Emerging Markets in North and South America

North and South America are dominated by the country with the world’s largest economy, the United States. But that’s not saying much, because many of these countries are growing smartly in their own right. The hemisphere shares a common history of colonization and population migration. Today, almost every country in the Americas is ethnically diverse and often racially mixed.

Many countries on the continents produce illegal narcotics for export to the United States, which creates a strong criminal class that sometimes interferes with business and politics.

In general, countries in the Americas are rich in natural resources and human capital. They’re also plagued with government deficits and historic credit problems. Interest rates tend to be higher here than elsewhere in the world, which is attractive to bond investors but also a sign of risk and potential currency problems.

Chile

  • Type of government: Republic

  • Major industries: Fishing, mining (especially for copper), wine

  • Currency: Chilean peso

  • English-language newspaper: The Santiago Times

Chile gained its independence from Spain in 1817. After a military coup in 1973 tore the country apart, Chile has been peaceful and stable since 1990, although some political tension between the government and the military persists. The greatest test of the country’s stability was an earthquake in early 2010 that hit hard and damaged many cities and copper mines. Chile’s government and institutions proved strong enough to get relief aid to people who needed it and to begin rebuilding. The challenge to the country’s economy is continuing with reconstruction during a recession.

Colombia

  • Type of government: Republic

  • Major industries: Agriculture, metals, petroleum, textiles

  • Currency: Colombian peso

  • English-language newspaper: Colombia Reports

After a series of military coups in the middle of the 20th century, a new constitution was introduced to establish a presidency, a legislature, and a court system. Colombia is more stable now than it had been, but it still faces internal turmoil from drug traffickers and two political groups, FARC and ELN. As with many emerging markets, Colombia offers plenty of risk. At the same time, the country is rich in natural resources, so it presents some good opportunities and has potential for future growth.

Mexico

  • Type of government: Federal republic

  • Major industries: Food and beverages, iron and steel production, motor vehicle manufacturing

  • Currency: Mexican peso

  • English-language newspaper: The News

It’s not always clear that Mexico should still be lumped with the emerging markets, given that it has a stable government, strong economic growth, and a primary trading partner that’s the richest nation in the world. Mexico joined the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Canada, which gave the country expanded trading opportunities.

Like many other countries, Mexico has problems with aggressive narcotics dealers and some corrupt politicians who are willing to cooperate with them. That has complicated life for legitimate business people and scared off tourists, who contribute mightily to the economy of cities in coastal areas. But an estimated 12 million Mexican citizens live in the United States, some legally and some illegally. These people contribute to Mexico’s wealth by sending money to their families back home, and they’ve helped build trading relationships between the two nations. Their presence also creates a lot of tension with the United States that could complicate trade relationships at some point.

Peru

  • Type of government: Constitutional republic

  • Major industries: Fishing, mining, textiles

  • Currency: Nuevo sol

  • English-language newspaper: Peruvian Times

Peru long had a military government, which led to periodic outbursts of rebellion and upheaval. A democracy was formed in 1980; it dissolved in 1992 but was restored in 2001. The country has some challenges, but it’s also in a better position to grow than it had been. It has some great natural resources. Some major infrastructure projects would make trade easier, including railway improvements, a planned dam at Inambari that would generate 2,000 megawatts of electricity, and a highway that would link coastal cities to one another and to the Brazilian city of Rio Branco.

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