Brazil is the leading regional exporter in the chemical and pharmaceutical sector, with just over a quarter of total shipments, followed by Mexico, with a fifth, according to a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
Other relevant exporters are Argentina, Colombia and Chile.
Only Brazil and Mexico are among the top 30 global exporters in the sector, ranking 29th and 30th, respectively, with shares of around 0.5 percent.
In 2017, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina accounted for three quarters of the sector’s regional production.
The chemical and pharmaceutical sector generates a wide variety of products.
Some of them are for final consumption (such as cleaning products, medicines and cosmetics), while others are essential inputs for various economic activities (fuels, basic chemicals, fertilizers and disinfectants, among others).
Given its importance as a supplier of intermediate inputs, this sector plays a decisive role in the region’s industrial development.
In the three-year period 2019-2021, regional exports of the chemical and pharmaceutical sector will average US$55 billion per year, doubling their value in current dollars compared to the period 2000-2002.
For their part, regional imports quadrupled between the two triennia, resulting in a six-fold increase in the average trade deficit and ending up exceeding $150 billion in the 2019-2021 period.
All subregions and almost all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean recorded a trade deficit in this sector.
The only exception is Trinidad and Tobago, which has managed to develop a significant petrochemical industry based on its abundant oil and natural gas reserves.
With few national exceptions, the regional deficit in the chemicals and pharmaceuticals sector is replicated in all its subsectors.
Within the chemicals and pharmaceuticals sector, the region’s persistent trade deficit in the pharmaceuticals segment stands out, which between 2018 and 2020 reached, on average, US$26 billion.
In 2020, the value of regional pharmaceutical imports almost quintupled that of exports, reflecting the high dependence on extra-regional supply of active ingredients and medicines with patents in force.