Monday, March 14, 2011

The record of the Washington Consensus

For 30 years, Washington has been shopping a trade-not-aid based economic diplomacy across Latin America and beyond. According to what is generally known as the “Washington consensus”, the US has provided Latin America loans conditional on privatisation, deregulation and other forms of structural adjustment. More recently, what has been on offer are trade deals such as the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement: access to the US market in exchange for similar conditions.

The 30-year record of the Washington consensus was abysmal for Latin America, which grew less than 1% per year in per capita terms during the period, in contrast with 2.6% during the period 1960-81. East Asia, on the other hand, which is known for its state-managed globalisation (most recently epitomised by China), has grown 6.7% per annum in per capita terms since 1981, actually up from 3.5% in that same period.

The signature trade treaty, of course, was the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta). Despite the fact that exports to the US increased sevenfold, per capita growth and employment have been lacklustre at best. Mexico probably gained about 600,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector since Nafta took effect, but the country lost at least 2m in agriculture, as cheap imports of corn and other commodities flooded the newly liberalised market.

This dismal economic record prompted citizens across the Americas to vote out supporters of this model in the 2000s. Growth has since picked up, largely from domestic demand, and exports to China and elsewhere in Asia.

Interestingly, the only significant card-carrying members of the Washington consensus left in Latin America are Mexico and Colombia.

More by Kevin Gallagher here.