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Latin American and Caribbean Services Trade
Apr 3, 2001

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  • Latin America and the Caribbean exported services worth $53.4 billion and imported services worth $62.4 billion in 1999 according to the WTO 2000 Trade Report. Services exports, which grew 1.4% in 1999, registered a slight recovery after growth in 1998 was less than 1%, following the financial crisis that affected a good part of the region. The fastest growing services exports in 1999 were telecommunications followed by travel services and other commercial services. In turn, imports registered a severe contraction in 1999 after a negative 6% growth in that year. Although all services industries were affected by this contraction, the best performing sectors were telecommunications and financial services followed by royalties and license fees. As the region recovered from the financial turmoil that affected the region in 1999, services trade is expected to resume a positive growth path in 2001.


    Although the performance in 1999 was exceptionally bad, services trade no longer exhibits the dynamism registered during the late eighties and early nineties when Latin American services exports registered an average 11.5% growth rate and services imports averaged 11.4% growth. After 1995 services exports have registered an average 6.5% growth while imports of services have averaged 6.3%. The trend is not exclusive to Latin America and the Caribbean, but more common to all trading regions of the world with some slight variations. Europe and North America have registered a slight change in the trend since 1997 after fast growth in the US and Europe fueled trade between these regions of the world.

    The sluggish performance of world services markets was far from expected. After all, new trading rules in services agreed during the Uruguay Round as well as a myriad of regional and bilateral agreements aimed at reducing trade barriers were assumed to foster world services trade. Experts have adventured two possible explanations for the poor performance of world trade in services. On one hand, real progress in reducing trade barriers has not been achieved yet and technological limitations still make cross-border trade in many services too expensive. A third possible explanation may deal with limitations in data collection in services trade after accounting practices still have a challenge ahead to record trade which is hardly visible.

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