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Latin America This Week: May 22, 2023

Opposition, not ideology, wins elections; Chinese foreign direct investment moves beyond natural resources and Brazil; Livent-Allkem merger bets on lithium in the Americas.

Opposition, not ideology, wins elections. Scholars Carlos Malamud, Rogelio Núñez Castellano, and Gerardo Munck chronicle Latin America’s presidential election results since 2015 and find that, more than tacking to the left or right, voters want change. Anti-incumbency dominates electoral trends: over the last five years, opposition candidates won seventy-six percent of elections across all levels of government. The next instance will be Argentina in October, where the president isn’t even running for reelection. You can follow the details in James Bosworth and Arianna Kohan’s timely newsletter, the Road to the Casa Rosada.

Presidential elections in Latin America, 2015-2023
Presidential election results in Latin America, 2015-2023. Source: Gerardo L. Munck.

Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) moves beyond natural resources and Brazil. Chinese loans in Latin America have all but disappeared but investment still flows. An excellent database by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México’s Red Académica de América Latina y el Caribe sobre China has the data. The biggest takeaways: investments have grown from less than $1 billion at the start of the twenty-first century to some $14 billion per year from 2015 on.  And Brazil’s eighty percent take has fallen well below half as Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and especially Mexico gained ground. Since 2015, energy investments have outpaced minerals and mining. Car and auto part manufacturing too has jumped from two percent of FDI in 2010–2014 to twelve percent in 2020–2022. With the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act kicking in electric vehicle subsidies, expect that number to grow.

Livent-Allkem merger bets on lithium in the Americas. Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile hold more than half of the world’s reserves of lithium, a critical mineral used in electric vehicle batteries, but supply only thirty-one percent of the world’s output. The world’s soon-to-be third-largest lithium producer looks to change that, announcing big plans for Americas-based supply chains. The U.S.-Australian company will have to contend with more active governments and changing rules in the sector: Chile has raised taxes and royalties and President Gabriel Boric wants to require public-private partnerships for lithium mining; Mexico has nationalized lithium mining and extraction, and Bolivian President Luis Arce favors, along with other regional leaders, forming an OPEC-style lithium cartel.

Source : Council on Foreign Relations