Re-considered: The Competition between Brazil and Mexico – and China’s Role in this Competition

11:31 by Mauro Toldo, Frankfurt

Summary in English

Competition between the two Latin American giants, Brazil and Mexico, has been fierce for many years. Joining the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) in 1994 gave Mexico a couple of very successful years. In 2000, expectations of more fundamental economic reforms were high when president Vincente Fox took over after 70 years of leadership by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). However, reform expectations were not met since Fox did not have a political majority in parliament – a situation which his successor Felipe Calderón from PRI is confronted with as well. Ironically, the new Mexican leaders now support the reforms that they critically rejected during the 12-year presidency of Fox.

Contrary to Mexico, Brazil entered the new century with a lot of doubts and question marks. In 2001, Brazil was hit by the Argentinian crisis. The South American free trade area Mercosur moved on very slowly. The business climate worsened further when the former leftist union leader Lula Da Silva won the presidential elections in 2002. But Lula changed style in time and went visibly for economic stability and reforms, well supported by parliament – contrary to Vincente Fox in Mexico. Lula was even re-elected in 2006.

Statistics give an obvious answer on the results of Mexican/Brazilian economic competition (GDP growth 2000-2009, average: Mexico 1.7 percent and Brazil 3.3 percent). Apart from domestic political conditions, one external factor contributed a lot to the different performance of Mexico and Brazil: the rapid rise of “manufacturing China” which very sharply turned out to be a main competitor to the “manufacturing Mexico”, particularly what concerns exports to the U.S. During only one decade, China more than doubled its exports to the U.S., much at the expense of Mexico. At the same time, Brazil was very much favored by China’s commodity import boom. Last year, China absorbed 17 percent of all Brazilian exports which means that China has advanced to number one of all Brazilian export markets.

During this ongoing decade, growth perspectives may again change pattern. Chinese total import growth may weaken somewhat on trend in the forthcoming years. Mexican competitiveness may be supported by the peso depreciation in the past years. So far, the GDP growth numbers of Mexico and Brazil are quite similar since 2010, around 4 per cent, with Mexico a little bit in the lead.

The relatively dampened or weak global growth outlook should lead to the conclusion that domestic demand in Mexico and Brazil may play a somewhat larger role for economic growth in the forthcoming years than in the past. In this context, Mexico may have a little better cards because of its substantially lower public debt in relation to GDP, slightly above one third compared to more visibly above 50 per cent in Brazil.

Read the whole analysis (in German)






Mauro Toldo
Head of Emerging Markets / Country Risk Analysis, Deka Bank



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