Trading Out of Trouble in Latin America

By Natalija Novta and Fabiano Rodrigues Bastos

(Versions in Español and Português)

Growth in Latin America and the Caribbean is suffering a double whammy—economic activity has slowed down sharply and the medium-term outlook continues to deteriorate. It is therefore not surprising that policymakers across the region are eagerly searching for ways to revitalize growth.

One answer may be more trade—both within the region and with the rest of the world. Our new study analyzes the export performance in developing and emerging market regions over the past two decades to assess the potential for future export growth in Latin America. We find evidence that most countries in the region “undertrade” compared to what standard models would predict. This has been an entrenched problem for almost a quarter of a century, partly as a result of the region’s geography and a legacy of protectionist policies.

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Uncertain Times, Difficult Choices

By Vitor Gaspar and Alejandro Werner              

(Versions in Español and Português)                                         

Latin America under stress

After a period of strong growth, economic activity in Latin America has slowed sharply. Growth among the six larger, financially-integrated economies—Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay—is expected to be negative this year. With heightened financial market pressures and limited policy space, the credibility of policy makers is being seriously tested. In this challenging environment, policy-makers in these six countries face some difficult questions: how to strike the right balance between smoothing the adjustment and strengthening credibility? What role should fiscal policy play in this new, uncertain and rapidly evolving environment?

These and other questions will be addressed at the Annual Meetings in Lima, Peru next week.  As we prepare for these meetings, we offer our thoughts on some of the pressing issues for Latin America.

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Making Monetary Policy Decisions in the Dark

By Francesco Grigoli, Alexander Herman, Andrew Swiston, and Gabriel Di Bella

(Version in Español and Português)

In the wake of the global financial crisis, monetary and fiscal policies were used aggressively to counteract the effects of the crisis on economic activity. Policymakers look at a number of indicators to guide them in assessing an economy’s level of activity relative to its productive capacity. But trying to figure out the position of the economy in real time is often quite challenging, with consequences for setting policy.

In the case of Brazil in 2011, for example, policymakers estimated in real time that the economy was at a level of output consistent with its productive capacity. Over time, however, the assessment of the cyclical position of the Brazilian economy changed drastically. It had not just been at full capacity, but was overheating. The economy was actually facing inflationary pressures, requiring policy tightening to bring it back to the central bank’s target.

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Latin America and the Fiscal Stimulus: A Mild Hangover, Not Yet an Addiction

Alexander KlemmBy Alexander Klemm

(Versions in Español and Português)

Latin America is heading for tougher times. Regional growth is expected to dip below 1 percent in 2015, partly as a result of the drop in global commodity prices. How well placed is the region for the coming lean times?

Countries face this slowdown from much weaker fiscal positions than when the global financial crisis hit. Then, Latin America responded strongly with expansionary fiscal policies, including explicit fiscal stimulus programs in many countries. But, as growth has recovered, this increase in spending has proved difficult to reverse.

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Northern Spring, Southern Chills: Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean

Alejandro WernerBy Alejandro Werner

(Version in Español and Português)

Economic activity in Latin America and the Caribbean has been cooling down for several years, and the temperature in many places is still falling. Regional growth is now expected to dip below 1 percent in 2015—down from 1.3 percent in 2014. Apart from a short-lived recession during the global financial crisis, this would be the slowest rate of growth since 2002.

However, growth dynamics vary across the region, broadly along North-South lines. While spring may be in the air for Mexico, Central America, and parts of the Caribbean, the economic climate remains decidedly chilly in much of South America. What is behind these divergent prospects, and how can a sunnier outlook be restored to the entire region?

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Fiscal Impact of Lower Oil Prices on Latin America and the Caribbean

By Robert Rennhack and Fabián Valencia

(Versions in Español and Português)

The plunge in world oil prices—from $105 to about $50 per barrel since mid-2014—has been a boon for oil-importing countries, while presenting challenges for oil exporters.

In general, oil importers will enjoy faster growth, lower inflation, and stronger external positions, and most will not encounter any significant fiscal pressures. Oil exporters will tend to face slower growth and weaker external current account balances and some will run into fiscal pressures, since many rely on direct oil-related revenues. One country that stands out is Venezuela, which had been experiencing severe economic imbalances before oil prices began to fall and now finds itself in an even more precarious position.

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A Big Step Forward for Bolstering Financial Inclusion

By David Marston, Era Dabla-Norris, and D. Filiz Unsal

(version in Español)

Economists are paying increasing attention to the link between financial inclusion—greater availability of and access to financial services—and economic development. In a new paper, we take a closer look at exactly how financial inclusion impacts a country’s economy and what policies are most effective in promoting it.

The new framework developed in this paper allows us to identify barriers to financial inclusion and see how lifting these barriers might affect a country’s output and level of inequality.  Because the more you know about what stands in the way of financial inclusion, the better you can be at designing policies that help foster it.

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