Regional dialogue on promoting trade in services in Latin America

18 November 2013

A two-day meeting has been held to discuss strategies for boosting the services sectors in Latin America and the Caribbean.​

The regional dialogue was held on 12 and 13 November in Santiago, Chile, and was attended by government officials, academics, and representatives of the private sector and civil society.

The dialogue was organized by UNCTAD in collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Latin American and Caribbean Economic System (SELA) and the University of Chile.

Services are crucial for economic growth, inclusive development and employment creation, and are vital for achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Intermediate services - such as transport, telecommunications, computer services, financial services and business services - improve the competitiveness of firms and their participation in global production networks. The same is true for professional services and research and development (R&D).

The significant potential contribution of services to development has been affirmed by recent studies. UNCTAD has sought to stimulate expansion of the services sectors of developing countries, including through its multi-year expert meetings on services, trade and development; via the UNCTAD Global Services Forum; and by performing Services Policy Reviews at the request of developing-country governments.

Services and services trade have grown significantly in Latin America and the Caribbean in recent years. Total services exports from Latin America and the Caribbean exceeded $160 billion in 2012. Over the past ten years, IT-enabled services have grown by an average of 25 per cent per year.

Notwithstanding this impressive performance, the balance of services trade in the region is becoming increasingly negative. Except for the Caribbean, services imports now exceed exports. Latin American and Caribbean countries have taken different policy approaches to developing their services sectors and to promoting trade in services.

The regional dialogue was held to exchange national and regional experiences with building supply capacities and export capacities in the services sector. Participants also discussed the role of services in growth and structural change, regional and global services trade negotiations and liberalization, and regional services cooperation initiatives, as well as challenges confronting policymakers in creating appropriate policy, regulatory and institutional frameworks for services reforms.

Participants recognized and appreciated the growing importance of services in the Latin American and Caribbean region. In a video message, UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi noted that in Latin American countries, services on average accounted for 74 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), and almost 80 per cent of employment in urban areas. In the Caribbean subregion, he said, services contributed more than 90 per cent of GDP.

A deeper analysis of data shows that most growth has taken place in lower-productivity services. Policy makers in the Latin American and Caribbean region confront multiple challenges to upgrading value chains in the services sector. Overcoming these challenges and maximizing development gains from this sector require actions in the following policy spheres: access to finance; tax regulation and investment incentives; competition and consumer protection regimes; development of human capital; the promotion of SMEs; innovation and technological upgrading; ensuring linkages among sectors; and maximizing opportunities from trade agreements and regional agreements.

Representatives of Colombia and Costa Rica shared their countries' experiences with the planning and monitoring of services policy. Brazil discussed national efforts to compile services statistics, and the CARICOM region and Paraguay presented innovative consultative mechanisms with different stakeholders for improved decision-making related to services.

The Latin American and Caribbean region needs to rethink how to move forward towards more integrated services markets, Antonio Prado, Deputy Executive Secretary of ECLAC, told the meeting.