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Latin Trade Symposium Panel

Times of Change in the Hemisphere

Fred P. Hochberg, Chairman and President

Oct 26, 2012 – Miami, FL

Becoming Chairman of the Export-Import Bank required me to understand the changing dynamics of Latin American and Caribbean economies - changes that challenge virtually everything that U.S. leaders thought we knew about them.

Until recently, we thought that - despite the promise of a bright future - this future would never really arrive.

Yet it is arriving today.

Most Latin American countries are entering the global middle class - emerging from economies dependent on global commodity prices - to economies with a growing array of manufacturing and service sectors to supply both domestic and export markets.

Latin America comprises a $4.8 trillion economy with 600 million or so citizens - a growing middle class with increasingly expensive consumption tastes - and a newfound role on the global stage. Consider, for example, Brazil's hosting of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics - the first Olympic Games ever held on that continent.

It seems as if - at long last - Latin America is finally achieving its place in the sun.It is demonstrating an economic and institutional resilience that can sustain long-term growth and improvement.

What accounts for this?

I turn to the World Economic Forum, which lists 12 pillars of national competitiveness.

I won't mention them all, but the most important are:

  • Infrastructure investment - things like transportation systems and telecommunications
  • Managing the nation's debt load
  • The education system - making the most of human capital
  • R&D investment - winning the technology race
  • Energy policy - developing resources and using efficiently
  • Health care and other human capital needs

With only a few exceptions, Latin countries have made solid improvement in meeting these benchmarks.As Reuters noted earlier this year, I quote, In Latin America, business climate is king again.

The Ex-Im Bank has responded to this growth and improvement by expanding our financing in these markets.

Three out of the nine key markets for Ex-Im Bank financing are in Latin America - Mexico, Brazil and Colombia - meaning that they offer the best growth opportunities for U.S. exporters in the next few years.

The 43 countries of this region comprise Ex-Im's second-largest market - and 22 percent of our worldwide financing.Most notably, our financing supported a variety of infrastructure projects including mining, oil and gas, manufacturing, commercial aircraft, airports, agriculture and others.

For various reasons, Mexico is our largest market - about $8 billion in exposure - which we expect to increase strongly in the next few years as its manufacturing sector rebounds while Asian competition recedes and factory work returns.

Moreover, with its new initiative to modernize its oil and gas industry, Mexico is poised to reverse declining oil production and exports - aiding both our oil services industries and our energy security.

I could not visit Miami without mentioning our financing of aircraft purchases by LAN Airlines - and its major presence here as a carrier of passengers and cargo.

Nearly single-handedly, LAN has established Miami International Airport as the top U.S. airport in international freight, handling over 80 percent of air cargo between the U.S. and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Nearly 1,400 of LAN's 2,200 U.S. workers are in this city - most of them moving goods from planes to its warehouse complex and back out again.

We're proud to play a part in this important enterprise.

Not all is rosy, of course.

China sees the same potential as we do and has moved aggressively into Latin America as an investor, exporter and consumer.

The Chinese provided financing of $37 billion to the region in 2010 - more than the World Bank, IADB and Ex-Im combined.

Ex-Im faces this competition with the disadvantage of adhering to OECD rules for export finance - rules that China is not required to follow.

We are in serious talks with them to bring China into this export finance framework by the end of 2014.

Despite this and other challenges, we are confident of more trade growth in our hemisphere that benefits us all.

I'll make a final point.

Most Ex-Im financing goes to large businesses - but small businesses benefit too - and are a major priority for the Bank.

One my favorite small business clients in Miami is Collection 2000, founded by Patricia Blasser.

Her company manufactures and sells makeup and personal care products to a growing number of overseas markets - including five Latin America countries - backed by our export insurance.

As a result, its sales to Latin America, in the first six months of this year, more than doubled the previous year's 12-month total. Not only woman-owned, Collection 2000 has an all-women production staff of skilled workers.

I mention Collection 2000 because it's a small business with superb products and a strong drive to compete and win - creating new jobs and wealth for this country.

But it also benefits small distributors and retailers in its five Latin American export markets by providing unique, quality products their customers want to buy - part of the virtuous circle of trade that generates positive economic activity among all parties.

That virtuous circle is what we all strive for - a flow of commerce throughout our hemisphere that ripples to every corner of our nations - building economies and societies that leave nobody behind.