COVID-19 / CORONAVIRUS MARKET UPDATE – LATIN AMERICA

General overview

Latin American markets are relatively modest in terms of New Zealand food and beverage exports, outsourced manufacturing, and investment, compared to other global markets including those in Asia. Exports totalled NZ$1.27 billion to Latin America and the Caribbean in the year to June 2019.

However, there are some commercial sectors where Latin American markets are important for commercial sales or the supply of goods and raw materials to New Zealand businesses, with potential for this trade to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Across the region

Government responses to COVID-19 vary across Latin America. Most countries are reporting increasing numbers of reported cases. All are applying border and travel, quarantine, health and mass gathering controls in an attempt to mitigate effects and control the spread of the virus – although this is happening at differing levels from country to country.

Latin America and the Caribbean have significant economic links to China, particularly through trade, foreign direct investment and loans. The flow-on effects from the impact of COVID-19 in China to Latin America and the Caribbean are hard to estimate. China mainly imports primary products such as minerals and metals, agricultural products, and fuels from Latin America. Not all countries in the region are equally exposed, but Brazil (28.1 percent), Argentina (11.5 percent) and Chile (32.4 percent) have significant proportions of their exports to China.

An increasing number of large tradeshows in Latin America have been cancelled. In the light of increased mass gathering controls, NZTE expects the number of cancellations to increase in the short term. This is also flowing to individual companies instigating controls on their staff from travelling (both domestic and international) or attending meetings in person.

Travel to Latin America

Travel to Latin America is getting more difficult by the day as airlines cease or alter their services.

Air New Zealand ceased its Auckland to Buenos Aires on 18 March, and it is yet to be known if LATAM Airlines will retain its service connecting Santiago, Chile to New Zealand and Australia. Air services to Mexico and Central America via the US are also being impacted by ceased or altered flight schedules.

Whilst some New Zealand companies travelled in early March to Latin American markets to maintain commercial links, this is no longer a viable option.

Given the varying travel restrictions in-market, and official New Zealand government advisories about international travel, NZTE encourages companies to consider other communication options and channels to maintain commercial ties with partners in Latin America.

As of 20 March 2020, all travellers returning to New Zealand are subject to a mandatory 14-day self-isolation period , and must register with Healthline via 0800 358 5453.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) currently advises against all non-essential international travel for New Zealanders, to any destination.

Please refer to Safetravel for the latest official advice on travel to Latin American countries or other world locations: www.safetravel.govt.nz

Useful links to media coverage:

Freight & Logistics

Exporters should maintain close contact with their preferred freight forwarders and shipping lines, who will be providing regular updates. There are as number of major shipping, road and air freight companies providing excellent snapshots and updates on the current logistics situation around the world. Please visit them in the useful links section below.

Useful links:

Kuehne + Nagel: Logistics company Kuehne + Nagel is updating the status of sea, air and road logistics across Europe, China, wider Asia, North America, the Middle East and Africa, South Central America and China.

COVID-19 Updates: Updates from Maersk, updated regularly.

COVID-19 Updates – Mainfreight: Global Air & Ocean Service Announcements

Argentina

Argentina has gone into lockdown with all schools and universities closed, and a decree for preventative and social isolation mandating that people remain at home and refrain from attending their workplaces.

Reports suggest that Argentina's fruit exports will suffer as two of their biggest destination markets, Brazil and Russia, have faced significant devaluation of their currency.

Argentina's new government faces these increased issues at a crucial point in its talks with creditors to restructure more than $100 billion of foreign debt, raising the risk that negotiations could be delayed and result in a messy default.

The World Bank announced on 11 March that it has provided US$30 million to Argentina to reinforce its response to the outbreak.

Brazil

Brazil has imposed border restrictions as of 23 March. Schools and universities have been closed across many states including São Paulo and Brasilia.

Brazil has suspended commercial activities to try and stop the spread of coronavirus, and only essential services can stay open.

From an industry perspective, the Brazil automaker industry has halted production in 33 of its 65 factories. Agricultural machinery producers such as CASE, New Holland, Iveco and John Deere have announced they will suspend production. Significant Agriculture trade shows are also being cancelled.

The prices of dairy products and milk have risen in Brazilian supermarkets due to increased demand. There are many calls on the Government for action to prevent problems with logistics that will disrupt supply lines.

On 11 March, Brazil's Government lowered its 2020 gross domestic product growth forecast from 2.4 to 2.1 percent. It also lowered its 2020 inflation outlook by 0.5 percent (to 3.62 percent), and maintained its 2021, 2022, 2023 GDP growth forecasts at 2.5 percent.

The Brazilian real's year-to-date losses are 9 percent, and have cemented its position as one of the worst-performing currencies against the US dollar so far this year. However, as of 24 March the main index of the Brazilian stock exchange has shown an increase after recent falls.

Waldery Rodrigues, special secretary to the Economy Ministry, said Brazil will look at other countries' fiscal stimulus measures, but said the Government's fiscal rules such as the spending cap ceiling must be upheld, and that budget freezes look likely.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has postponed a Latin America conference set to be held in Brazil at the end of April as a precautionary measure.

Chile

Chile closed its borders on 18 March. LATAM Airlines, the largest regional airline in Latin America and headquartered in Santiago, will reportedly cut 90% of its international flights as of 1 April, and it is yet to be seen if its Santiago to Auckland/Sydney route will be retained.  

Many institutions, such as the Bank of America, are predicting lower growth rates or negative growth rates for Chile in light of the outbreak and an ongoing oil price war.

Chile's Central Bank has a range of instruments to face these economic challenges. However, the country's financial position was already weakened following the civil unrest that began in the latter part of 2019.

Copper, one of Chile's most significant exports, has experienced a fall in price and exports dropped by 14 percent during February 2020.

Useful information for Chile (Spanish language):

Colombia

Colombia closed its borders and banned international flights entering the country from 22 March. All schools and universities have been closed, and the country is in quarantine mode with restrictions being put in place.

Colombian analysts are currently predicting a dip in GDP growth of 0.3 percent, from 2.8 percent down to 2.5 percent. This is mainly due to lower oil prices, which account for 40 percent of the country's total exports.

The Colombian peso has devaluated significantly, with a 20 percent drop for the year to date. This will contribute to rising inflation and lower domestic consumption.

The Colombian government has not implemented any economic measures specifically in response to the outbreak, but has freed up US$4 million to support the Ministry of Health's emergency response plans.

Massive events are being cancelled in the country. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Conference has been postponed from late March to November 2020.

Ecuador

Ecuador closed its borders as of 15 March, and international and domestic flights are  suspended. All schools and universities have been closed. Quarantine, curfew and non-essential travel restrictions have been put in place. 

Ecuador's President, Lenin Moreno, announced new measures centred on a reduction of state spending, a tax on vehicles, a contribution from public sector workers and decreasing foreign debt, amongst other fiscal decisions to mitigate COVID-19 impact.

The measures will not include elimination of gasoline subsidies nor an increase in taxes for lower income population.

The Government will also authorise "immediate credit to businesses experiencing liquidity issues due to delays in payments from China".

US$60 million has been sought from international organisations to control the epidemic in Ecuador.

Mexico

As of 20 March, Mexico’s borders remained open, but the border with the US is only for essential travel. Mexico has commenced some restrictions in response to COVID-19, and these vary in different states.  

The Federal Government of Mexico has moved into Phase 2 of its three-phase pandemic plan, given the rising evidence of community transmission of the coronavirus. This plan is aimed at “flattening the curve”. The extent of the impacts of these phases are still to be made clear.  

The government has announced a number of economic measures, including credit for small businesses affected by the economic crisis. However, the timing and availability of these measures is still to be determined. 

Mexico is New Zealand's largest trading market in Latin America. New Zealand companies targeting Mexico's manufacturing and tourism sectors, including F&B companies, are the ones most likely to be impacted by the crisis within the coming months, mostly due to a decline in demand and investments. The outlook is more positive in the medium term, with some analysts seeing potential gains for Mexico.

Earlier in March, the OECD reduced its growth expectation for Mexico from 1.2 percent to 0.7 percent. Additionally, a recent decline in oil prices following a disagreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia has added an extra layer of complexity to an already adverse scenario. Mexican manufacturing and tourism are the two most affected sectors.

Mexico is an open economy with a manufacturing sector integrated into global supply chains. The current disruption of supply from China is already affecting Mexican plants, whose stock parts are close to depletion. One relevant example is the case of auto manufacturers, which account for around 3 percent of Mexico's gross domestic product (GDP). These businesses are already reducing their output and may need to halt production if shipment of components are not normalised by the end of March.

Another growth engine of Mexico is its tourism sector, which contributes 8.5 percent of the country's GDP. The effects on arrival of tourists has not yet been felt, but the traditional low-season will end in a couple of weeks, with the beginning of spring break. The Mexican regions that depend most on tourism are getting ready for a high season that is unlikely to bring as many tourists as previous years – and the number of flight cancellations in the US suggests that concerns within Mexico's tourism sector are justified.

However, Mexico is in a stronger position compared to some of its South American counterparts, like Brazil, Chile, and Peru. It is less dependent than its neighbours on Chinese demand, and has a slightly more comfortable public account position, with most (78 percent) of its debt issued in local currency and 81 percent with pre-fixed rates.

One of the consequences of the crisis has been a boost to conversations around 're-nationalisation' of supply chains for resilience, which began with the earlier heightening of trade tensions between China and the US. Analysts who take this view claim that Mexico is well-positioned to benefit from a shift in supply chains, which may improve the economic outlook in the medium term.


Additional resources

Below you can find information and contact details for other New Zealand government and international agencies regarding their response to COVID-19.

New Zealand Government agencies

Business.govt.nz
Covid19.govt.nz
New Zealand Customs
Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI)
MFAT Export helpline
MFAT Safetravel
Immigration
Ministry of Health

Global agencies

World health organisation (WHO)
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Contact NZTE

We're available to talk to you about any issues your export business is facing due to COVID-19.

For existing NZTE customers, please contact your New Zealand-based Customer Manager.

If you're unsure who to contact or haven't worked with us before, you can call NZTE on 0800 555 888 or email below and one of our Customer Advisors will help you.