The Mergers & Acquisitions Litigation Review: Mexico

Overview

Mexico has improved its legal system in recent years to become a suitable venue to conduct business and protect investment through deregulation and the execution of bilateral and multilateral agreements on trade and investment. Despite of the covid-19 pandemic, according to official sources foreign investment in Mexico increased during the first quarter of 2021.2

Although there have been advances, it is still a major step to adapt to new market trends and innovation in the Mexican mergers and acquisitions (M&A) culture. These trends include departing from older statutes and traditional legal practices and revamping the judicial system to allow more efficient, speedier and creative judgments, which can be seen in oral proceedings. Mexico must transition to a true rule-of-law system that provides equal access to justice for every person and ensures effective redress. If Mexican courts do not evolve and transition to more sophisticated analysis, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms (and even foreign venues) will continue to prevail in sophisticated transactions in Mexico. Sophisticated M&A transactions are rarely disputed in local courts and arbitration is often the preferred method of dispute resolution.

The volume of litigation related to M&A transactions in Mexico is low. However, in the past few years there has been an increase in M&A transactions, which was followed by a downturn in the Mexican economy that increased the volume of M&A litigation.

Legal and regulatory background

Mexico is a civil law country. Thus, Mexican courts do not follow a stare decisis or precedent doctrine as understood by common law scholars. There are no jury trials. As a general rule, there is no discovery and, although there are oral hearings as part of Mexican proceedings, the legal system still relies heavily on written pleadings and formalities. A change in the administration of justice is emerging via three different avenues:

  1. oral proceedings;
  2. effective access to justice (merits over procedural formalities); and
  3. as part of the effect of covid-19, a necessary transition to online dispute mechanisms.

The main sources of law in Mexico in order of precedence are:

  1. the Mexican Constitution;
  2. international treaties;
  3. statutes, administrative bands and regulations; and
  4. contracts and rulings.

The interpretation of law is done according to the express text of the law, its interpretation by judicial precedents and the general principles of law.

As a general principle, the Constitution sets forth a reserve clause whereby the authority not vested in the Federal Congress is understood to be reserved for Mexican states. Commercial law (both substantive and procedural) is under federal jurisdiction. However, an M&A deal must consider federal, state and municipal laws. Certain types of Mexican entities (civil societies and civil associations) are governed by local civil codes and fall outside the scope of federal jurisdiction and commercial laws.

Some of the main statutes that govern M&A transactions and shareholders matters are:

  1. the Constitution;
  2. the General Law of Commercial Companies (LGSM);
  3. the Stock Market Law (LMV);
  4. the General Law of Negotiable Instruments and Credit Transactions;
  5. the Commercial Code;
  6. the Federal Civil Code;
  7. the Foreign Investment Law;
  8. the Federal Economic Competition Law; and
  9. the Federal Law for the Prevention and Identification of Transactions with Resources of Illicit Origin.

Other statutes, laws and regulations may apply depending on the industry sector and type of M&A transaction.

Regulators often involved in M&A transactions are the Federal Economic Competition Commission (Cofece) and, in public M&A deals, the National Banking and Securities Commission. Other regulators may be involved depending on the industry sector (telecoms, mining, banking, etc.).

Shareholder claims

i Common claims and procedure

Shareholders have two types of rights: economic (dividends and distributions) and corporate. Corporate rights subdivide into three:

  1. governance (the right to call to a shareholders' meeting, prepare the agenda of a meeting and vote);
  2. surveillance (the right to request information, review the company's operations, review the board of director's performance, approve financial statements, etc.); and
  3. minority rights that vary depending on the type of entity (the right to call shareholders' meetings, opposition claims, delay voting, claim liability from management, appoint directors or statutory auditors, etc.).

Further, shareholders may execute a shareholders' or operational agreement that contains additional rules, rights and obligations regarding the shareholders. The violation of any of the above-mentioned rights will give legal standing to the shareholders to file a claim or trigger the opposition, separation or other rights set forth in the LGSM.

The shareholders in a limited liability society (SRL) and anonymous society (SA) may be subject to involuntary separation. The grounds for separation for an SRL are established in the LGSM, such as a shareholder using the company for its own business, infringing the by-laws of the company or applicable law, defrauding the company or the company entering into insolvency. In the case of the SA, the grounds for separation may be set forth in the by-laws of the company on the understanding that the LGSM does not provide an exhaustive list.

Some of the most common and relevant shareholder claims are as follows.

Opposition claim

All resolutions adopted in shareholders' meetings are binding for all shareholders, including missing and dissenting shareholders. However, the LGSM provides that shareholders representing at least 25 per cent (20 per cent for investment promotion corporations (SAPIs)) of the shares have the right to file an opposition claim against such resolutions, should they meet the following requirements:

  1. the claim is filled within 15 days following the shareholders' meeting;
  2. the claimants did not attend the meeting or voted against the resolution;
  3. the claim states the violated legal provision or provision of the by-laws; and
  4. the claimants deposit their shares before a public notary, public broker or a credit institution. The shares will remain in deposit until the trial finishes. A certificate of such deposit shall accompany the claim.

If an opposition claim is filed, the enforcement of the challenged resolution may be stayed by the court until final judgment if the claimants issue a bond for the potential damage that the company may suffer as a result of any stay.

Nullity of shareholders' meetings

While opposition claims are aimed at challenging the resolutions adopted during shareholders' meetings, a nullity claim is aimed at rendering the shareholders' meeting null and void. Shareholders' meetings must comply with some formal requirements:

  1. it has to be conducted in the corporate domicile;
  2. the call for the meeting has to be properly performed;
  3. the call must be signed by the authorised person and contain the agenda; and
  4. quorum and attendance requirements must be met.

If any of these requirements is not met, the shareholders may claim the nullity of the shareholders' meeting. The Mexican Supreme Court has ruled that the article of the LGSM that provides that the enforcement of the challenged resolution may be stayed applies only for an opposition claim and not for a nullity claim. However, in a nullity claim, the claimants could seek an interim measure regardless of such provision. The statute of limitation for a nullity claim is 10 years. In these claims, the claimants do not need to deposit their shares before a public notary or credit institution.

Claims arising from the by-laws of the company or shareholders' agreements

Not all claims involve a shareholders' meeting. Shareholders may also bring claims based on an alleged violation of their contractual rights as contained in the by-laws of the company or shareholders' agreements. The type of claim will depend on the breached obligation, the defending party (e.g., another shareholder, the company or the board of directors) and the remedy sought. Some of these claims are, for instance, the violation of the right to first refusal, drag or tag-along clauses and lack of approval for selling shares.

ii Remedies

Remedies will depend on the type of claim, applicable legal provisions and contractual obligations. However, common remedies include:

  1. the nullity of certain acts (e.g., a shareholders' meeting, an agreement, a sale of shares);
  2. mandatory performance of obligations;
  3. civil liability; or
  4. other remedies (e.g., a call for a shareholders' meeting, delivery of information).

Directors may be held liable (under criminal or civil law) for acts carried out exceeding the authority conferred upon them. Specific acts that may lead to the liability of directors
include:

  1. negligent or unlawful acts when contracting or assuming obligations on behalf of the company if the act is carried out against the law or the company's by-laws;
  2. not requesting registration of the company with the federal taxpayers' registry or failing to notify a change of fiscal domicile to the tax authorities;
  3. in a bankruptcy situation, if wilful acts are carried out to the detriment of the company's financial condition (including by altering, falsifying, not presenting or destroying accounting records of the company); and
  4. in the event the company is declared null (i.e., a company that carries out illicit acts or has an illicit corporate purpose) due to the customary performance of unlawful acts.

The LGSM sets forth a specific list of obligations and liabilities of directors. Officers are usually granted with powers of attorney and will be liable if they exceed the authority conferred upon them.

In publicly traded companies and companies that choose the publicly traded company management regime under the LMV (SAPIs), the duties of directors include two categories: duty of care and duty of loyalty.

iii Defences

Defences will vary on a case-by-case basis depending on the type of claim, the remedies sought and the particular circumstances of the case. However, for the purposes of this chapter, defences are divided into two main categories: defences of admissibility or formalities, and defences on the merits.

Defences based on admissibility or formalities are those aimed at evidencing that the claimant did not fulfil the legal requirements or formalities to submit a claim:

  1. lack of legal standing;
  2. lack of representation;
  3. not delivering the certificate of deposit of the shares (for opposition claims);
  4. not submitting the claim within 15 days following the shareholders' meeting (for opposition claims); and
  5. not meeting the minimum required shares to file a claim (opposition claim); etc.

Defences on the merits depend on the legal and factual grounds adduced by the claimants. Defendants will need to refute such grounds. In shareholder disputes, common defences are that:

  1. the resolution taken at the shareholders' meeting does not violate the by-laws or the applicable laws;
  2. the shareholders' meeting is not affected by any of the grounds for its nullification; and
  3. the other party did not fulfil its own obligations and therefore cannot claim the fulfilment of its counterparty's obligations; etc.

iv Advisers and third parties

Third-party and adviser claims (including lawyers, financial advisers, investment bankers, accountants, brokers, notary publics, tax advisers, among others) are not common in Mexico. However, there are claims that may be filed against advisers specifically related to negligence or malpractice. Most advisers provide waivers and releases in their engagement terms. Issuance of experts' opinions (such as legal opinions) is highly reviewed, negotiated and discussed to limit the exposure of advisers.

v Class and collective actions

Class or collective actions have been permitted in Mexico since 2011. However, thus far, class actions in Mexico have not been used in shareholder disputes or in an M&A environment.

vi Insurance and indemnification

Indemnification in Mexico is limited by applicable statutes. Mexican courts will not normally award punitive, consequential or indirect damages in commercial disputes. Mexican law follows a 'direct and immediate consequence of the breach' test. This applies to both damage and lost profits. Notwithstanding, as a consequence of a recent judicial precedent dealing with moral damages, a new theory was introduced that effective damage redress could include the need to award damages that are known as punitive in other jurisdictions. However, these types of damages are only applicable to very specific cases and have not become a judicial trend.

Insurance in M&A transactions is not common However, in recent years there has been an increase in demand for directors' and officers' insurance, and representation and warranties insurance is now being offered by certain insurance providers.

The involvement of insurance companies has a huge impact in M&A litigation. If the insurance company pays the policyholder, the insurance company subrogates the policyholder's rights against the counterparty and, thus, the insurance company becomes a party to the dispute. It is different litigating against a company or individual than litigating against an insurance company, which may have more resources and experience in litigation.

vii Settlement

Commercial disputes can be freely settled. Settlements may arise from negotiations between the parties or from mediation and can be executed before a claim has been filed or during the litigation proceedings. Settlement agreements are considered res judicata, but subject to being rendered null and void in certain circumstances.

viii Other issues

Interim measures are available in commercial disputes. While the Commercial Code only contains two kinds of interim measures (seizure of assets and travel restraint orders), the Mexican Supreme Court has ruled that the parties may also request interim measures aimed at maintaining the status quo of a factual situation. In general terms, the requirements to obtain interim measures are:

  1. that on a prima facie basis, the petitioner has a good case;
  2. urgency; and
  3. the issuance of a guarantee for the potential damage that the interim measures may cause to the other party.

Interim measures may be granted ex parte and, as for normal commercial proceedings, the resolution granting the interim measures is challengeable.

Counterparty claims

i Common claims and procedure

The most common counterparty claims in M&A transactions generally derive from a breach of a transaction document. In a pre-closing environment this generally relates to a breach of exclusivity, failure to continue ordinary business behaviour prior to closing, failure to obtain regulatory approval or failure to fulfil a condition precedent. In a post-closing environment, the most common disputes generally relate to price adjustments, breach of representations or warranties, failure to comply with a post-closing covenant, or compliance of obligations related to holdbacks or earn-outs.

All components of an M&A deal need to be duly documented to have sufficient evidence to file a claim and succeed in such a claim.

M&A disputes are settled through an oral commercial trial unless the law provides for specific alternative proceedings or the dispute is of an undetermined amount.

If the dispute is of an undetermined amount, an ordinary commercial trial will take place. Commercial trials are conducted before federal or local courts. Alternatively, and commonly used if agreed by the parties, arbitration will apply.

Typical time frames for a commercial litigation may range from two to four years.

ii Remedies

The available remedies may include the following:

  1. nullity of all or part of the transaction documents;
  2. mandatory fulfilment;
  3. termination; and
  4. claim for indemnification.

iii Defences

As discussed in Section III, defences change on a case-by-case basis depending on the type of claim, the remedies sought and the particular circumstances of the case. An important aspect to consider in counterparty claims is specific controversies or circumstances where the burden of proof rule is reversed or shifted (i.e., knowledge or similar qualifiers included in the representations in M&A deals).

iv Arbitration

Arbitration is a common mechanism to settle disputes arising from sophisticated M&A transactions involving Mexico, with the seat of the arbitration either in Mexico or abroad. Arbitration agreements and arbitration awards are protected and enforceable in Mexico, regardless of whether the seat of the arbitration is in Mexico or elsewhere. Additionally, Mexican courts will assist international and domestic arbitration proceedings.

Nevertheless, to include an arbitration clause to settle shareholders' or M&A disputes, additional considerations are needed, which are not necessarily present in other traditional transactions. Arbitration contained in the by-laws of a company provides some challenges:

  1. Are new shareholders bound by an arbitration agreement adopted prior to their admission?
  2. Are shareholders that voted against the inclusion of an arbitration agreement bound by it?
  3. Access to certain reliefs might not be available.

Arbitration clauses included in shareholders' agreements or in M&A transactions should seek uniformity in all relevant documents, otherwise there are important risks, such as:

  1. having parallel proceedings resolving the same issues;
  2. impossibility of calling third parties;
  3. impossibility of consolidating proceedings; and
  4. unenforceability of the arbitration clause; etc.

v Other issues

Merger and acquisition transactions in Mexico are tailor-made, and judicial precedents and market standards are vague. Thus, structuring and implementing an M&A deal will depend on the parties involved and how sophisticated the deal is. It is very common to encounter a sophisticated party dealing with an unsophisticated counterparty. This creates an inefficient deal and increases the risk of litigation.

As further discussed below, the decision on the applicable laws, venues and jurisdiction is a sensitive subject.

A fairly common issue during M&A negotiations is using the market standards argument. Market standards in Mexico are not clear because public precedents are few and far between and, thus, standards are set by the advisers.

Cross-border issues

i Substantive law and jurisdiction

Mexican company law typically follows the rules regarding jurisdiction and applicable substantive law as described below.

Substantive law (choice of law)

Mexican laws apply to:

  1. all persons in the Mexican territory;
  2. acts occurring within the Mexican territory or jurisdiction; and
  3. acts that are subject to Mexican laws (either by mandatory provision or agreement).

The determination of the applicable law shall be made in accordance with the following rules:

  1. a legal act validly created in Mexico or a foreign country according to its law will be recognised;
  2. the capacity and status of any individual is governed by the law of his or her domicile;
  3. real estate, as well as contracts for the lease and temporary use of real estate, are governed by the law of its location, even if its owners are foreigners;
  4. the form of legal act is governed by the law of the place where it is performed; and
  5. the legal effects of acts and contracts shall be governed by the law of the place where they are to be performed, unless the parties have validly designated the applicability of another law.

Foreign law can be applied by Mexican courts as would be done by the corresponding judge. The Mexican authorities may request all information about the text, validity, meaning and legal scope of the foreign law. If different aspects of the same legal relationship are regulated by different laws, these should be applied harmoniously (to the extent that the court, in the resolution of the dispute, should seek to protect the rights of and avoid causing harm to the parties).

In the context of a commercial dispute, and more precisely in M&A disputes, any party alleging the applicability of a foreign law will have the burden of proof to provide evidence towards its existence, enforceability and scope of application in the specific case.

A party's autonomy is the general principle following commercial law. However, the general restrictions are dictated by public policy, prohibitive laws and third-party rights.

Jurisdiction

The place of domicile of a Mexican corporation is a key element to determine the appropriate forum in connection with a dispute related to its incorporation, existence and corporate life. For other types of actions, the general principles of conflict of norms, the features of parties involved and the nature of the potential subject matter of the dispute will need to be taken into consideration.

In general terms, the current legal framework in respect to jurisdiction for personal and private claims follows objective criteria, based on features or functional connections with the claim's nature: subject matter, territory, amount in dispute and instance. Recent court precedents have determined that parties may choose the jurisdiction they submit to as long as there is a relevant connection between the parties' domicile or the place where they should perform their obligations or where the object in dispute is located and the jurisdiction of choice.

Furthermore, a court will be deemed to have jurisdiction according to the following rules:

  1. based on the place where the defendant has designated to be required judicially to pay his or her duties;
  2. the place where the obligation is meant to be performed;
  3. the location of the assets (in rem type of actions over real estate assets or lease agreements);
  4. the domicile of the defendant; and
  5. insolvency and bankruptcy proceedings would normally follow the rule of the location of the debtor.

This overview reflects the most common aspects pertaining to issues of jurisdiction, provided that in specific types of claims (based on the parties involved, the nature of the dispute and potential exclusive forum jurisdiction – i.e., federal versus state attributions or jurisdictional exclusive federal reserved items) parties will be prevented from agreeing on jurisdiction, where such matters would be regulated by a binding statutory provision granting jurisdiction to a specific type of tribunal or administrative body, or a particular procedure and venue where the case could be heard.

ii Service of process

Service of process in Mexico is protected on a constitutional basis as part of due process of law principles. Such an essential formality, from a procedural standpoint, entails a fundamental right that secondary legislation still regulates in a very strict and scrutinised fashion.

In general terms, service of process of a company should be conducted in the company's domicile and dealt personally with a legal representative of such entity where the court official has to deliver proper notice of the lawsuit, the documentary evidence and each and every resolution issued by the court prior to such service. All relevant documents should be properly sealed and numbered by the court.

The court official has to observe strict formalities when serving the notification and gather supporting evidence of each relevant aspect of such service. To contravene those formalities could lead to the nullity of the service of process and, consequently, the process derived therefrom.

iii Cross-border awareness and judicial assistance

In the context of cross-border disputes, Mexico is a party to the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extra Judicial Documents in Civil and Commercial Matters and to the Inter-American Convention on Letters Rogatory, drafted to simplify and standardise the international service process between signatory parties. Requests for service under these treaties should be transmitted to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, who acts as the Mexican central authority for these matters.

In a domestic proceeding, to establish procedural communications with a foreign court or with an individual located abroad, means of communication called a letter rogatory or exhort, respectively, are used. In general terms, these may be delivered through the courts, or by consular officials, diplomatic agents or the competent authority of the requesting or requested state, as the case may be. Letters rogatory or exhorts sent to or received from abroad, except as provided in treaties or conventions to which Mexico is a party, shall be subject to domestic legislation.

Moreover, in the framework of international procedural cooperation, certain guidelines must be observed regarding the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments, awards, evidence-gathering and other foreign decisions and notices. Normal restrictions in judicial assistance would be related to due process of law, sovereignty reserves, reciprocity and public order.

Year in review

i Radiopolis acquisition

In July 2019, Corporativo Coral and Mr Miguel Alemán Magnani (Grupo Alemán) agreed with Televisa, the Mexican media conglomerate, on the acquisition of 50 per cent of the capital stock of Radiopolis, a company involved primarily in the operation of radio stations throughout Mexico, for the amount of 1,248 million pesos.

The purchase price was to be paid in several instalments. Allegedly, Grupo Alemán failed to make an initial payment of 624 million pesos that was due in August 2019 once the authorisation from the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT), the Mexican telecoms regulator, was granted. Televisa is seeking full payment of the purchase price and other ancillary amounts.3

ii Uber/Cornershop merger

The request for authorisation for a merger between Uber, the on-demand transportation company, and Cornershop, an on-demand grocery delivery service that operates in the Latin American market, was originally filed before the Cofece. However, the IFT sustained it was the competent authority to analyse the request owing to the fact that both companies render their services through technological applications or apps.

This resulted in a dispute regarding jurisdiction. After analysing arguments from both agencies, the specialised antitrust courts determined that Cofece was the competent authority to examine the request for the merger.

The court's decision was based on the argument that, although Uber and Cornershop render their services through apps, the nature of their services is not related to telecommunications and the companies only use their apps as a means to offer and render their services.4

Without a doubt, this is a landmark decision resolving the regulators' competence regarding companies involved in e-commerce, which is a sector that has grown tremendously in Mexico.

iii Disney/Fox merger

Another relevant matter is the merger between Disney and 21st Century Fox. This merger had effects in several jurisdictions, including Mexico.

According to a number of media outlets, Televisa obtained a precautionary measure from a federal judge to prevent the closing of the acquisition of Fox by Disney. Televisa's main argument consisted of the alleged lack of analysis by the IFT of Televisa's arguments to oppose the merger. Such arguments were presumably raised by Televisa in an antitrust complaint filed before the IFT. The federal judge ordered the IFT to analyse Televisa's arguments.5

iv Developments

Tax advisers' responsibilities

On 19 December 2019, a new section entitled 'Disclosure of Reportable Schemes' was incorporated into the Mexican Tax Code (CFF). Under this new regime, tax advisers are obliged to disclose generalised and personalised disclosable schemes to the Tax Administration Service (SAT).

A tax adviser is understood to be any natural person or legal entity who, in the ordinary course of his or her activity, performs tax advisory activities, and is responsible for or is involved in the design, commercialisation, organisation, implementation or administration of the entire reportable scheme or makes the entire reportable scheme available for its implementation by a third party. Under the CFF, a tax adviser may be a resident of Mexico or a party residing abroad that has a permanent establishment in the country, as long as their activities in Mexico are the types of activities conducted by a tax adviser.

A reportable scheme is considered to be any scheme that generates or may generate, directly or indirectly, the obtaining of a tax benefit in Mexico and that has any of the characteristics set forth in Article 199 of the CFF, which includes, among other things, that the scheme prevents foreign authorities from exchanging fiscal or financial information with the Mexican tax authorities or consists of one or more legal acts that allow tax losses pending reduction of tax profits to be transmitted to persons other than those who generated them.

This is an unprecedented legal reform that targets tax advisers who, under the CFF, are now subject to penalties that could go up to 20 million pesos and criminal liability if they fail to report or file an incomplete report of a reportable scheme. In almost – if not all – M&A transactions, a tax adviser is involved.

Outsourcing reform

On 23 April 2021, the Bill to Eliminate Subcontracting and to Regulate Specialised Services was published in the Mexican Federal Official Gazette (Labour Bill). This Bill is a revised version of a proposed bill filed on November 2020 by the Executive Power. The Labour Bill came into force on 24 April 2021, and there are specific time frames to comply with the same. The main features of the Labour Bill are as follows:

  1. subcontracting of personnel is prohibited, which is defined as when an individual or legal entity provides its own employees for the benefit of another;
  2. the subcontracting of specialised services or specialised works is only allowed when they are not part of the corporate purpose or the main economic activity of the beneficiary of the services (contracting party), provided that the contractor has the corresponding registration before the Labour Ministry;
  3. companies that provide specialised subcontracting services must obtain registration before the Labour Ministry, which issued general guidelines for registration on 24 May 2021 that became effective a day after its publication. Companies will have 90 natural days to obtain such registration before the Labour Ministry from the date of publication of the guidelines (90 days as of 25 May 2021, which has been extended before 1 September 2021);
  4. to be registered before the Labour Ministry as a specialised service provider, the specialised service provider's social security and tax obligations must be up to date; the registration must be renewed every three years and can be revoked at any time;
  5. for labour purposes, an employer substitution will be valid only when assets from the substituted employer are also transferred to the substitute employer, in addition to the transfer of personnel;
  6. employees' profit sharing distributions will be capped to three months of salary or the average of the profit sharing received in the past three years (whichever is more beneficial to the employee); and
  7. other aspects related to the transfer of personnel through employer substitution, among other things, are included.

With such Labour Bill, many corporate groups have executed mergers, spin-offs and corporate reorganisations to comply with the relevant legislation and avoid sanctions from the authorities.

Digital transition reforms in the area of civil associations and civil societies

The pandemic has made clear that the fastest way to achieve a competitive advantage is the adoption of digital tools and technologies. For this reason, on 4 August 2021, a decree was published in the Mexican Federal Official Gazette amending the Civil Code of Mexico City and establishing the possibility for associations and civil societies to hold meetings by videoconference and to adopt resolutions outside meetings as long as they are adopted unanimously and confirmed in writing in a physical or electronic document, with the wet or advanced electronic signature of the participants.

This reform is an important step in the recognition of digital means for the adoption of corporate resolutions, a situation that, due to the specialty and dynamism of commerce, is expected to be implemented soon in commercial matters.

Fintech regulation

The Mexican Fintech Law regulates two types of financial technology institutions (FTIs):

  1. crowdfunding institutions, which connect people so that investors can fund investment seekers of debt or equity through mobile applications, interfaces, websites or any other means of electronic or digital communication; and
  2. electronic payment funds institutions, which are dedicated to e-money, offering issuance, management, accountability and transfers of electronic payment services.

Both of these have become part of the supervised financial sector; to operate and offer their financial services in Mexico, they must secure a prior authorisation from the National Banking and Securities Commission.

Furthermore, the Fintech Law also regulates:

  1. virtual assets, although it is an exclusive authority of the Mexican Central Bank to determine which virtual assets fintech or credit institutions may use;
  2. temporary authorisation plans for entities wishing to perform financial services under new methods, also known as sandboxes schemes; and
  3. open banking schemes under which credit institutions, fintech entities and other financial entities must share certain data through application programming interfaces; in this way, these entities will share data in a two-way flow.

Although the intention of the Fintech Law was for Mexico to become a fintech friendly country, secondary regulation has been extremely comprehensive and, as a consequence, regulatory burdens have made it difficult for Mexico to be fintech friendly. As of 13 July 2021, the CNBV (the National Banking and Securities Commission) has granted 52 authorisations to FTIs and imposed 17 fines on several financial and non-financial entities for violations to the Fintech Law in an aggregate amount of approximately 30 million pesos.

Material adverse effect and material adverse change provisions

In the context of the covid-19 pandemic, M&A parties have material adverse change (MAC) or material adverse effect (MAE) provisions at the centre of their negotiations or discussions. Usually, agreements for the sale of a company or a company's assets include provisions regarding MACs or MAEs. Under such provisions, the party affected by such changes may be relieved of the duty of fulfilling its contractual pre-closing or post-closing obligations, or may have the right to terminate the contract.

Nevertheless, given the severe consequences of these types of provisions, usually it is quite difficult to meet the threshold for triggering them. As a consequence, Mexico – as well as every other country affected by covid-19 – is experiencing a rise in litigation matters involving the interpretation of MAE and MAC provisions, which will ultimately determine if a party has committed a breach of contract.

Distressed business acquisitions

Another trend we are beginning to see in Mexico is the acquisition of distressed businesses. Such acquisitions are made before any legal proceeding is commenced, but in some cases such acquisitions are made during a bankruptcy proceeding. These types of transactions, even those made when no bankruptcy filing has been made, have a high potential for litigation.

Distressed M&A usually increase the risk of litigation owing to the fact that third parties, such as creditors or any other third party with a legal interest usually oppose the transaction and may seek to prevent or reverse the transaction. Further, the seller is usually in a dire situation. If legal proceedings have begun, there may be limitations as to what type of transactions the target company may enter into. Such limitations, in a civil law country such as Mexico, often come from the law, but may sometimes be ordered by the bankruptcy court.

Outlook and conclusions

Mexico is an attractive jurisdiction for investors and investment because the modernisation of its legal framework, the improving network of its international agreements and its continuous adaptation to international standards provide a reliable and foreseeable landscape for foreign investment.

However, paving the transition to becoming a major economy appears to be a considerable challenge, as the worldwide pandemic crisis has delayed the development that countries with similar characteristics have experienced. Thus, strengthening institutions and having a strong and independent judiciary, together with providing a safer environment for business, would certainly help to focus the business community's interest in Mexico for inbound investment, in particular with recent developments and the enactment of pieces of legislation and nobel public policy (particularly in the energy sector) expressly contravening the previous constitutional and legal framework.

Fintech start-ups are being acquired by larger companies, or are expanding their presence in Mexico by entering into a variety of different arrangements with financial service providers (e.g., collaboration agreements, mergers, services agreements). Joint ventures, associations or combinations of fintech companies with Mexican financial intermediaries, as well as with telecom and IT companies, are no longer merely a trend but a consolidated reality.

The internal market (and foreign investment in the internal market) could be significantly fuelled by the successful implementation of anti-corruption laws and creating economic and political certainty to promote investment.

Footnotes

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