Rising food and energy prices and a migration crisis are posing significant economic and social challenges in Latin America, according to several leaders from the region speaking on a presidential panel at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022. However, they remain confident that investing in their economies will remain attractive.
“We cannot be indifferent in front of this humanitarian tragedy,” said Colombian President Ivan Duque, referring to challenges linked to Venezuelan migration to his country, which has seen close to 2 million cross the border over the past several years after fleeing economic hardship. Duque announced that Colombia would issue over 1 million temporary status cards to Venezuelan migrants.
Rising food and energy prices also pose threats to Latin American populations. President Luis Rodolfo Abinader Corona of the Dominican Republic noted that his government would soon authorize subsidies for corn to offset rising food prices and the increasing cost of poultry. The nation has already implemented fertilizer subsidies and support for wheat prices would likely follow.
While the region has experienced economic growth in recent years, the combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain and price shocks linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have raised questions about future growth for a range of countries. Despite the challenges, many Latin American countries continue to tout their economies and to encourage foreign business for investment and “near-shoring”.
“Not red tape, but red carpet,” said President Rodrigo Chaves Robles of Costa Rica, on his nation’s readiness to welcome foreign investors. “Costa Rica is open for business. I will break all bottlenecks…. I will open all doors.”
Likewise, Dina Ercilia Boluarte, Peru’s Vice-President and Minister of Development and Social Inclusion, stressed the nation’s readiness for outside investors. “We will welcome you with a stable economy and legal guarantees.”
The focus of many Latin American nations is now on climate and environmental sustainability. In tourism-intensive nations, such as the Dominican Republic, the sector constitutes an essential part of GDP and employs 20% of the population. Diversifying beyond “sun-and-beach” tourism could ensure the sector remains resilient even in the face of intensifying climate change.
In addition, the region can accelerate investments in climate mitigation and renewable energy. Chaves said: “We’re improving our electricity grid to more renewables even though we have over-invested in the power generation with fossil fuels.” Transitioning energy sources in a time of rising prices poses serious challenges, he added, so the nation will need to proceed with its reforms in a way that balances current growth with sustainability goals.
Educational reform is another way Latin American leaders are preparing for digital and green energy transformations. Colombia recently completed training for 100,000 programmers, and Costa Rica is working to improve the efficiency of its education spending. Currently, the country spends twice as much as Viet Nam to educate students. While Viet Nam ranks eighth in students’ math scores, Costa Rica ranks near the bottom in terms of students’ maths performance.
Peru is promoting social inclusion by transforming how the state delivers social services to rural communities. One programme involves putting state services – such as vaccines, health supplies and training materials to reduce violence against women – on boats so officials can reach hard-to-access communities in dense Peruvian forests and remote villages. “We are bringing services of the state to our brothers and sisters to improve their quality of life,” Boluarte said.