February 12, 2024

Infrastructure Opportunities in Latin America Are Deep and Wide

report published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (the EIU) asserts that "Latin America lags most of its regional peers in terms of infrastructure investment. According to the Global Infrastructure Hub (GI Hub, a G20 initiative), Latin America spent 2.2% of its GDP in 2023 on infrastructure, but actual investment needs are estimated at 3.5% of GDP. The difference of 1.3% of GDP represents nearly US$90bn in unmet infrastructure needs, and that gap will only widen if infrastructure investment does not pick up."

The EIU also notes that the shortfall in infrastructure investment is reflected in its "Operational Risk scores, which place Latin America far behind OECD economies in the infrastructure category." For example, "Poor infrastructure weighs on the business environment and growth: the lack of proper transport links raises supply‑chain costs; unreliable electricity distribution disrupts economic activity; and patchy ICT coverage leaves entire regions and their inhabitants isolated."

The report's other key findings include:
  • Latin America's infrastructure remains below par by international standards, limiting competitiveness and economic growth. Many of the region's governments are operating under significant fiscal constraints, which means that they will look to the private sector to take a more prominent role in developing much-needed infrastructure in 2024.
  • There are myriad opportunities for private investors in all sectors across the region. Most Latin American countries have adopted the public-private partnership (PPP) model, but policies, regulatory frameworks and risks vary widely from country to country. Uncertainty surrounding the policy direction of some governments—particularly in Argentina and Colombia—is another obstacle to attracting investment.
  • Even countries with well-established frameworks and experience with PPPs—such as Colombia, Mexico and Panama—will face setbacks. In particular, a lack of consensus between governments, businesses and local communities will stoke social unrest and delay development.
  • National governments do not have a monopoly on PPPs: in Brazil, for example, states and municipalities have used PPPs to accelerate their own projects—a trend that will continue in 2024 and beyond.

The EIU explains how the infrastructure gap is holding Latin America back in keeping up with new technologies. "Because of its sizeable infrastructure gap, the well of investment opportunities in Latin America is deep and wide," the report says. "The region's logistics and utilities infrastructure is in dire need of expansion and modernization, but sectors at the forefront of innovation and technology also deserve attention. The rollout of 5G technology, for example, has been slow in some countries, but progress this year—Argentina finally carried out its long-awaited 5G auction in October and Colombia in December—will generate some opportunities in 2024."

The report importantly adds:
Investment in renewable and sustainable energy sources, like solar and wind, is also growing but remains far below Latin America's potential. The region could become a crucial player in the supply chain to power the global green energy shift, owing to its large reserves of critical minerals, wide use of renewable energy sources and water availability. However, it lacks the necessary infrastructure and funding to produce the batteries and green hydrogen that will fuel the world in the decades to come. Investments in these areas are on the radar of governments in Latin America's major economies, but the biggest infrastructure opportunities—in the near term at least—will be in logistics, including road, rail, energy distribution, and ports in the likes of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.

What are your thoughts about the private sector taking a more prominent role in developing Latin America's much-needed infrastructure in 2024?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

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