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Decline in exports from Latin America and the Caribbean softens

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Variation in export values 

LATIN AMERICA / CARIBBEAN – The value of exports from Latin America and the Caribbean contracted by 2.2 percent in 2023 after having grown by 17.0 percent in 2022, a new report from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) finds.

The decline in the region’s exports is due to a fall in export prices and a slowdown in volumes, according to the latest edition of Trade Trends Estimates for Latin America and the Caribbean report, which presents cumulative data for the past year.

Although the rate of the decline slowed in the last quarter of 2023, the outlook remains skewed to the downside. Early indications are that the region’s exports would not change in trend in the first half of 2024.

Paolo Giordano, principal economist at the IDB’s integration and trade sector, said that “after the two years of growth that came with the Covid-19 recovery, exports from Latin America and the Caribbean entered a contractionary phase in 2023.”

“The balance of risks suggests that the trade contraction will ease in the coming months, although a great deal of uncertainty still surrounds the timing and intensity of a potential recovery,” added Giordano.

The export performance deteriorated throughout most of the region. South America and the Caribbean were the subregions hit hardest by the fall in commodity prices. In contrast, exports from Mesoamerica, which includes Mexico and Central America, grew driven by Mexico’s shipments to the United States. Sales from Central America were flat.

Export prices

The report found that the average prices of the main Latin American and Caribbean export commodities were lower in 2023 than in 2022. However, most prices stabilized over the year and are still at historically high levels. The price of oil (-16.7%), soybeans (-8.6%), copper (-3.6%), and iron (-0.9%) decreased year-on-year. Sugar prices were an exception, rising by 27.7 percent year-on-year.

The report also forecasts that “commodity prices are expected to be highly volatile with a downward trend in the current context of weak demand.” However, new economic, political, or climate-related shocks could alter this outlook.

Performance by subregion

In South America, exports are estimated to have decreased by 5.3 percent in 2023 after growing by 16.4 percent in 2022. Falling commodity prices accounted for most of the subregion’s performance, while volumes are estimated to have increased by 1.7%.

Exports from Mesoamerica increased by 2.6 percent in 2023 after growing by 16.1 percent on average in 2022. There was a 2.9 percent increase in exports from Mexico in 2023. In contrast, sales from Central America were flat (0%).

Exports from the Caribbean countries contracted at an estimated rate of 31.9 percent in 2023 after growing by 72.1 percent in 2022 driven by the energy sector (oil and gas).

The region’s total imports are estimated to have fallen by 5.9 percent in 2023 after increasing by 20.9 percent in 2022.

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