SANTIAGO – The executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) said the conservative shift in countries like Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Paraguay has prioritized economic growth without giving up social progress.
“I think the social movements have made some changes that are irreversible. In our region, even with a change of its political ideology, society seems to have announced loud and clear that some policies are here to stay,” Executive Secretary Alicia Barcena said in an interview with EFE.
Barcena believes that matters like pensions, education, the social safety net and gender equality are part of the political agenda of the region, whatever its ideological tendency.
During the last decade in Latin America, left-leaning progressive governments prevailed that benefited from the revenues from a strong raw materials market to apply socially favorable policies.
In recent years, countries like Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Paraguay have taken a turn to the right, placing greater emphasis on growing the economy.
According to the ECLAC executive, the trend has favored the economic recovery of the region but could have negative social consequences, such as increasing poverty, and questioned what to do “so that growth and equality are not at odds with each other.”
ECLAC presented last Thursday in Santiago its Preliminary Balance of the Regional Economy, which forecasts that the region will come out of the recession of the past two years and will grow 1.3 percent in 2017 and by some 2.2 percent next year.
Barcena said the conditions that will make it possible to speak of an “expansion cycle” in Latin America are one the table, though some measures must be taken to keep the boom from collapsing.
Exports and investment are the factors driving growth, Barcena said, but Latin America also needs a favorable international context, which seems to be altogether probable.
The chief threat to expansion is trade, which continues to grow – 3.6 percent this year and an estimated 3.2 percent in 2018 – but slower than required, she said.
Mexico has an additional risk factor: the economic policies of US President Donald Trump, whose proposed corporate tax reform could draw American companies away from Mexico and back to the US.
Meanwhile the Latin American country that comes out worst in ECLAC’s forecast is Venezuela, with an estimated 9.5 percent recession this year and 5.5 percent in 2018.
Alicia Barcena believes Venezuela must take urgent steps to adjust its rate of exchange and control inflation.