Cablegate: Cafta-Dr Update
DE RUEHMU #1288/01 3381358
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 041354Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0225
INFO RUEHMU/AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
UNCLAS MANAGUA 001288
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON ETRD EAGR NU
SUBJECT: CAFTA-DR Update
REF: 09 MANAGUA 1009; 09 MANAGUA 0753; 09 MANAGUA 1164
1. The global economic crisis continues to have a negative impact
on trade between the United States and Nicaragua. As the U.S.
economy recovers, the decline in Nicaraguan exports has slowed.
Other factors, such as the drought caused by the El Ni????o climatic
phenomenon and problems with international port access, have also
taken their toll on U.S. - Nicaraguan trade. In addition, the
government of Nicaragua is promoting trade with Venezuela perhaps
at the expense of trade with the United States.
Nicaraguan Exports to the United States Show Moderate Decline
2. The United States International Trade Commission (USITC) reports that overall Nicaraguan exports to the United States from January to September 2009 have declined by 9.6% when compared to the same period last year (see attached spreadsheet). In the first two months of 2009, Nicaraguan exports to the United States were down by 19% from the previous year. By June 2009, they were down 11.8% versus the previous year. The global economic crisis has affected U.S. - Nicaraguan trade, though the decline has slowed since the beginning of 2009.
U.S. Exports to Nicaragua Down Sharply
3. U.S. exports to Nicaragua fell sharply this year, down by 31.8% when compared to 2008. The largest category of U.S. exports to Nicaragua is donated goods, which have declined by almost 46% as nongovernment organizations have cut back on donations during the recession. A lack of manufacturing growth and construction in Nicaragua for the first nine months of 2009 is also notable, as U.S. exports of mechanical machinery and electrical machinery have decreased by 29.9% and 40.9%, respectively. A large percentage of exports to Nicaragua are capital goods, and there has been little demand for such products from local companies because they have had to cut production.
Textile and Apparel Manufacturers Hoping for U.S. Recovery
4. U.S. demand for Nicaraguan-assembled apparel has decreased by 7.9% when compared to last year. Textiles and apparel represent the largest percentage of Nicaraguan exports to the United States, surpassing all other sectors combined. Local contacts report that consumer spending in the United States is slowly recovering, though textile and apparel manufacturers have yet to respond. Scott Vaughn, General Manager of Rocedes Apparel, told Econoff that the improvement in retail data makes manufacturers more optimistic that they might see increased demand for their goods during the second quarter of 2010. For the moment, however, apparel retailers remain cautious about placing large orders in case the improvement in sales turns out to be only temporary. Vaughn added that industry hopes for strong holiday sales to invigorate the market, but he does not expect an immediate change.
Mixed Results for Agricultural Exports
5. The drought caused by El Ni????o has hurt some agricultural exports, while others are performing well (ref. A). Sorghum producers, for example, report losses of up to 40% versus last year. Cattle ranchers and beef producers have been hit hard by the drought affecting Nicaragua; exports of those products fell more sharply than any other category, by 29.7%. It is difficult to assess the full damage of the drought until final 2009 data is compiled.
6. On a positive note, producers of several agricultural commodities are doing well. The only two Nicaraguan exports that have experienced growth in 2009 versus 2008 are tobacco and sugar, up 11.3% and 42.3%, respectively. Coffee producers are also optimistic that production in late 2009 and early 2010 will improve significantly, despite a recent dispute with the government over a minimum wage for workers during the end-of-year harvest. According to Carlos Cuadra, Coordinator of the Managua Council for the National Coffee Council, this year's harvest is expected to produce up to 500,000 pounds, a significant increase when compared to 350,000 pounds produced in 2008. The sugar industry is also experiencing marked growth. Mario Amador, Executive Director of the National Committee of Sugar Producers (CNPA), told local media that the sugar industry is optimistic about 2009-2010 sugar production levels, which were already at record highs in 2008-2009. Amador added that sugar prices are high enough that it is logical to focus only on basic sugar production rather than ethanol.
7. Industry experts predict an increase in gold exports in 2009, as
record-high commodity prices have provided incentive for increased
mining production in Nicaragua. Sergio Rios, President of the
Nicaraguan Chamber of Mining (CAMINIC), asserted that gold will
become one of the country's top income generators, and he estimated
that 2009 will end with gold exports valued between $90 million and
$100 million, a significant increase from last year's $83.6
million. The top markets for Nicaraguan gold are the United States
Lack of Port Access Hurts Nica Exports
8. Lack of access to international ports has been an ongoing
constraint for Nicaraguan exporters and importers. The Nicaraguan
Association of Growers and Exporters (APEN) is actively advocating
for improved infrastructure and access at the Rama Port on the
Atlantic Coast. Azucena Castillo, Director of APEN, told Econoff
that it is vital to develop this option for maritime cargo because
Nicaragua is overly dependent on Puerto Cort????s in Honduras (ref.
B). The political crisis in Honduras and the recent trade dispute
between El Salvador and Honduras have temporarily shut down
highways and caused delays and losses of perishable goods for
Nicaraguan exporters and importers. These developments have
underscored the need for Nicaraguans to have independent port
access for their products to be shipped to and from international
GON and ALBA
9. The GON's policy of support for exports to Venezuela, rather
than allowing market prices to influence trade flows, may have
resulted in trade diversion and a decrease in the volume of goods
going to the United States. Businesses have reported clear
government favoritism for products heading to countries in the
Boliverian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), especially Venezuela.
Clean property titles, expedited sanitary permits, and concessional
financing are all offered to farmers and ranchers who agree to sell
their products to ALBA countries (ref. C). Exports to Venezuela,
most notably beef, live cattle, dairy, and beans, have increased
dramatically in the last year because of government incentives.
According to the data compiled by the Center for Export
Transactions (CETREX), exports to Venezuela have already exceeded
$102 million in the first ten months of 2009, up from $32.7 million
in all of 2008.
10. Despite the decline in 2009, Nicaraguan exports to the United States appear ready to rebound in 2010. The economic policies of the Ortega government, however, may be taking their toll on the country's trade with the United States, just as they have with foreign investments (ref. C). While the government continues blaming the global economic crisis for Nicaragua's economic woes, it is difficult to determine where the impact of the global economic crisis ends and the impact of GON policy begins. With regard to exports to Venezuela, though Ortega claims that he is throwing off the chains of capitalism in pursuit of "fair trade," Nicaragua may simply be trading one source of dependence for another.