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LATIN AMERICA

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Argentina’s E-commerce Growing at an Explosive Rate, but Not without Challenges

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Argentina is the fastest growing e-commerce market in Latin America with a booming m-commerce segment. Blessed with high internet smartphone penetration rates, the country sets stage for plentiful e-commerce opportunities. However, Argentina is still battling high inflation and low economic growth rates, a fact that bleaks growth prospects of e-commerce market. Much like its regional neighbors, Argentina is also plagued with logistics and payment issues, and resolving these challenges is the need of the hour.


This article is part of a series focusing on e-commerce in LATAM, which also includes a look into e-commerce market in Mexico and Brazil


What is pushing the meteoric growth?

Home to MercadoLibre (Latin America’s most popular e-commerce site), Argentina, is one of the most prominent e-commerce markets in Latin America, known for its outstanding growth rate – between 2018 and 2022, e-commerce market is expected to increase by 83% to reach US$ 19 billion.

Strong connectivity is one of the key supporting factors powering the e-commerce market. Argentina benefits from incredibly high internet penetration rate of more than 80% and one of highest numbers of mobile Internet users in Latin America. Further, the country’s growing young, Internet-savvy consumer base, with sufficient disposable income, is also driving e-commerce sales.

What is holding back Argentina’s e-commerce market?

Logistics

The most significant barrier restraining Argentina from becoming Latin America’s e-commerce leader is logistics. To begin with, quality of roads in certain neighborhoods of various cities, even in the capital city of Buenos Aires, is not suitable for swift deliveries. An average delivery time for packages to reach shoppers is about seven days, which is not a convenient wait time and could dissuade shoppers from ordering online.

An average delivery time for packages to reach shoppers is about seven days, which is not a convenient wait time and could dissuade shoppers from ordering online.

Most logistics companies are unable to deliver as quickly and reliably as e-retail demands. Adding to the list of logistics and infrastructure insufficiencies is the unfinished GPS mapping, owing to confusing address systems and missing postal codes, thus, making deliveries an even more cumbersome task. With the current state of logistics, Argentina secured 61st rank (out of 160) in the Logistics Performance Index in 2018, lagging behind its fellow competitors (in the e-commerce space), Brazil and Mexico.

Payment methods

Online payments can be challenging in Argentina, particularly, for making purchases on international retailers’ websites. More than 50% of Visa and MasterCard cards provided by local banks, cannot be used on international websites. This is a major operational hurdle for international e-commerce retailers, who have to set up other payment methods.

More than 50% of Visa and MasterCard cards provided by local banks, cannot be used on international websites.

Moreover, with exorbitant credit card interest rates (according to the Central Bank of Argentina, credit card interest rates lie between 36% and 111%), customers have become vary of shopping online.

Additionally, debit cards comprise a negligible share of Argentinian e-commerce spend, as they can only be used on limited e-commerce websites, thus, limiting use of this crucial payment gateway.

Distrust

Another key challenge is distrust among several Argentinians toward e-commerce websites, especially when it comes to billing and payment transactions. Some customers are also hesitant to provide card details for online transactions with protection of information being their primary concern.

With no proper legislation in place, trust in the e-commerce marketplace is hard to build. Argentina does not have a comprehensive regulatory scheme governing e-commerce, rather it has just a few regulations that are applicable to e-commerce.

The country also does not adhere to any standard international e-commerce model such as UNCITRAL model law on electronic commerce by the USA or Directive 2000/31/EC (Directive on electronic commerce) of the European Parliament. Without any robust regulation in place, consumers would neither feel protected nor be certain regarding action being taken in case of unlawful activities.

Economy

Argentina’s economy is shackled with sky-high inflation rate (second highest in Latin America in 2018) and depreciating currency against dollar, thus, dampening economic growth prospects of the country. Poor economic conditions have taken a toll on all economic sectors, including e-commerce. High inflation rate has decreased purchasing power of consumers, who have become cautious shoppers.

Opportunities still exist

Nonetheless, outlook for Argentina’s e-commerce market is quite positive, with key e-commerce players craving for attention from Argentina’s proliferating online customer base.

Argentina’s e-commerce market is endowed with opportunities arising from growing m-commerce and social-commerce segments.

Argentina’s e-commerce market is endowed with opportunities arising from growing m-commerce and social-commerce segments.

Smartphones are increasingly becoming the key mode to reach consumers in Argentina, with consumers preferring to use mobile devices for accessing internet over stationary computers or laptops. The use of mobile phones for searching products before purchase is a common habit in Argentina. To tap this opportunity, businesses are increasingly focusing on building mobile-friendly websites – as of May 2018, 74.3% of businesses adapted sites to mobile phones (compared with only 10.4% in 2017).

Another trend emerging in the market is that of social shopping (shopping influenced by social media), fueled by growing social media engagement among Argentinians – as of January 2018, about 76% of the total population were active social media users. E-retailers are now using social networks to interact with shoppers, particularly the young demographic, and also to promote products. As of May 2018, 73.5% of businesses used social media to engage with shoppers and the most preferred sites were Facebook and YouTube.

Argentina’s E-Commerce Growing at an Explosive Rate, but Not without Challenges

EOS Perspective

Argentina’s e-commerce industry has reached a stage where consumers, particularly the young demographic, are slowly beginning to embrace online shopping as part of their daily lives, however, there is still scope for a lot of development for wider adoption. While Argentina’s e-commerce market is dynamic and growing, it could benefit from certain improvements, particularly in terms of payment methods, logistics, and building consumer’s trust in online shopping.

Payment methods need to be kept up to date with requirements of businesses and consumers, and steps are being taken for its betterment. Better logistics is a requisite for online retailing to function properly. In the era of one-day deliveries, a week’s wait time in Argentina is too long, and retailers are looking to resolve this issue.

MercadoLibre, the largest e-retailer in Argentina, has taken giant leaps for betterment of both payment mechanism and logistics. The company introduced a digital wallet, Mercado Pago, through which both debit and credit card payments can be processed. The digital wallet can be used in physical stores as well. Customers can scan QR code on items using MercadoLibre or Mercado Pago apps and choose preferred mode of payment.

Further, MercadoLibre has been adopting various measures to improve logistics. Through Mercado Envios, the company takes care of package shipment and delivery, as the seller only has to take the package to nearest dispatch center of MercadoLibre, and from there onwards MercadoLibre ensures seamless package delivery. Mercado Envios ascertains that the package reaches customer in the shortest time possible and allows tracking of shipment by both seller and buyer. MercadoLibre’s another program, Mercado Envios Flex, guarantees deliver of packages within 24 hours, but it is limited to Buenos Aires for now.

Undoubtedly, customer service and shopping experience need to be revamped, which could help in building customer’s trust as well.

Undoubtedly, customer service and shopping experience need to be revamped, which could help in building customer’s trust as well. The e-commerce platforms could use foreign digital expertise to develop websites that are safe for billing and money transactions. Moreover, online merchants need to understand that a transaction is not complete when a customer purchases product online, but when the package is received by the customer. To be able to gain customer’s confidence, merchants should take end-to-end responsibility, be transparent in communication by clearly stating the delivery timelines or any additional charges that are applicable, among others, before the payment is made.

Nonetheless, Argentina is slowly making progress and is on track to uphold its position as one of the e-commerce giants in Latin America. Despite being the fastest growing e-commerce market in Latin America, Argentina is still behind the two e-commerce powerhouses, Mexico and Brazil, at least as of now. However, the country definitely has the potential to give them both a tough competition with its e-commerce and m-commerce markets growing at exponential rates.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Brazil – Lucrative but Challenging E-commerce Industry

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Brazil is likely to account for approximately half of US$64.4 billion retail e-commerce sales across Latin America in 2019. Being the region’s largest country with a whopping 200 million population, a tech-savvy and consumption-driven middle class, and one of the largest internet-connected populations of the world, Brazil is one of the most preferred Latin American countries where international retailers are looking to expand. However, e-commerce success in Brazil also comes with numerous challenges. Overcoming those challenges still remains a quagmire for e-commerce merchants.


This article is part of a series focusing on e-commerce in LATAM, which also includes a look into e-commerce market in Mexico


The good and the difficult

Despite the economic slowdown and political turbulence in the country, retail e-commerce market has continued to grow, recording 10% y-o-y growth in 2018. Brazilians are connected now more than ever, access to the internet and technologies is becoming affordable by the day, while consumers are particularly enthusiastic to purchase international products using online shopping websites, all of which is making Brazil Latin America’s e-commerce powerhouse. Another key reason for online retail growth is the fact that consumers have become cash-strapped amidst frail economic conditions, which has squeezed money out of the market, bringing a prominent change in buying behavior, where consumers are more price conscious and driven by promotions. In such a scenario, e-commerce has emerged as a clear winner by offering lower prices and good deals, as compared with offline channels.

Operating an e-commerce business in Brazil is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the 140 million internet users represent an enormous e-commerce opportunity, while on the other hand, Brazil is plagued with operational challenges and struggles.

However, operating an e-commerce business in Brazil is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the 140 million internet users represent an enormous e-commerce opportunity, while on the other hand, Brazil is plagued with operational challenges and struggles with complex logistics, high tax rates, and payment issues, among others.

An array of challenges

One of the key challenges for any international retailer operating in Brazil is the high tax rate of 6.4% applicable on all international payments, which is enough to disincentivize shoppers to make purchases from international retailers such as Amazon or Alibaba. Further, customers are required to pay 60% flat tax on all imported product purchases valued between US$50-500 (the range may vary across different states). The taxes almost double the price of products, which could deter digital sales. In addition to the taxes, Brazil’s customs procedures are slow and complex, and shipments take a long time to arrive, making the online shopping experience arduous for customers.

For international retailers to operate in Brazil, it is crucial that they familiarize themselves with various local payment methods such as Boleto Bancário (bank slips), payment options offered by regional players (MercadoLivre offers MercadoPago, which is equivalent to PayPal), among others. This is because only 20% of Brazilians have access to international credit cards and instead prefer paying through local payment channels. This could be an obstacle for e-commerce players, as most transactions on shopping websites rely on online card payments. Furthermore, credit cards provided by domestic banks can only issue payments that are made in Brazilian Real, hence, international retailers need to find a way to convert currency if they want to operate in Brazil.

Brazil – Lucrative but Challenging E-commerce Industry

There are also several operational, logistics, and infrastructural challenges that are impairing e-commerce growth in the country. Strikes in Brazil are very common and happen quite often, consequently halting operations of federal customs or postal services. It usually takes some time to resume operations after the strike and the packages/deliveries could take even longer to reach the final destination. The recent truckers strike in spring of 2018 caused more than 3 million online deliveries to arrive with significant delays.

The country also lacks proper infrastructure to support e-commerce business – the distribution centers rarely function 24-hours a day due to security concerns and costly overtimes, which prevents shippers from collecting packages at night when the traffic is lower. Further, traffic situation in major Brazilian cities such Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo is so overwhelming that same day or next day shipping requirements are very difficult to fulfill. In addition, rampant cargo robberies are further disrupting e-commerce business in Brazil and are an acute problem in Rio. All major e-commerce players and logistics companies are investing heavily to protect goods, which increases security costs and is subsequently squeezing profit margins. Sao Paulo’s cargo transportation and logistics companies spend about 10-14% of revenue on ensuring cargo safety, while in Rio this ratio lies between 15% and 20% of revenue.

Sao Paulo’s cargo transportation and logistics companies spend about 10-14% of revenue on ensuring cargo safety, while in Rio this ratio lies between 15% and 20% of revenue.

Strong fundamentals promise opportunities

Nonetheless, challenges have not yet dissuaded customers from shopping online or prevented international and local players to expand operations in Brazil. Players are continuously making efforts to improve services to lure customers. One of the key trends that are reshaping customer support services is the increasing focus to provide chatbots on e-commerce websites for 24-hour shopping assistance. Brazilian e-commerce players are betting on chatbots to improve customer engagement and management, and to generate brand awareness.

With rising number of smartphone users in Brazil, mobile commerce is also growing and players are increasingly focusing on tapping this opportunity. In 2017, m-commerce users grew 42% y-o-y and mobile devices contributed to 31% of e-commerce sales in H1 2017. Furthermore, Brazil is a country with highly active social media users, a fact which serves as a key platform to expand business – as of March 2016, 60% of e-commerce sites used social media for sales and marketing. Numerous Brazilian companies use social media for marketing and it has become an integral part of e-commerce business, where social media is used as a tool for promotion and to reach out to customers.

EOS Perspective

While Brazil’s e-commerce market could be a cash cow for retailers, it also comes with various quirks and challenges. Localizing business in Brazil requires enormous amount of planning, calculation, and understanding the market before entering it. The high cost of doing business could be intimidating for several players along with online payment challenges, hefty taxes, and inferior infrastructure. However, forging local partnerships could solve some of the issues. For instance, cross-border e-commerce merchants could partner with Brazilian payment processing companies and invest in developing local payment methods to overcome the online payment challenge.

Alternative delivery channels are becoming popular, and these could help solve the logistics and shipping issues to a certain extent. InPost, a Polish company that operates a network of parcel lockers, introduced click and collect services in Brazil, which allows customers to place an order online and collect package from InPost’s lockers that are situated at most frequently visited places such as gas stations. Customers receive a QR code by email, which is used to operate the lockers. The lockers offer convenience for customers and reduce wait times, and greatly reduce logistics cost for retailers. While this is only one of potential novelties that could ease logistics problems, the arrival of established international retailers such as Amazon and Alibaba might be expected to bring in other innovations to reduce delivery, infrastructure, and payment barriers.

Despite the existing macro-economic and operational challenges, the country’s potential as a digital commerce market will continue to attract investments and is expected to keep growing.

Despite the existing macro-economic and operational challenges, the country’s potential as a digital commerce market will continue to attract investments and is expected to keep growing. With a large internet savvy consumer market eager to purchase international products and with westernization deeply influencing the young population, Brazil will continue to draw the attention of international retailers across the world. Amidst the country’s turbulent politics and economy, purchasing power grew 3% y-o-y in 2017, making Brazil even more attractive for online retailers. With new trends reshaping the industry and players forging ways to improve operations, the country is expected to remain the largest e-commerce market of Latin America ahead of Mexico and Argentina in the foreseeable future.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Mexico’s E-commerce Sector to Rise Amidst Challenges

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E-commerce in Mexico is witnessing a steady growth and is slowly becoming one of the most dynamic sectors of the country’s economy. In the last five years, e-commerce market in Mexico has grown significantly, as retailers strengthened their digital strategies to grow sales. The online channel is becoming an indispensable part of retail and despite all operational challenges that exist in the market, opportunities are too attractive to be missed.


The article is part of series focusing on e-commerce in LATAM, which also includes a look into e-commerce market in Brazil


In recent years, Mexico has attracted interest from global brands to expand in the country, where online retailing is expected to grow substantially – revenue generated by e-commerce is expected to reach US$ 17.6 billion by 2020, growing at a rate of 16.6% annually. Mexico’s distinctive geographic and demographic characteristics make it one of the most promising e-commerce markets in Latin America, where global companies are looking to expand. Its proximity to the USA is advantageous, making it an attractive target for USA-based retailers looking to grow internationally (Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, among others). Additionally, the growing population of young, working-age, tech-savvy Mexicans with sufficient disposable income is the key target for global retail chains, particularly for companies eyeing growth through e-commerce channel.

Mexico’s distinctive geographic and demographic characteristics make it one of the most promising e-commerce markets in Latin America, where global companies are looking to expand.

Lack of consumer trust 

In the last five years, e-commerce has witnessed double-digit growth and the trend is likely to continue in the long term. However, the market faces few challenges, which are impeding growth. To begin with, low consumer confidence in online transactions is a major barrier. Mexican users are skeptical when it comes to internet-based transactions due to distrust in payment methods and fear that the banking information provided will be misused, amidst high level of banking-related frauds prevalent in the country. According to a study conducted by Aite Group1, in Q2 2016, 83% of the interviewed respondents witnessed identify theft, while 70% were victims to online banking frauds. Consumer willingness to make online purchases is further shattered by the unsatisfactory online shopping experience delivered by some retailers due their relatively poor website designs and product display. According to a joint study by The Cocktail.com and ISDI, Challenges of E-commerce Mexico in 2017, consumers typically lost confidence in the online purchase process when trying to look for information on the products sold, making payments, understanding shipment and delivery policies, and dealing with returns.

Dependence on cash

Mexico is a cash-based economy, with 90% Mexicans preferring to make payments in physical currency. High dependence on cash is largely caused by limited access to modern financial infrastructure – as of 2016, there were only 37.7 ATMs and 10.3 bank branches per 100,000 people. Moreover, large proportion of the population remains unbanked along with low credit card penetration in the country. The dominance of physical currency in Mexico limits e-commerce growth, which is dependent on online payments. To overcome this challenge, players are adapting to align with customer preferences, as the significance of cash is impossible to overlook in Mexico. E-commerce players are introducing hybrid payment systems. For example, Linio and MercadoLibre allow customers to pay in cash, through banks, pharmacies, and convenience stores (OXXO and 7-Eleven), for items bought online. Walmart has introduced more than 2,000 kiosks in its physical stores, where customers can pay in cash for products bought online.

EOS Perspective

Although several large players, such as Amazon, Walmart, and MercadoLibre operate in the market, e-commerce sector still faces several obstacles and has yet not developed to the levels of other e-commerce markets that exist globally. For the Mexican e-commerce market to grow, it is imperative for the retailers to boost consumer confidence by ensuring that the buyer is safe; one way to achieve that is to make sure that the purchase process does not end with payment confirmation. Instead, the complete purchase process should be made transparent by enabling consumers to track all orders, receive notifications on shipping process, as well as making the return policy/process agile and convenient for shoppers.

For the Mexican e-commerce market to grow, it is imperative for the retailers to boost consumer confidence by ensuring that
the buyer is safe.

In spite of all quirks and challenges of the market, undoubtedly, Mexico offers a promising future for e-commerce with its sizable upsides – high internet and mobile penetration, growing purchasing power among consumers, declining smartphone prices, presence of e-commerce giants, such as MercadoLibre and Amazon looking to expand operations, among others. According to the Mexican Association of Online Sales (AMVO), five years ago in Mexico, online sales of large retailers including Walmart, Sanborns, Sears, Liverpool, and Palacio de Hierro comprised merely 1% of their total sales. This share rose to nearly 20% by 2017.

The e-commerce market is developing, demonstrated through sustainable and constant improvements – for instance, the country is making efforts to steadily develop infrastructure, customers are offered wider payment options through offline channels, and Amazon’s entry in the market has acted as a catalyst to e-commerce development, boosting customers’ trust in online shopping websites. With the launch of Amazon Prime in 2017, Amazon reduced shipment time to 1-2 days and expanded free shipping option across Mexico – a significant step that would revolutionize online retailing with other players trying to follow Amazon’s lead.

Mexico is ripe for e-commerce to boom. Even though the market is at nascent stage of development and faces challenges, it is also laden with myriad of opportunities. Online shopping accounts for a small share of the total annual retail sales in Mexico – e-commerce comprised 1.6% of total retail sales in 2016 and is likely to grow to 2.6% by 2019 – which represents a huge opportunity for players, as Mexicans have just begun adopting shopping through e-commerce. Players operating in the market understand the tremendous future growth prospects that the market offers, hence, are focusing to expand operations. With the right growth strategy, understanding of the market, and knowledge of consumer buying behavior, it is possible to survive and grow in the market, even though it is packed with challenges.
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Notes:

  1. 2016 Global Consumer Card Fraud study conducted by Aite Group; n (number of respondents interviewed in Mexico) = 303
  2. American e-commerce companies: Amazon and Best Buy
  3. American retail companies: Walmart and Sears
  4. Latin America-based e-commerce companies: Linio and MercadoLibre
  5. Mexico-based department store chains: El Palacio de Hierro, Sanborns, and Liverpool
by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Argentina Powers its Way through Renewables

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Despite having abundance of renewable resources, Argentina has always had an inclination towards the non-renewable energy in its energy mix. However, in 2016, the incumbent government announced its intentions to explore the renewable resources, especially wind, to ensure that about 20% of the energy mix is contributed to by green energy by 2025 (a shorter-term goal entailed 8% of the energy to be contributed to by renewable resources by the end of 2017). Both local and foreign players have welcomed this announcement and have started pouring in investments into related projects. However, the path to achieving the targets does have obstacles other than investment, such as lack of speedy financing and poor energy transmission.

At the time of the 2015 elections, Argentina was going through an energy crisis. Owing to a shortage of local energy generation, Argentina had been dependent on imports to meet its energy requirements post 2010. This was underpinned by lack of incentives for local and foreign investors to invest in the energy sector and the de-dollarization of energy tariffs (which prevented private, especially foreign investment into the sector, since most companies were not confident about the stability and value of the Argentina peso).

Also, despite Argentina’s abundance of renewable sources, the country’s energy mix was heavily dependent on non-renewable sources, which were imported from neighboring countries – gasoil from Venezuela and LNG from Bolivia. Thus, when pro-business candidate, Mauricio Macri, took office in 2015, his government adopted several reforms to uplift the country’s energy sector, with a prime focus of promoting the use of renewable energy. In October 2015, the Macri government introduced a new program called, RenovAr, to attract local and foreign investments in Argentina’s renewable energy sector.

argentina renewable energy

The RenovAr program aims to achieve 20% share of renewable energy in the energy mix by the end of 2025. It has also set a target of achieving 8% of its energy from renewable sources by the end of 2017 (which in absence of the government’s statements of the latter being achieved at the time of preparing this publication, it is fair to assume that the 2017 target was unlikely to have been met). These targets appear rather ambitious, considering that just recently, in 2016, only 1.8% of power demand in Argentina was supplied through renewable energy.

These targets appear rather ambitious, considering that just recently, in 2016, only 1.8% of power demand in Argentina was supplied through renewable energy.

The RenvoAr program has been designed to provide a host of fiscal benefits and financial support to companies interested in investing in the development of renewable energy projects. These include (but are not limited to) exemption of import duties for all projects commencing construction before the end of 2017; accelerated fiscal depreciation of applicable assets; early VAT refund for assets and infrastructure; exclusion from minimum presumed income tax for eight years from project commencement; exemption from dividend tax (subject to reinvestment in infrastructure); extension of income tax loss credits to 10 years; tax deduction of all financial expenses; tax credit on locally sourced capital expenditure.

However, the tax benefits were the highest for projects commencing before the beginning of 2018 and will diminish gradually up till 2025. In addition to these benefits, the government has set up a sector-specific trust fund called Trust Fund for Renewable Energy (FODER), to provide payment guarantees for all tendered power purchase agreements (PPAs) and to also support project financing. This further helps secure investors who have historically been hesitant to invest in Argentina. The government has allocated ARS 12 billion (US$860 million) to the trust fund. Also, the World Bank has approved US$480 million in guarantees to support the PPAs under the RenvoAr program.

Owing to a great deal of benefits and securities offered, the RenvoAr program has been modestly successful. In Round 1 of the RenvoAr program held in October 2016, the government awarded contracts for 1,142 MW capacity (through 29 contracts) instead of the initial plan of 1,000 MW. This was due to a great deal of interest in the auction, which received 123 bids for more than 6,300 MW. The awarded projects included 707 MW of wind energy projects and 400 MW of solar energy projects. The average prices for the projects were US$59.70/MWh for solar and US$59.40/MWh for wind.

The second round of auctions held in November 2016 (Round 1.5) witnessed equal success with a total capacity of 1,281 MW being auctioned off through 30 contracts. The 765 MW of wind energy was auctioned at an average price of US53.3/MWh, while the 516 MW of solar projects were auctioned at an average price of US$54.9/MWh, signifying a visible drop in prices over the two rounds. The auctions were expected to increase renewable energy contribution to Argentina’s energy mix to close to 6% and to bring in about US$3.5 billion in financing over the next two years.

Argentina’s Renewable Energy Potential

Wind Energy — Argentina has immense potential for wind energy generation. As per various estimates, a region that has an average wind speed of and above 5m/s has a good potential for wind energy generation. In Argentina, about 70% of its territories have an average wind speed of 6m/s, while one of the country’s regions, Patagonia, has an average wind speed of 9m/s. In fact, Patagonia is among the top three wind corridors globally.

Solar Energy — The northwest region of Argentina boasts of being among top four locations globally for having the greatest thermal solar power potential. About 11 provinces across Argentina have high potential for installation of photovoltaic panels, which is the most widely used solar generating technology in Argentina.

 

In addition, Argentina also has an immense potential to source energy from small-hydro, bioenergy, and biomass projects.

After two hugely successful auctions, the government had planned the third auction (Round 2) in summer 2017, however, the round was later pushed to November 2017 due infrastructure bottleneck. The country has limited transmission nodes in areas with good wind and solar potential and also require to boost the transmission infrastructure to go hand in hand with the RenvoAr program. About 5,000 kilometers of transmission lines would be required over the next three years to match the expanding capacity.

In addition to avoiding infrastructure bottlenecks, the government pushed back the next round of auctions to ensure there were no financial bottlenecks as well. With the winners of the 2016 auctions still seeking financing by mid-2017, the government did not wish to start another auction before the earlier projects were structured.

The Round 2 of the auction (which was held in November 2017) also saw significant success and auctioned off about 2,043 MW capacity instead of the initially planned 1,200 MW. The tender was largely oversubscribed and received 228 bids representing 9,403 MW of capacity. The auctioned bids included about 816 MW of solar power capacity at an average price of US$43.46/MWh and about 993 MW of wind energy at an average price of US$41.23/MWh. This round is expected to bring in a further US$2.5-3 billion in investment.

While the three rounds of auctions can easily be termed as success, it is important to note that most contracts were bagged by local players instead of large international players (such as Spain’s Acciona and US-based AES Corp). This was primarily because large international companies still consider Argentina to be a slightly risky market and the price quoted by them reflected this risk (whereas most local players quoted much lower prices).

Moreover, with every proceeding auction, the average price declined significantly (from US$59.70/MWh and US$59.40/MWh for solar and wind, respectively in October 2016 to US$43.46/MWh and US$41.23/MWh in November 2017). Following this trend, the ceiling for the next auction have been announced as US$41.76/MWh for solar and US$40.27/MWh for wind (however, the date of the next auction has not been announced). This raises major concern, especially for international players, that the prices have declined to a point where projects may not be economically viable. This is valid considering that the Argentinian market holds some risk as well (the country has a credit rating of B+ as per S&P and B3 as per Moody’s). Lower prices may also act counter-productive because in case the winning projects fail to get financing in accordance with the low output prices, the overall confidence in the renewables program may fall.

Lower prices may also act counter-productive because in case the winning projects fail to get financing in accordance with the low output prices, the overall confidence in the renewables program may fall.

However, international players can come into play with regards to president Macri’s another policy that promotes generation and use of clean energy. As per a new rule passed in September 2017, large power consumers are allowed to directly meet their renewable power obligations (8% by 2017 and 20% by 2025) through private supply contracts. This is expected to further pour in investments worth about US$6 billion over the next three years and also lead to the installation of close to 4GW generation capacity. Several players, such as Argentina-based Luft Energia (which has partnered with US-based PE firm, Castlelake) are focusing on this route to enter Argentina’s lucrative renewables energy market, rather than competing in a price-war in the auctions.

EOS Perspective

Generation and use of renewable energy definitely holds an important place for president Macri and his government is definitely pulling many strings to advance the cause. The three rounds of auction up till now can be termed as success by almost any measure, however, it is too early to comment if the government will be able to reach its ambitious targets. While the RenvoAr program and the FODER trust fund provide real benefits and security to investors, the smooth and timely financing of these projects, especially with declining bidding prices, still remains to be a challenging task. Moreover, the lack of transmission infrastructure leads to further uncertainties regarding the program’s success.

The government has probably remained slightly short of its 2017 target of meeting 8% of its energy needs from renewable sources, however, it is on track to achieve its goal of 20% energy-mix being contributed by renewable energy. Thus, it is safe to say, that while Argentina’s renewable energy goal may be a little too ambitious, the government does seem optimistic about achieving it on the back of a solid incentive program, the World Bank’s support, and keen interest from foreign and local energy players.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Japan Hopes to Get a Slice of Mercosur Opportunity Cake as LATAM Exports to USA Decline

In early May 2017, representatives from Japan and Mercosur, a sub-regional alliance consisting of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, met to discuss trade and investment between the nations with the aim to promote free trade and fluid movement of goods. Over the past years, business between Mercosur and Japan has been badly affected mainly by outdated trade policies that have not been revised in a long time. To improve economic relations between Japan and member countries of Mercosur, trade policies need to be renewed and new sectors of investment should be explored.

In 2016, Japan exports to Mercosur nations reached US$3.5 billion and imports from Mercosur totaled US$7.6 billion. Both exports and imports drastically reduced since 2012, taking a hit of 52% and 42.8%, respectively.

Japan and Argentina

After a decade of slow business dealings, trade relations between Japan and Argentina are showing signs of improvement. The number of Japanese companies operating in Argentina reduced from 120 in the 1990s to 54 by the end of 2007. However, the interest of Japanese businesses in the Argentinian market has started to return since the last quarter of 2015, with 78 companies currently in operation in Argentina, and Japan aims to have a minimum of 200 Japanese companies operating in the coming years. According to Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), in 2016, Japanese exports to Argentina stood at US$630 million, primary exports being machinery and electronics. Imports to Japan were worth US$762 million in the same year.

In order to boost Argentina’s economy, president Mauricio Macri has focused on reviving infrastructure projects in the country. Taking an advantage of this opportunity, Japanese trading companies are keeping a close watch on upcoming rail contracts. Marubeni Corporation, Mitsubishi Corporation, and Mitsui & Co., three of the largest trading companies in Japan, are interested in sales of passenger rail cars in Argentina and planning on submitting bids as part of the new proposed projects. Japanese companies plan to invest between US$6 billion and US$9 billion in Argentina during 2017-2020. The investments are likely to be made across various sectors including mining, energy, and agriculture, among others. With more sectors now open to investment, Japan hopes to boost trade in the broader Latin American market.

Japan and Brazil

Brazil is a large investment market for Japan. With close to 700 Japanese companies currently operating in Brazil, the commercial and industrial opportunities the country offers are unquestionable. In 2016, Japan imported goods worth US$6.7 billion from Brazil, a drop by 10.6% over the previous year when the imports stood at US$7.5 billion. Japan and Brazil are now partnering to strengthen trade and investment between the two countries to spur increase in trade.

Brazil offers Japan a considerable investment opportunity in infrastructure projects. After the Cooperation Agreement for the Promotion of Infrastructure Investments was signed in October 2016, investment in areas such as transportation, logistics, information technology, and energy is expected to increase. At the same time, Japan is a large market for Brazilian agricultural products such as soy, corn, and cotton, but Brazil is also interested to enter the fruit and beef market in Japan. While discussions and negotiations regarding the entry of Brazilian products in the Japanese market are still under way, issues related to hygiene and sanitary standards still need to be addressed.

Japan and Paraguay

Paraguay is one of the least explored countries in terms of trade by Japanese firms. Between 2011 and 2014, only some 10 Japanese companies established operations in Paraguay. Japanese exports to Paraguay stood at US$77.5 million in 2016 while imports from Paraguay were reported at US$41.6 million during the same year. Japanese companies plan to invest in Paraguay to improve business and generate revenue in sectors such as infrastructure, agriculture, and energy, which are seen as areas of opportunities in the future.

Japan and Uruguay

In January 2015, the countries signed a Japan-Uruguay Investment Agreement – the first investment agreement between Japan and any member of Mercosur. Uruguay has become an attractive destination for Japanese investors mainly due to the country’s economic and political stability, low level of corruption, and easy inflow of FDI in the country. Additionally, Japanese companies are provided with the same opportunities and conditions as domestic firms. Uruguay offers the benefit of being able to serve as a distribution hub and boasts of good logistical services to other Mercosur countries – Japanese companies are likely take this as an opportunity to develop an overseas base to strengthen business ties within the region. Uruguay largely depends on natural resources such as wind, water, solar, and biomass to produce energy, making the renewable energy sector in the country another attractive area for investment by Japanese companies in the coming years.

EOS Perspective

The arrival of Trump’s administration leading to USA’s withdrawal from Trans-Pacific Partnership and focus on encouraging domestic industrialization by limiting imports from countries across Latin America, have resulted in several LATAM countries’ attempts to improve and tighten friendly trade relations within their own region as well as with new partners globally, including Asia – we wrote about it in our article Trump In Action: Triumph Or Tremor For Latin America? in February 2017. Japan appears to be willing to use this situation to its advantage by renewing trade and investment policies with Mercosur nations as well.

In the past five years, exports and imports value have declined continuously between Japan and Mercosur nations, and to reverse this declining trend and to revive trade, Japan started to build new trading relationships with Mercosur countries. If successful, this initiative is likely to serve two purposes – firstly, Mercosur countries can reduce dependence on the USA and move towards new markets to look for new opportunities, and secondly, through increased investment in Mercosur, Japan can become a prominent player in the region to reap benefits from engaging in business with several emerging countries.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Trump In Action: Triumph Or Tremor For Latin America?

Donald Trump commenced his presidency by announcing ‘America First’ policy, thus casting a dark shadow on trade and exports from other countries to the USA. Trump’s protectionist and neo-isolation policies are accepted with gritted teeth across the world, particularly by the USA’s southern neighbors. The renegotiation of trade treaties, more stringent migration policies, as well as strong focus on encouraging domestic industrialization by pruning imports might contribute to a slowdown in economic growth of a few Latin American countries. The policies set by the new president may result in economic malaise across Latin America, where people are uncertain and apprehensive towards the alarming strategies laid down by the USA.

While the degree of economic and trade impact will vary across LATAM countries, the strongest distress is likely to be witnessed across Cuba, Mexico, and Venezuela. On the other hand, Brazil might partially benefit, while the impact is unlikely to be significant on other larger economies such as Argentina or Chile.

The wall between Mexico and the USA

Mexico is facing the worst of Trump’s wrath. The country is highly dependent on the USA for trade – most importantly for duty free exports. These are likely to witness a tremendous setback with Trump imposing 20% import tax on goods from Mexico to finance a wall that he intends to build to safeguard USA’s border from illegal immigrants.

Renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership will further tarnish Mexico’s trade with the USA. Trump intends to renegotiate terms of NAFTA, focusing mainly on moving away from the zero trade barrier policy. By imposing tariffs on imports from Mexico, the cost of goods will increase as they enter the USA, which is likely to boost domestic production of those goods, but it will surely have a negative impact on Mexican production. Another key driver for Trump’s plans to put a break on Mexican imports is the concern over trade deficit that the USA faces with Mexico – approximately, US$ 50 billion in 2015. Hence, Trump wants to encourage domestic production to reduce imports from Mexico.

Further, Trump’s administration has also endangered billions dollars of remittances, one of the largest sources of foreign capital in Mexico, received from Mexican citizens working in the USA. Trump has threatened to tax the remittance transfers if Mexico does not support the trade and immigration limitations imposed by the USA.

Another major issue is the possibility of implementation of strict migration policies which can result in deportation of millions of undocumented migrants, most of them being Mexicans. Several other countries such as Haiti, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Cuba also stand to suffer due to the change in migration policies. Mass deportation will increase unemployment in these migrants’ home countries and reduce remittances in foreign currency.

Amid the USA-Mexico tension, the Mexican peso has already witnessed a slump, almost nearing its all-time low – declined by 5% since the beginning of 2017 and by 20% since Trump came into power.

Trump’s crackdown on Cuba

The relationship between Cuba and the USA is predicted to get frosty under Trump’s administration. Cuba has struggled for several years under the USA-imposed isolation until president Obama negotiated to re-establish diplomatic relationship between these two countries. However, in his campaign, Trump threatened to reverse the restated diplomatic relationship – including easing of travel and remittances between Cuba and the USA – if Cuba does not agree to a “better deal” which Trump left undefined. Moreover, the US president has announced that he was against the Cuban Adjustment Act, which permits any Cuban, who reaches the USA to stay there legally and apply for residency.

Venezuela, not far from Trump’s radar

Trump has already turned hostile towards Venezuela considering the recent sanction imposed by his administration in February 2017 on the Vice President Tareck El Aissami, accusing him of playing a significant role in international drug trafficking. Relationship between these two countries has already turned sour amidst the deep economic and political crisis that exists in Venezuela.

Further, Venezuela’s oil exports to the USA might suffer due to Trump’s decision to revive the Dakota Access Pipeline – an oil pipeline project that can reduce country’s need to import crude oil. Presently, Venezuela exports 792,000 barrels a day of its crude oil or 38% of total crude exports to the USA, and any additional access to oil for the USA could have a deep impact on Venezuela’s oil exports.

Trump could be good news for Brazil

It appears that the only silver lining for Latin America, while Trump hovers with his protectionist policies, is Brazil’s opportunity to strengthen its ties with Pacific and European nations. Brazil’s Minister of Foreign Trade predicts new trade opportunities for Brazil, as the country aims to expand trading relations with other countries, while the USA withdraws and renegotiates key trade agreements. Moreover, Brazil (as a member of Mercosur – consisting of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay) is already pursuing free trade agreement with the European Union, with next round of negotiations lined up for March 2017.

However, a few setbacks that Brazil could suffer include deportation of many of the 1.3 million Brazilians immigrants living in the USA, whose stay in the USA remains undocumented. The deportation is likely to adversely impact the remittances received by Brazil. Further, Trump’s focus on implementing higher import tariffs is likely to impact the Brazilian exports to the USA – approximately 13% of Brazilian exports are directed to the USA.

 

EOS Perspective

USA’s withdrawal from Trans-Pacific Partnership and aim to renegotiate NAFTA is driving Latin American countries to break dependence on the USA, establishing friendly trade relations with other countries and strengthening intra-regional ties. Latin American countries are focusing to redirect trade and investment towards countries such as China and Russia, as well as Europe and Africa.

China is already a key trading partner for Latin America – with trade between the two regions growing from US$ 13 billion in 2000 to US$ 262 billion in 2013 – and USA’s withdrawal from Trans-Pacific Partnership is likely to further deepen the ties between them. China aims to increase investment and trade in LATAM to US$ 250 billion and US$ 500 billion, respectively, by 2025.

China is moving swiftly to strengthen relationship with Latin American countries. Soon after Trump’s win, the Chinese President visited LATAM aiming to deepen economic cooperation, and to promote social and economic development in the region. During the visit, Ecuador and China agreed to a new economic Free Trade Agreement, focused to grow production and investment across energy, infrastructure, and agriculture sectors. An extension of China-Peru free trade agreement was also signed to promote bilateral trade and investment between the two countries. A closer association between China and Latin America is likely to reduce USA’s dominance and supremacy in the region.

Further, with USA’s plans to increase import tariffs, Latin American countries are slowly focusing on expanding intra-regional trading relationships, which till now have not been developed to their full potential due to dependence on the USA for trade and exports. Present circumstances are optimal to slowly start building an intra-regional trade force in Latin America, and the region’s countries should work towards strengthening existing trade and integration blocs, such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

Trump’s policies are likely to have a diverse impact on different Latin American countries. The region has already slowly started forging new trading relationships to reduce dependence on the USA, which proves that LATAM might be able to divert the negative repercussions of USA’s new policies and turn them into new opportunities (at least to some extent).

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Zika Virus Outbreak: How Is It Dampening the LATAM and Caribbean Economies?

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In February 2016, World Health Organization declared Zika virus outbreak as an international public health emergency across 21 countries in the LATAM and Caribbean region, as Zika is believed to pose a serious threat to human health and life, and to adversely impact businesses and economies. The virus is slowly becoming a great contributor to the financial turmoil by severely affecting tourism industry, one of the key sources of revenue in the region. Zika has recently also become a major hindrance for Brazil Olympics scheduled for August 2016, as athletes and spectators are skeptical of visiting the country due to fears over the virus.

Latin American and Caribbean countries are likely to suffer an estimated economic loss of about US$ 3.5 billion in 2016 due to the Zika outbreak with countries such as Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil blown by the highest fiscal revenue losses in the region. Further, Zika is posing a significant threat to the tourism industry leading to drop in airline bookings to Latin America and Caribbean by 3.4% y-o-y (bookings between January 15 and February 10) in 2016 over 2015. The Caribbean region is hit the worst – airline bookings declined 27% y-o-y in the US Virgin Island and 24% y-o-y in Martinique. Also, shares of travel companies plummeted and several cruise lines, airlines, and hotels are offering fee waivers and options to reschedule travel.

1-economic impact


2-impact on tourism


3-impact travel industry


4-affected Brazil


EOS Perspective

Zika has taken a financial toll on the LATAM and Caribbean countries and might continue to weigh them down till it is adequately curbed or vaccinations are introduced. Zika has also become a major threat to the forthcoming Rio Olympics with a few athletes already starting to back out of the games and health experts across the world discussing to cancel/postpone Olympics over public health concerns. However, Brazil is making relentless efforts to ensure safety of athletes and spectators, and the government has given assurance that the virus will not affect visitors. The country is continuously wrestling against the virus by taking measures such as daily inspection of the Olympic site, spraying mosquito repellents, and eliminating mosquito breeding sites and stagnant water. Also, Brazilian government will temporarily waive visa requirements for citizens of the USA, Japan, Australia, and Canada for travel in 2016 (between June 1 and September 18) to entice visitors. All these efforts by the Brazilian authorities are a vivid illustration that amidst the dwindling economy and political instability, Olympics is the much needed lift for Brazil. Tourism is likely to account 10% of Brazil’s GDP in 2016 due to the Olympics, as compared with an average of 9% in previous years.

Regardless of efforts made by countries to curb the virus, travel alerts for LATAM and Caribbean region have already damaged the travel market and put the US$ 64 billion worth tourism industry at risk.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Universal Healthcare Is Needed, but Isn’t Enough – Assessment of Public Health Insurance Targeted at Vulnerable Populations in South America

Ensuring an equal access to healthcare services that are affordable and of decent quality has increasingly been on the agenda of several developed as well as developing countries across the world. Throughout 2014 and 2015, we published a series of articles focusing on the South Asian region, in which we looked into various aspects of the universal healthcare in The Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia, followed by our final article in the series presenting holistic view on bridging the health insurance coverage gap in the region. But South Asia is not the only region working to achieve improvements in the functioning of healthcare systems and the universal health insurance coverage. In South America, where universal healthcare is more prevalent and public health insurance coverage gap is narrower than in most Asian nations, several countries have shown a range of approaches to enhance the equality to access and quality of services within their public healthcare. While the approaches differ, the common focus across the region has been to broaden the inclusion of particularly vulnerable groups of populations, such as the poor, elderly, and the unemployed. We are taking a look into public healthcare systems in selected countries to asses their strength in terms of catering to these beneficiaries.

As universal healthcare systems are unrolled and implemented to include large part of the country’s population, regardless of the geography, a well-functioning public health insurance system must focus on two important components: clear classification of its beneficiaries and appropriate structuring of the healthcare services financing.

In order to ensure the right terms of access to the public healthcare system, a country’s population that can benefit from such public insurance is typically segmented into various groups, such as the working population, grey economy workers, poor population, and the senior citizens. The strength of a public health insurance system lies in its ability to effectively target these various groups with dedicated plans and schemes, as these sections of the population may have different healthcare needs.

A public health insurance system is usually financed through government funding and contributions from the employed population (which apart from the formally-employed population can also include informal sector), with most of the public funding directed at subsidizing the healthcare for poor citizens and other underprivileged groups (depending on their proportion in total population). A system with specific coverage targeted at each of these groups is likely to be more efficient in terms of generating required finances, redistributing them according to beneficiary requirements, and in channeling healthcare resources.

South American countries are known for their inclination to provide or to work towards providing universal healthcare to their citizens. While the shared focus across the region has been to improve equity in access and financing of health services, in several cases leading to tangible positive health outcomes of the populations, public health insurance systems in most of these countries have evolved over a period of time to their current state through experimentation and deliberations over various policies to achieve a system that works best in the local scenario.

South American countries adopted various models to develop and enhance their public healthcare systems and, based on respective exigencies, their public health insurance systems are unique. Despite these differences, a broad level country comparison is possible on the basis of some common parameters, to evaluate how healthcare needs of key population groups are addressed in these countries. This comparison indicates the relative strength of public health insurance systems from the target beneficiaries’ point of view.

Comparative View of Public Health Insurance

Relative Strength of PHI


EOS Perspective

As South American example indicates, the development and implementation of universal healthcare system is not a solution as such, but rather a first step to ensure that healthcare needs of all population groups, especially the vulnerable ones, are well taken care of. Universal healthcare systems with no dedicated, targeted programs oriented specifically at certain groups in terms of type and availability of services, provisions and procedures, access to healthcare facilities, and assigned funding, are likely to be able to address needs of these groups only to a limited extend.

From beneficiary’s point of view, this results in unavailability of certain health services, lower trust in the system, and might simply lead to negative health outcomes of these populations. Given their limited financial abilities, these beneficiaries are unlikely to turn to private sector where their healthcare needs would be met (unless private insurance players, looking to fill gaps, with or without government collaboration, are able to provide cost-effective health insurance coverage, again targeted specifically at these groups).

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