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Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean: An Uneven Recovery

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Amid escalating trade tensions, tighter financial conditions, and volatile commodity markets, economic recovery in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) has both moderated and become more uneven. The recovery has slowed in some of the region’s largest economies (Brazil and Mexico), even coming to a halt in the case of Argentina, as the impact of external headwinds has been amplified by country-specific vulnerabilities. In a similar vein, higher oil prices coupled with increased political uncertainty have dampened the near-term outlook in several economies in Central America. There is still no end in sight to the economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Meanwhile, better terms of trade over the past year and improvements in consumer and business confidence have provided a fillip to growth prospects in some Andean economies, and activity is recovering in the Caribbean, reflecting the uptick in tourism owing to robust US and global growth. Downside risks to economic prospects in LAC have risen and potential for upside surprises has receded. With major currencies registering sharp declines and debt levels remaining at relatively elevated levels in many economies in the region, the scope for near-term countercyclical policy support is generally limited. And with external financing needs being relatively high in some countries and capital flows ebbing, policymakers in the region should be prepared for further capital outflow pressures. In this regard, exchange rate flexibility will remain key, but foreign exchange market intervention could be appropriate under excessive volatility and market dislocation. Beyond the near term, countries should continue to focus on much-needed structural reforms to boost productive capacity and help anchor strong, durable, and inclusive growth over the medium term. Reforms should focus on increasing saving and investment rates, reducing misallocation of resources, making labor markets more flexible and reducing informality, liberalizing trade, improving the business climate, and continued strengthening of anti-corruption frameworks.

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