Pacific Alliance and Mercosur: Moving at Two Speeds?
Latin America’s economy is moving at two speeds, according to the Spanish bank BBVA, as the Pacific Alliance gaining ground as Mercosur, the Common Market of the South, slipped into reverse in 2015 and on into 2016.
In its first-quarter 2016 outlook, BBVA lowered its forecast for global GDP growth in 2016 to 3.2 percent, foreseeing a more robust recovery only towards the end of 2017. Following on the depressed global outlook, BBVA’s 2016 growth projections for all Latin American countries except Peru (where the impact of El Niño is less than anticipated) received downward revisions.
BBVA projects the Pacific Alliance—Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru—will achieve somewhere between two percent and 2.5 percent growth in 2016. This is less than in 2015, and still below the trade bloc’s potential, which the bank puts at 3.8 percent. But the growth rate should improve as 2016 ends and 2017 begins.
BBVA sees the Pacific Alliance, currently the sixth biggest economy in the world, rising to fifth in terms of contribution to global growth in the next 10 years.
Meanwhile, Mercosur—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela—is forecast to contract by around 3.4 percent, with recession in Brazil providing most of the drag.
Market pressures on countries that are relatively dependent on external financing and commodity exporters—and, especially, commodity exporters to China—have ratcheted up in recent months, according to BBVA. These pressures have resulted in sharp losses in export and import values for Latin America’s top trading nations in 2015, as our trade data indicates. By this measure at least, both the Pacific Alliance and Mercosur look to have traveled in the same direction at comparable speeds.
Venezuela appears to be an outlier in, clocking a nine-percent increase in exports. But the Venezuelan data does not cover the country’s oil exports and does cover its petroleum-based exports. Petrochemicals, which rank as Venezuela’s most valuable exports, sustained losses in 2015, starting with methanol (which dropped in value 42 percent), napthalene (-11 percent), ethylene glycol (-18 percent), and propylene (-65 percent).
What accounts for the surge in Venezuelan exports? According to the trade data, tankers for the transport of goods. The value of empty tankers surged 3,339 percent to $300 million in 2015, and accounted for 11 percent of Venezuelan exports. Most were destined for Aruba in the Netherlands Antilles. Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA, has storage and blending facilities on the neighboring Antilles islands, Bonaire and Curaçao. The underlying records label these shipments as returns to the point of origin.
Rather than a clear gain for Venezuelan exports, these shipments may have more to do with the global traffic snarl of tankers as over-supplies and plummeting prices distort oil market flows. Last November, Reuters reported that inbound oil tankers waiting at Venezuelan ports to be paid before discharging were keeping empty vessels from loading product for export.