The Brexit vote: What could LatAm expect?

Next Thursday, it will be, in the words of Prime Minister David Cameron “time for the British people to have their say.” The 23rd of June will mark the date in which the British population takes to the voting booths to decide their country’s permanence in the world’s largest regional integration platform, the European Union.

The last time the British citizens had a say on their affiliation to the EU was in 1975, when they voted in favor of continued membership to the European Economic Community by a considerable margin.

The question is once again on the table, either result will have massive consequences, mainly in what refers to the economy. The British, the European and the world economies should expect a disruption in their ongoing trends.

LatAm is no exception, in fact, just the speculation of a potential ‘Brexit’ has already disturbed currency exchange rates and stock prices in Mexico and Brazil. The Mexican peso weakened past 19 pesos per dollar for the first time in four months, and the Brexit vote is added to the causes, in addition to the Federal Reserve vote in the US.

Brazil on the other hand, reported stock price falls across the board, particularly in raw-material companies, "The referendum in Britain makes international investors very cautious, and it’s not what we need now, […] Brazil’s situation looks bad from every angle.” Said Jason Vieira, chief economist at Infinity Asset Management in Sao Paulo.

However, these changes all pertain to speculation, economists are always cautious whenin the face of transitions and will seldom provide positive outlooks to moves as radical as the Brexit.

Still, emerging market portfolios recorded a loss this week, as did LatAm’s biggest stock exchanges bar Chile, which grew by 0.1%. All currencies also posted sizeable devaluations except the Brazilian real which increased its worth by 0.2%. It is reasonable to accept the chance of a potential Brexit as a cause for the drops, if the UK’s permanence were to be assured market shifts would not be so consistent.

As of now, there is little evidence that continued membership by the UK will have sizeable effects on trade. Truth is, there are advantages and disadvantages to trade with the UK as a member of the EU.

As far as disadvantages go, all the red tape that comes as a product of EU trade regulations makes proper free trade an impossibility, and an independent UK could trigger a trade boom for itself if it adapts itself adequately to the global economy. The tradeoff here is that the EU has a strong negotiating body, and is generally able to work itself into favorable agreements, with the UK standing by itself negotiating will not be as easy, as it represents just a portion of the market size that the EU provides.

LatAm could find beneficial investment opportunities with the UK once the EU hurdles are removed, and could also make the best of a weakened EU when assessing trade tariffs and quotas. In short, a Brexit might allow LatAm to wriggle itself into more advantageous deals with Europe.

The size and profit LatAm extracts from the new opportunities brought around by the Brexit will depend largely on the terms by which it is conducted, which will all be decided after next week’s referendum.

Regarding trade, the general consensus for LatAm seems to be that it could benefit from the Brexit. Just over half of the UK’s trade is with the EU, the remaining percent with other countries is heavily monitored and regulated by the EU. If the terms of the departure were to favor free market policies, LatAm should see more trade opportunities with the UK.

The Colombian Post | Pedro Bernal

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