The turn of the year usually brings a fresh dose of optimism. Yet, worries dominate across much of Latin America and the Caribbean today, as 2015 marks yet another year of reduced growth expectations. Regional growth is projected at just 1¼ percent, about the same low rate as in 2014 and almost 1 percentage point below our previous forecast. Challenging external conditions are an important drag for many countries. Still, it’s not too late for some good New Year’s resolutions to address domestic weaknesses and improve growth prospects.
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I am looking forward to being in Peru this week to discuss economic and social developments with the government and a wide range of stakeholders—and also to follow up on the preparations for the next IMF–World Bank Annual Meetings, which will be held in Lima in October 2015. Later this week, I will participate in the Santiago Conference in Chile, where I will meet policymakers and influential representatives from Latin America and the Caribbean to discuss economic approaches to strengthen the entire region.
As I travel to the land of the Andes, I am reminded of the natural beauty of the region, the richness of its culture, and its incredible diversity. Despite its current challenges—growth continues to slow, as global economic and financial conditions are shifting and economies run up against capacity limits—I remain decidedly optimistic about the region’s potential to raise living standards while protecting its unique heritage and precious environment.
China is still a distant and exotic country in the mind of many people in Latin America. Yet, with the Asian giant rapidly expanding its ties with the region (the share of exports going to China is now ten times larger than in 2000), their economic fates seem to be increasingly connected. And in fact, a sharper slowdown in China now represents one of the key risks Latin Americans should be worried about—and prepare for. So, what is at stake? How much do shocks to China matter for economies in Latin America?
In an earlier study presented in our April 2014 Regional Economic Outlook, we analyzed growth spillovers in a large model of the global economy, focusing on the link through commodity prices. Here, we complement that analysis by using a simple yet novel approach that exploits the reaction of financial markets to the release of economic data. We find that growth surprises in China have a significant effect on market views about Latin American economies.
It looks as if labor markets in Latin America have not been following the economic news—literally! Economic activity has slowed markedly in the last three years, with some South American countries slipping into outright recession more recently. Yet, labor markets still appear remarkably strong, with unemployment rates, in particular, hovering at record-low levels in most countries (Figure 1). So, what is going on? Has the region discovered how to defy the law of gravity?
By Ian Parry
Energy plays a critical role in the functioning of modern economies. At the same time, it’s at the heart of many of today’s pressing environmental concerns—from global warming (predicted to reach around 3–4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century) and outdoor air pollution (causing over three million premature deaths a year) to traffic gridlock in urban centers. In a new IMF book, we look at precisely how policymakers can strike the right balance between the substantial economic benefits of energy use and its harmful environmental side effects.
These environmental impacts have macroeconomic implications, and with its expertise in tax design and administration, the IMF can offer sound advice on how energy tax systems can be designed to ensure energy prices fully reflect adverse environmental impacts.
We do this by developing a sensible and reasonably simple way to quantify environmental damages and applying it, in over 150 countries, to show what these environmental damages are likely to imply for efficient taxes on coal, natural gas, gasoline, and road diesel. For example, the human health damages from air pollution are calculated by estimating how many people are exposed to power plant and vehicle emissions in different countries and how this exposure increases the risk of various (e.g., heart and lung) diseases. Although there are some inescapable controversies in this approach (e.g., concerning the valuation of global warming damages or how people in different countries value health risks), the methodology is flexible enough to easily accommodate alternative viewpoints—it is a starting point for debate, not a final point of arrival.
The prospects for global growth have brightened in recent months, led by a stronger recovery in the advanced economies. Yet in Latin America and the Caribbean, growth will probably continue to slow, although some countries will do better than others. We analyze the challenges facing the region in our latest Regional Economic Outlook and discuss how policymakers can best deal with them.
By IMFdirect editors
Socrates’ famous method to develop his students’ intellect was to question them relentlessly in an unending search for contradictions and the truth—or at the very least, a great quote.
The method was alive and well among the moderators, panelists and audiences of the IMF’s Spring Meetings seminars that took place alongside official discussions, where boosting high-quality growth, with a focus on the medium term, was at the top of the agenda. Our editors fanned out and found a couple of big themes kept coming up. Here are some of the highlights.
Lots of people are talking about what happens when the flood of easy money into emerging markets thanks to low interest rates in advanced economies like the United States slows even more than it has in the past year.
At a seminar on fiscal policy the discussion focused on the challenges facing policymakers as central banks slowly exit from unconventional monetary policy and interest rates begin rising.
A live poll of the audience found 63 percent said the global economy remains weak and unconventional monetary policies should remain in place.
The recent slowdown in emerging market growth is fueling a growing mania across markets and policy circles. Some worry that a large part of their stellar pace of growth over the 2000s (Figure 1) was due to a favorable external environment—cheap credit and high commodity prices. And, therefore, as advanced economies gather momentum now and begin to normalize their interest rates, and commodity price gains begin to reverse, emerging market growth could slip further.
Others instead contend that internal or domestic factors have played a role, with improved standards of governance and genuine structural reforms and robust policies, driving a fundamental transformation in the sources of emerging market growth towards a lower yet more sustainable trajectory.
Looking to the year ahead, how do we see the global economic landscape, and what will this mean for our region? This question is especially on people’s minds today, given the risks of deflation in advanced economies and of sustained turbulence in emerging markets.
Despite these risks, we expect that the region will grow a little faster than last year—increasing from 2.6 percent in 2013 to 3 percent in 2014. Stronger global demand is one part of the story, but not the whole story; volatility is likely to be a significant feature of the landscape ahead. And regional growth rates will still be in low gear compared to historical trends, and downside risks to growth remain. So, let’s start with the global scene.
Isabel Rial is a senior economist for the Expenditure Policy Division in the Fiscal Affairs Department. Besides contributing to the Fund’s regular surveillance of the Turkish economy, Ms. Rial works on a range of cross country fiscal policy issues. In her 10 years of experience in the Fund, Ms. Rial has lead several technical assistance missions to both surveillance and program countries, particularly focusing on fiscal risks management, public-private partnerships, as well as the estimation and use of structural fiscal balances. Prior to joining the Fund, she was chief of the Fiscal Policy Division at the Central Bank of Uruguay and taught at the University of Uruguay. She has a MA in applied macroeconomics from the Pontific Catholic University in Chile.