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Exports weakening

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Volumes of cargo shipped by major ports are one of the best ways of measuring international trade.

Which is why the most recent data are eye-catching, when it comes to Central America.

The area of fastest growth in Central American trade involved imports from Asia, which during the past decade more than doubled, from 152,000 TEUs to 349,000 TEUs, according to data from the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (the standard measure used in the shipping industry, a TEU is a unit, equivalent to a twenty-foot container).

Exports from Central America to Asia likewise doubled, but at last year’s volume of 38,000, the region clearly has a persistent trade deficit with the Orient.

Several of the region's leaders, most recently Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica, have launched trade missions to Asia, in order to reduce the imbalance. But these efforts so far appear only to have scratched the surface.

Meanwhile, the region’s global trade balance deteriorated.

Central American imports grew 102 per cent, from 554,000 to 1.17 million TEUs, during the period 2002-2011.

Exports to the rest of the world rose only 52 per cent, from 742,000 to 1.13 million TEUs.

Strong results in the area of service exports, or the attraction of foreign investment, would ensure that the region’s finances stay healthy.

But the results of the past decade suggest that Central America is getting worse, when it comes to making and selling goods.