The Latin American Economic Outlook 2008 (LEO) is designed to be an indispensable reference on Latin America’s economic trends, challenges and opportunities. LEO 2008 is organized around four broad themes that focus on one specific dimension:
Policy coherence: improving fiscal policy
Finance: deepening pension reform
Business: investment and telecommunications
Trade: growing trade with China and India
Containing innovative indicators and cross-regional case studies, LEO 2008 stimulates informed debate on how to maximize development opportunities in all these areas.
Better, Fairer, More: Fiscal Policy and Legitimacy
Fiscal legitimacy matters—the trust people place in their government’s fiscal policy—matters for economic development and democratic governance because it affects the quality of a country’s fiscal policy. Many countries in Latin America suffer from a vicious circle in which poor-quality fiscal policy hinders the generation of tax revenue and the effectiveness of public expenditure, thereby weakening fiscal and democratic legitimacy, which in turns undermines the quality of fiscal policy.
Brazil and Mexico Illustrate: Brazil collects and spends much, Mexico collects and spends little, but neither performs well in terms of fiscal quality. In the 1990s, fiscal reform in Latin America focused with some success on insulating fiscal policy from politics, but many reforms ultimately failed because they did not take local political realities into account. Today, politics is returning to the front of the debate on fiscal and especially tax reform with the link between fiscal policy and democratic governance beginning to gain the attention it requires. Decision makers need to exploit the linkages between fiscal policy and democratic governance to successfully implement fiscal reform and address Latin America’s urgent social challenges. Local think tanks can contribute by stimulating a debate on policy options and so play a crucial role in enhancing transparency, but they require financial autonomy to ensure their intellectual independence.
Pension Reform, Capital Markets and Corporate Governance
Latin America leads the developing world in pension reform. Chile launched the process in 1981, followed since the 1990s by nine other countries in the region and some outside. The reform constitutes a transition from publicly managed “pay-as-you-go” to privately managed, fully funded, retirement systems. Its objectives, in addition to providing a reliable source of retirement income for workers and reducing the fiscal drain on governments from existing systems, include two on which this chapter focuses: the enhancement of national savings, where overall results are not encouraging; and the deepening of local capital markets, where results are encouraging. Policy recommendations include measures to improve the alignment of incentives amongst pension-fund members (active and retired workers), sponsors (employers) and managers. Countries should re-examine regulations that hamper a healthy diversification of pension assets, while maintaining high prudential standards. Some countries must give attention to the excessively high administrative fees and costs that pension funds charge members. Better governance of pension funds can also enhance their role as agents for improved corporate governance outside the pension sector, contributing to long-term economy-wide productivity growth for the considerable benefit of workers, active and retired, and employers alike.
Multinationals, Telecommunications and Development
Since the early 1990s, foreign direct investment has increased dramatically worldwide. Latin America has been a major recipient of such investment, notably in conjunction with privatisation in the region during the 1990s. The emergence of new Latin American multinational corporations means that the region has also become a source of such investment, especially in the 2000s. The importance of both inward and outward foreign direct investment is particularly visible in the telecommunications, a sector dominated in Latin America by two multinationals, one from each side of the Atlantic. Many countries in the region have taken great strides in building modern telecommunication infrastructure thanks to the combined effects of technological progress, the spread of mobile telephony and the market-seeking thrust of the leading competitor’s investment behaviour. The strength of a few corporations has, however, given rise to concerns over the nature of competition in the sector. Greatly expanded user access to telecommu8nications services increases the contribution of this sector to economic growth, but key challenges remain in establishing and ensuring contestable markets that will close international and domestic digital gaps between rich and poor segments of the population and provide telecommunications services to all. Effective access-promotion policies with clear and stable rules are needed together with well-regulated, open and competitive markets that promote innovation and encourage multinational corporations to maximise their collective contribution to the region’s long-term development
China and India represent trade opportunities rather than trade competition for the bulk of Latin American countries. Most of China’s increased exports raise stronger competitive challenges to its Asian neighbours than to Latin American countries, although some of the latter, such as Mexico, do face substantial Asian export competition. Chinese and Indian growth also opens Latin American export opportunities to new markets. For a few countries, notably Mexico and Brazil, this includes intra-industry trade, though for a majority of Latin American countries, the foremost trade opportunities are to be found in commodity exports. Already, the Asian drivers’ heightened demand for oil and minerals has increased both revenues ¬– through the rising prices of commodities – and direct trade with Latin America. Commodity-export specialisation can, however, have some unwanted effects on the economy unless it is managed by responsible macroeconomic policies and well-governed and efficient institutions. Most Latin American economies appear to be coping well, but the challenges will persist. One of the important factors for ensuring long-term diversified growth is investment in innovation. Brazil and Chile are among the prime innovators in Latin America but are still behind OECD levels, mainly because innovation in the private sector has remained limited. Another important factor that would help long-term competitiveness and growth is well-functioning and efficient infrastructure. In 2007, this is one of the most important drawbacks in Latin American economies. Investment in infrastructure is therefore also a golden opportunity for improving export competitiveness and, particularly for Mexico and the countries in Central America, for capitalising on their favourable geographic position.
The initial indicators developed by LEO 2008 cover:
(1) Fiscal Policy and Legitimacy in Latin America: The confidence people place in fiscal policy measured as the percentage of respondents that trust that money from taxes is being well spent by the government.
(2) Pension Reform, Capital Markets and Corporate Governance: The impact of pension reform on national savings, capital markets and corporate governance as measured by the changes in a country's domestic savings behaviour and the degree of financial market deepening.
(3) Private Sector and Telecommunication Development: The effect of market-seeking private investments on telecommunications service access as measured by income-group weighted change in coverage.
(4) Economic Impact of China and India: Export competition and export opportunities as measured by a comparison of each Latin American country’s trade structure with that of China and India, using the coefficients of specialisation and conformity.
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How to obtain this publication
The complete edition of the Latin American Economic Outlook 2008 is available from:
SourceOECD for subscribing institutions and many libraries