When entrepreneurs bring up the subject of Latin America these days, a few common refrains emerge. "Brazil's problems are going to sink the whole region," someone prognosticates. "And this fall's elections in many countries will create chaos," another person adds. Before you can say, "Tranquilo," it's too late--everyone's in a collective tizzy.
A number of experts on the region, however, urge businesspeople to ease up on the panic. These analysts dispute the notion that Brazil's economic flux will unravel Latin America, and even suggest there's reason for cautious optimism.
"The idea that Brazil's problems will lead to pandemonium is simply inaccurate," says Michael Chriszt, a coordinator for Latin American research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, who notes that these are his personal views and not necessarily those of the bank. Chriszt recently addressed the topic at a seminar sponsored by the Southern Center for International Studies, an international affairs think tank, saying, "The importance of Brazil has been overstated. The trade ties among Brazil and the rest of Latin America are rather limited."
In fact, statistics compiled by the Federal Reserve Board and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show Mexico's exports to Brazil, for example, represent just 0.2 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). Even Paraguay's exports to Brazil (50.9 percent of all Paraguay's exports) account for only 5.3 percent of the country's GDP. Although consensus forecasts from the Fed, IMF and JP Morgan show real GDP growth for the region dropping from 5.3 percent in 1997 to -0.8 percent by the end of 1999, when Brazil is removed from the figures, forecasts call for 0.9 percent growth this year. Meanwhile, Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics in Washington, DC, points out that the stock market in Mexico was up 48 percent in April from December 1998 figures. Brazil also showed some recovery, with 10 per-cent growth during the same period.
Christopher D. Lancette is an Atlanta-based freelance journalist who covers international business for a variety of local, national and international publications.