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Although Bolivia’s worst drought in years induced President Evo Morales to introduce water rationing, financially speaking there is no shortage of liquidity, especially among domestic banks. Indeed, Bolivia was one of the few nations in the region not to devalue its currency last year. The stock market was busier than in 2015, with private investors’ active and non-traditional financings increasingly visible. The success of the financial sector has led to tighter regulations and higher taxes on finance-sector profits, in turn leading to re-groupings and consolidation among domestic banks, which remain obligated to ensuring that 20% of their loan portfolios (by value) are dedicated to the agrarian and ‘productive’ sectors (including natural resource extraction, manufacturing, energy distribution and construction).

Although real estate is no longer booming as it was a few years ago, developments continue, particularly in Santa Cruz; more generally, while the spate of nationalisations implemented by Morales’ left-wing administration has not encouraged foreign investment, M&A activity and business incorporations are not thin on the ground in Bolivia.

Low commodity prices, combined with the controversial state-strengthening mining law of 2014, have created an increasingly febrile political situation, especially in the mining sector; deputy interior minister Rodolfo Illanes was killed during violent anti-government protests by miners in August 2016. If the state takes no serious steps to incentivise investment in (or loosen its grip on) the energy sector, the sector’s financial and socio-political troubles are unlikely to subside. Bolivia’s gas export contracts with Brazil and Argentina are due to end in 2019, and there is currently no plan to renew them. Having said this, almost two-thirds of foreign direct investment in Bolivia is dedicated to hydrocarbons and mining.

In the intellectual property field, Decision 486 of the Andean Community – an amendment of the Madrid Protocol whereby trade mark rights can be applied throughout Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador as long as they are registered in one of these four countries – has been in use since 2000. The core of Bolivia’s intellectual property activity is trade mark registration, renewals and administrative opposition actions, although patent applications, copyright work, data privacy and data security work are increasing.

Tax enforcement has been ramped up over the last few years, although this development is an uncomfortable bedfellow with the other key trend in Bolivia’s tax space: transfer pricing. Although it has not taken off in earnest yet, more and more firms are dispensing strategic advice regarding this subject.

Large full-service firms, most notably Moreno Baldivieso Estudio De Abogados, Guevara & Gutiérrez S.C, Bufete Aguirre Soc. Civ., Indacochea & Asociados, C.R. & F. Rojas – Abogados and Ferrere dominate Bolivia’s legal market. Various boutiques – such as Estudio Jurídico Orpan in intellectual property, Carrasco, Forgues, Mercado & Aleman in the labour space and Benítez Rivas, Pérez & Asociados in tax – help keep things competitive. In a potentially significant move, Voss Suárez Saldaña Abogados – which was established by a group of young ex-Indacochea & Asociados lawyers in January 2015 – has merged into Ontier – Urenda Abogados Soc. Civ., the Spanish firm (now headquartered in London) that has been steadily opening offices across the region.

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