This article contains an overview of the impact that COVID-19 has had around various sectors of the Dominican legal market, as well as some of the legal solutions that have emerged to tackle the crisis that the pandemic has brought with it.
Firstly, it should be recalled that the Dominican Republic has traditionally been characterized at the international level by its strengths in trade, the service sector, the tourism industry and agricultural production, but it has also positioned itself in recent years as the fastest growing economy in Latin America – being at the same time one of the most important economies in all of Central America and the Caribbean according to various indicators. This has been achieved on the back of its industries and the Free Trade Zone sector, which generate about 60% of the country’s exports and have a great impact on local employment.
However, the impact of COVID-19 in the Dominican Republic has been felt in a very negative way in several of the industries that have traditionally served as a pillar for the national economy, especially the tourism sector, which has been the worst hit by the pandemic.
The Central Bank, through the Monthly Indicator of Economic Activity (IMAE for its initials in Spanish) indicated the reality of the various industries in terms of their economic performance for the period January-May 2020 compared to the same period of the previous year, noting that the industries most affected were: hotels, bars and restaurants (-42.6%), construction (-23.2%), mining (-16.3%), transport and storage (-11.0%), free zones (-9.8%) and local manufacturing (-7.8%). On the other hand, the sectors that have established positive markers according to this indicator are the following: health (12.4%), financial services (10.5%), agriculture (5.2%), real estate activities (5.0%), communications (4.1%) and energy and water (2.0%).
In this sense, the Dominican legal community has had several challenges in terms of how to face the crisis and provide the different markets with the relevant legal solutions to mitigate the impact that COVID-19 may have in the various productive sectors of the country.
Labor advisory services have been among the most in-demand legal services today as a response to the uncertainty caused by the unprecedented scenario in which the pandemic has put Dominican workers. In our country, as in most of the international community, telecommuting practices and the suspension of employment contracts have increased, and, consequently, brought a mechanism of legal procedures that allow for the proper management of work in accordance with the law and the established processes.
On the other hand, as far as trade is concerned, there has been an accelerated transition to e-commerce and the use of digital platforms. Both public and private institutions have adapted to the digital trade model, promoting modern tools such as the use of electronic signatures and online payment systems that contribute to the agile development of trade practices without the need for physical contact or transport to the distributor.
An unfortunate aspect of the crisis in the economic and social sphere is the inevitable insolvency of single-owner businesses and small- and medium-sized enterprises due to the lack of liquidity generated by the suspension of business, and the consequent drop in sales. These businesses developed a negative cash flow, paying employees, suppliers and other fixed expenses, without incurring any – or little – income.
Faced with this reality, the first steps that businesses can take are to invest more capital, if possible, or turn to bank financing to help pay for the drop in sales. However, if none of these options is feasible, then corporate restructuring should be considered as a solution so that businesses can reorganize without having to cease operations. In this regard, we count with the Law 141-15 on Restructuring and Liquidation of Companies and Natural Persons that entered into force in 2017, and that availing to its provisions is a highly feasible and currently required option to face the economic crisis, allowing, among other things, the restructuring of businesses facing economic difficulties, with a process leading to a reduction in the liability burden to enable the business to continue its operations, thereby benefiting its creditors and employees.
Finally, with regard to future options in the context of private investment, the Law on Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) was recently enacted in the country, which seeks to facilitate the development of infrastructure and services of social interest, by channelling private sector funds to finance infrastructure and projects that contribute to the country’s sustainable development. PPPs have the potential to become one of the main mechanisms of support and cooperation for the reconstruction of the country’s economy, as they enable budgetary constraints to be addressed in a more timely manner, the execution and operation of works and services by the private sector, as well as diversifying the range of public services and infrastructures, allowing the incorporation of innovations and new initiatives in the sector, among other advantages.
At EY Law, we have the knowledge, experience and different lines of services aimed at meeting the legal needs that may be had in any of the aspects addressed in this article. We have innovative solutions and proposals that favor the development of an excellent business climate at local and international level, based on good business practices, ethics and responsibility with an integral and multidisciplinary team.