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Editorial

Legal 500 Doing Business in Ecuador

Contributed by Paz Horowitz Abogados

Introduction
Ecuador’s economy is the eighth largest in Latin America; its main exports are petroleum products, bananas, shrimp, flowers and fish. Ecuador produces one of the finest aroma cocoa in the world as well as high quality coffee, exports that are gaining importance in international markets. Ecuador also boasts large natural mineral reserves that have contributed to the development of projects to explore and extract copper, gold and iron. Ecuador is rich in natural resources and also has a young workforce and a not exploited domestic market, where GDP per capita has increased substantially in the last decade.

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Back in 2017, Ecuador’s current president Lenín Moreno was the handpicked successor of his predecessor Rafael Correa, who expected him to continue with the spirit of their centre-left, social democratic / socialist party, Pais Alliance. Since his election, however, Moreno has notably diverged from the former administration's policy orientation, largely reversing Correa’s legacy by making significant changes to the country’s foreign and domestic policies. In March 2019, the IMF granted Ecuador a $4.2bn extended-fund facility aimed at supporting its economic programme, which also focuses on labour market flexibilisation and fiscal consolidation. Moreno has also signalled his intention to move to a more democratic approach, refraining from taking control of the media and adopting a more tolerant approach to freedom of speech. To the surprise of many, he also continues to be tough on corruption. Additionally, Moreno has pulled back from spending public funds on extensive infrastructure projects in favour of financing social programmes. Economically, the country has benefitted from the government's willingness to adopt a more marekt-friendly approach, with more international companies looking to invest in or indeed, establish business operations in Ecuador. However, economic growth remains slow and Moreno’s approach is by no means universally popular; his approval ratings continue to be low and the outcome of the next elections -due in 2021- will likely detemine the long-term fate of the political and economic reorienation that he has sought to put in place.

The legal market in Ecuador was relatively steady in 2018/19 with no significant new arrivals or firm spin-offs. Full-service law firm Pérez Bustamante & Ponce remains the maret's leading full-service powerhouse and enjoys an excellent reputation. Direct competition comes from FERRERE Ecuador which opened its doors in 2015; the local office of a unique multi-jurisdictional Latin American firm that also operates in Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia. Bustamante & Bustamante's ongoing internal restructuring process, which includes a concerted effort to give greater operational power to younger lawyers, has also started to bear fruit. The legal market also includes a considerable number of mid-sized firms offering support in various practice areas but with smaller teams, names in this space include CorralRosales, Fabara & Compañía , and Tobar ZVS Spingarn, as well as Coronel & Pérez, Romero Arteta Ponce, Falconi Puig Abogados, Paz Horowitz Abogados, Lexvalor Abogados, Carmigniani Pérez Abogados and Consulegis Abogados ; the last of which, a Guayquil-based firm, announced its opening of a Quito office in August 2019.

In the country’s most active sector, energy and natural resources, the demand for firms that have expertise in oil and gas, as well as mining, is high. In addition to the aforementioned firms, notable players in this sector also include Flor & Hurtado, Noboa, Peña, Larrea & Torres Abogados, Gonzalez Peñaherrera & Asociados and Sempértegui Ontaneda Abogados. On the IP front, Bermeo & Bermeo Law Firm, Falconi Puig Abogados and Romero Corral Abogados are names to note, while Jaramillo Dávila Abogados and Almeida Guzmán & Asociados are go-to firms in the labour and tax sectors, respectively. The competition space continues to grow in numbers and sophistication, with a new specialist firm -Procompetencia- entering the ranking this year, although Antitrust Consultores remain the stand-out leaders in this sector.

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