, 2020, the Electoral Authority passed a resolution rescheduling for July 5, 2020 these elections due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

[2] Article 271 of the Constitution establishes that “Constitutional reform may not be made in the case of the effect of one of the states of exception given in article 262”.

[3] Article 274 of the Dominican Constitution.

Renewable Energy Projects in Mexico Dealt Another Blow by the Lopez Obrador Administration

On April 29, 2020, Mexico’s independent system operator (“CENACE”) notified generators of its decision to indefinitely suspend all legally mandated pre-operation tests for solar and wind projects in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such suspension purportedly seeks to safeguard the national grid against system interruptions clean intermittent energy projects could cause during the pandemic, and essentially bars any such projects from connecting to the grid until further notice. According to industry groups AMDEE and ASOLMEX, CENACE’s actions impact a total of 44 solar and wind projects (28 that are ready for commercial operation and 16 that are under construction), which represent approximately US$6.4 billion in investments.

Less than three weeks later, on Friday, May 15, the Agreement setting forth the Policy of Reliability, Safety, Continuity, and Quality of the National Electric System (“Policy”) was published in the Official Gazette of the Federation by the Ministry of Energy (“SENER”). The Policy cites as its primary objective the establishment of guidelines allowing competent authorities to guarantee the national grid’s electricity supply based on principles of reliability, insisting that clean intermittent energy poses a threat to such security and reliability. Much like CENACE’s suspension, the Policy primarily impacts those solar and wind projects not yet in commercial operation, but it may also impact in-the-fence projects that intend to connect to the national grid.

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Brazil | Coronavirus Could Push Hundreds of Companies Close to Bankruptcy

The financial constraints caused by the coronavirus has affected the world’s economy and its outlook is still unknown and gloomy. Companies from all industries worldwide have been taking all sorts of measures to mitigate losses, preserve cash flow and, ultimately, survive. Just like other companies around the globe, the coronavirus has pushed many struggling Brazilian companies over the edge and into bankruptcy.

The International Monetary Fund predicts the Brazilian GDP will fall by 5 percent in 2020 and, have a slim 1.5-percent recovery next year. The consequences are enormous or significant Due to this huge contraction for Brazil, it is estimated that around 2,500 companies in the country may be forced to turn to the courts to avoid bankruptcy. If the numbers are confirmed, that would represent an increase of 40%compared to the record of 1,800 requests in 2016, when the country’s GDP dropped 3.5 %.

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Mexico USMCA & COVID-19 Updates

On May 5, 2020, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (“AMLO”) announced new measures to resume automotive manufacturing, mining, and construction activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  Mexican Minister of Economy Graciela Márquez Colín announced on May 13 a new plan to re-open the economy in three stages.  The first stage of the plan is set to begin on May 18 in those municipalities where no new COVID-19 infection cases have been reported.  The second stage is occur between May 18-31 and is focused on preparing workers, companies, and families in general for a return to work, subject to region-specific situations.  In the second stage, Mexico will also include as essential sectors:  construction, mining and the manufacture of transportation equipment, subject to strict health protocols.  The third stage will begin on June 1, and focuses on a “traffic light”-like system for a phased re-opening – similar to the United States – that accounts for:  (1) public health measures, (2) defined work activities, (3) protecting vulnerable people, (4) open and closed public spaces, and (5) educational facilities.  The first phase (“red light”) allows essential businesses to operate but continues restrictions on non-essential businesses and social activities.  The last phase (“green light”) allows for re-opening of schools and a resumption of social and recreational activities.

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Mexico and COVID-19

Over 300 manufacturing CEOs in the United States sent a letter to the President of Mexico on April 22 asking him to align Mexico’s definition of essential businesses with that of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to minimize supply chain disruptions in North America. On April 21, the Mexican Minister of Health announced an extension of the suspension of non-essential activities until May 30, with the possibility of lifting these restrictions on May 18 for those municipalities with low or no transmission of COVID-19. The Health Ministry will define transmission metrics, along with other risk factors and vulnerabilities associated with COVID-19, in addition to processes for reducing transmission between municipalities that have differing virus propagation levels.

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