Is there a tradeoff between environmental sustainability and economic development? If there is a place where that question can be approximated, that is Loreto. Located on the western flank of the Amazon jungle, Loreto is Peru’s largest state and the one with the lowest population density. Its capital, Iquitos, is the largest city without road access in the world. For three decades, the region’s income and development has diverged from that of Peru and its other Amazonian peers by orders of magnitude. And yet, despite plummeting contributions from natural resources – that predominate in the policy discussion in and on the state – Loreto has developed a more complex productive ecosystem than one would expect, given its geographical isolation. As a result, it has a stock of productive capabilities that can be redeployed in economic activities with higher value-added, able to sustain higher wages and better living standards.
We deployed a thorough Growth Diagnostic of Loreto to identify the most binding constraints preventing private investment and development in sustainable economic activities. In the process, we relied on domestic databases available to the public in Peru and international datasets, combining and validating our analytical insights with extensive field visits to the Peruvian Amazonia and lengthy interviews with policymakers, private businesses, and academia. Improving fluvial connectivity, developing the capacity to sort out coordination failures associated with the process of self-discovery, and substituting oil for solar energy, are the three policy goals that would deliver the largest bang for the reform buck. The latter presents an opportunity for environmental organizations – subsidizing solar – to move away from their status quo of preventing bad things from happening, to a more constructive one that entails enabling good things and sustainable industries to happen.
Section II, "Policies for sustainable growth", includes dialogues with Mauricio Cárdenas, Marcela Eslava, Ricardo Hausmann, Rodrigo Valdés and Alejandro Werner.
Returning to sustained growth is a key challenge for Latin American economies. This section discusses the causes of the dismal performance of Latin America and the post-Covid policies needed to change this reality. Contributors in this section suggest that the region will witness important rebounds during 2021-2022. The recovery that started in the second half of 2020 gained strength as the economies gradually reopened following rising vaccination rates. Some countries will be reaching 2019 GDP levels in 2021; others, in 2022. However, the concern is that these recoveries will be short-lived. And if global financial conditions become less supportive, the next decade could be quite demanding.
In the medium term, Latin America is expected to exhibit significant scars from Covid, as growth is expected to be permanently below the levels anticipated before the pandemic. But the severe problem of the limited growth potential of the region predates the crisis. And, even for countries that grew more than the Latin American average, the post-pandemic future looks bleaker. The contributors highlight several reasons behind this modest performance. The first and the most commonly cited is macroeconomic mismanagement (high inflation, financial fragility leading to balance-of-payments crises). However, even countries that successfully achieved macroeconomic stabilisation failed to achieve sustained growth. It follows that the forces behind low growth are more complex: the business environment has been feeble; there is a lack of appropriate governance; the natural resource curse applies in some countries, with weak institutions and short-sighted governments with the perception that there is no need for further effort; there are social, political and institutional factors that complicate the building of a consensus around an economic policy framework that sets the foundations for medium-term inclusive growth. In addition, relatively slow technological progress widens the region’s technological gap with the advanced world. Moreover, while the lack of social progress cannot be solved merely with a redistributive strategy, the region’s regressive income distribution and structural poverty are detrimental to growth through their impact on the expected sustainability of economic regimes, as well as, on occasions, pure expropriation risk arising from social tensions. In the meantime, local talent remains undiscovered and undernourished for lack of opportunities.
Most doubt the possibility of implementing successful industrial policies in the region, sceptical that Latin American policymakers could efficiently substitute for the right market signals and incentives, and propose that the development strategy should be largely based on horizontal policies. But some see a role for the state to address the many unexploited externalities, arguing that public goods do not possess the market’s invisible hand to signal where the information about what is needed, the incentives to provide these public goods, and the allocation of resources.
One of the consequences of COVID-19 is the recognition that many tasks can be done from home. But anything that can done remotely, can be done from abroad.
Given large salary differences between white collar workers across countries, it would make sense for value chains to try to exploit them. This opens an opportunity for Colombia to further promote its integration into the world global value chains and access new markets.
This paper explores the possibility of exporting teleworkable services from Colombia. The goal is to provide useful information to guide strategic interventions to speed-up the development of such service industries in Colombia.
We first introduce a definition of teleworkable jobs and describe its occupations and industries along different dimensions. We show that there are many teleworkable jobs in the US, representing a significant share of industry costs. Then, we show that many industries intensive in teleworkable jobs are currently traded across borders. To quantify Colombia’s advantage providing teleworkable services, we study the cost structure of industries and quantify the potential savings in overall costs if the tasks were performed by Colombians. Given Colombia’s current presence and the density around teleworkable industries we can calculate a proxy of the latent advantage in teleworkable services. We propose an index that summarize these dimensions and rank the potential gains from including telework from Colombia in an industry. We end with a set of policy recommendations to move this agenda forward.
The Growth Lab at Harvard University, with funding provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, has undertaken this investigation with the aim of identifying the existing productive capacities in Loreto, as well as the economic activities with potential to drive the structural transformation of its economy. This paper is part of a broader investigation – Promoting Sustainable Economic Growth and Structural Transformation in the Amazon Region of Loreto, Peru – which seeks to contribute with context-specific inputs for the development of national and sub-national public policies that promote productive development and prosperity in this Peruvian state.