By Claudia Viale and Carlos Monge*
The commodity-fueled “supercycle” that has propelled Latin American economies for the past decade and a half is ending, but careful analysis of other ongoing cycles will help countries cushion the blow. ECLAC economist Jean Acquatella has identified four significant global cycles in which Latin America has actively participated as a raw materials exporter through the 20th and 21st centuries: U.S. industrialization; post-war European reconstruction and Japan’s industrialization; the post-1973 OPEC-driven oil boom; and, most recently, urbanization and industrialization in Asia, especially China. During this fourth cycle – considered a supercycle because of sustained record levels of commodity prices and demand – resource-rich countries in Latin America experienced high growth rates, fiscal abundance, and a decrease in poverty rates as well as an increase in social conflict over the extraction of natural resources. Slower Chinese growth has since reduced global demand and prices for the region’s minerals and energy, but the impact has been less severe than at the end of previous cycles.
- José de Echave, of CooperAcción, has emphasized the need to differentiate the recent supercycle from what he terms the “extractive boom,” which started in the early 1990s as a result of the privatization of state mining and hydrocarbons assets and pro-market legislative reforms. His analysis indicates that the extractive boom will outlast the supercycle as long as large-scale projects mature and pro-investment policies continue in place.
The concessions, investments, production and fiscal rent during the past decade and a half in Peru and other countries indeed point to other cycles, some of which have enduring momentum. Peru has experienced a “concessions cycle” for exploration activities; “investment cycles” as a result of privatization of state assets in the ‘90s and as a result of successful explorations and increased demand and prices starting in 2002; “productive and export cycles” as a result of investments; and a “fiscal cycle” of abundant public revenue. Several cycles will obviously decline, but the country’s pro-investment policies remain in effect. The new government of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is deepening policies started under former President Humala: reducing corporate income taxes, making environment compliance less onerous, and curtailing the oversight capacities of the Ministry of the Environment. Investments made in the last five to ten years are, in many cases, only now beginning production. Thus, as contradictory as it might sound, Peru is poised to double its copper production in the next five years.
The complex differences between “extractive booms” and “supercycles” have deep political implications. The end of a supercycle could mean a substantial reduction in social conflict between local populations and extractive enterprises and government, but the current “race to the bottom” driven by pro-investment policies could fuel new tensions. The Las Bambas project in the South Andean region of Apurimac, Peru, illustrates the point. New legal procedures adopted in 2014 easing approval of environmental impact assessments (EIA) have allowed the Ministry of Energy and Mines to approve substantial changes in the project’s design and EIA without informing the local population and authorities, generating a violent local social reaction. Available data shows analogous phenomena underway in Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador. The implications will vary for each country, of course, but careful analysis is needed if state policies and civil society activism are to be on solid ground.
October 11, 2016