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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To Hike or Not to Hike? Monetary Policy in Latin America During Fed Liftoff

By Carlos Caceres, Yan Carrière-Swallow, and Bertrand Gruss

(Versions in Español and Português)

As the U.S. Federal Reserve prepares to raise policy rates for the first time in almost a decade, Latin America is in the midst of a sharp downturn with unemployment on the rise. In this context, many central banks across the region have kept interest rates low to support economic activity. But can monetary policy stay that way as global rates rise? What will the Fed liftoff imply for the region?

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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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From Windfall to Windmill: Harnessing Asia’s Dynamism for Latin America

By Andre Meier and Fabiano Rodrigues Bastos

(Versions in Español and Português)

Latin America’s recent economic fortunes highlight the region’s closer economic ties with Asia. China, in particular, has grown into a crucial source of demand for Latin American commodities over the past two decades, providing significant gains to the region. The flip side is that the ongoing structural slowdown of Chinese investment is weighing considerably on the prices of those commodities, and the countries that export them.

But Asia can be much more than just a source of episodic windfall gains (and losses) for Latin America. Like a windmill, Asia could help to power a stronger Latin American economy—by providing an example of successful regional trade integration and through greater direct links across the Pacific that benefit both sides. However, securing these benefits will require clear and realistic objectives, a long-term strategy, and attention to the political and social implications of greater economic integration. 

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Financial Stability Committees: Learning from the Experts

By Jorge Roldos and Alejandro Werner

(Versions in Español and Português)

Macroeconomists and financial sector experts need to talk to each other. Such communication is important to help identify and measure systemic risks as well as to coordinate and/or conduct macroprudential policies—rules that reduce instability across the financial system.

The creation of financial stability committees, including in Latin America, have been a forum for precisely this—working together to share information about evolving risks, develop monitoring and mitigating tools, and to define the decision-making authority, accountability, and communication to the general public. But institutional design and governance of these councils differ across countries.

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Raising Long-Run Growth in Latin America and the Caribbean—A Complex(ity) Issue

By Fabiano Rodrigues Bastos and Ke Wang

(Versions in Español and Português)

Growth in Latin America and the Caribbean has weakened significantly over the last few years. Part of this weakness appears to be here to stay, and IMF economists have marked down medium-term growth projections. This story sounds eerily familiar, given the region’s past difficulties to improve its comparative growth performance.

Abstracting from the “golden decade” from 2003 to 2011, when rising commodity prices powered a strong expansion, why has the region been unable to sustain sufficiently high growth rates to catch up with more advanced economies? Part of the answer is Latin America’s modest success in branching out into more sophisticated—or complex—goods.

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