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Global slowdown weakens Latin America’s trade performance in 2012

In one bright spot, Mexico, Central America and Andean countries boost exports to a recovering United States market.

After posting double digit gains in 2010-2011, Latin America’s export growth declined to just 1.5 percent in 2012 for a total value of slightly more than $1 trillion, according to figures just released by the Integration and Trade Sector of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

The year’s performance marked the virtual end of the region’s expansive trade growth following the 2008-2009 financial crisis, in which Latin America’s exports staged an impressive rebound averaging an annual 26 percent in 2010 and 2011. By mid-2011, export growth had stalled, and then continued to weaken in 2012.

Despite the overall slowdown of export dynamism, results varied considerably among individual countries, according to the study. Exports from Chile and the MERCOSUR countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela) contracted an estimated 6 percent and 2 percent, respectively. But for Mexico and Central America, exports grew by an estimated 6 percent, while the Andean countries posted a 5 percent gain.

These results reflected uneven economic conditions in Latin America’s major trade partners. In Europe, economic setbacks resulted in a 5 percent drop in demand for Latin American exports, while lower growth in the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of Korea sharply slowed the region’s export growth to Asia as a whole, from 25 percent in 2011 to only 1 percent this year. As a result, the countries more reliant on Europe and Asia, such as MERCOSUR and Chile, showed markedly poorer performance.

In one bright spot, incipient recovery in the United States fueled growth in Latin American exports to that country by an estimated 3 percent. Benefits mostly went to the countries with the closest economic ties to the North American market, such as Mexico, Central America, and to a lesser extent, the Andean countries.

The study Latin American Trade Trend Estimates 2012 published by the IDB’s Integration and Trade Sector, is based on partial monthly and quarterly data of 16 Latin American countries from official national and international sources, as well as the Bank’s INTrade Information System.