- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 4, 2003

A new round of economic reforms is needed to boost growth rates and cut poverty in Latin America following a set of changes enacted in the 1990s, according to regional analysts.

Speakers at a conference titled “A modern vision for Latin America,” organized last week by the International Foundation for Liberty and the Cato Institute, agreed that in many countries, some policy changes of the past decade had made social and economic conditions worse. But they insisted that liberal reforms and free markets are not the main problems confronting Latin America.

Manuel Suarez-Mier, senior economist of the Bank of America in Mexico, said many reforms were bad or partially implemented or not done at all and, as a result, little development can be expected.

He said little has been achieved in areas such as a public finance adjustment, tax and budget reform and other areas.

“It is necessary to do a better job in promoting these ideas in those countries and to learn to sell them better,” he said.

Former Costa Rica President Miguel Angel Rodriguez said policies must focus on fiscal discipline and tax reforms.

He said it was unfortunate that in some cases poverty even increased, among other problems from the 1990s.

On the positive side, Mr. Rodriguez said, democracy is more sound, deficits decreased by about 50 percent and inflation is not as critical as in the past.

Rep. John Sununu, New Hampshire Republican, said that the U.S. Congress is more open to free trade agreements with the region than ever before.

He said the new free-trade pact with Chile, that agreements now being negotiated with Central American nations, will be followed by more bilateral agreements.

Mario Vargas Llosa, writer and president of the International Foundation for Liberty, said the problems of Latin America are not so much economic or political as they are cultural.

He cited the case of privatization, that can be good if done with the improvement of society as the goal, or not, if corrupted practices intervene.

As an example of both economic reform and institutional responsibility, Luis de Guindos, deputy minister of Economy of Spain, offered the case of his country.

He said reforms did work there because there was political will to make economic policies based on fiscal discipline and tax reforms.

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