The great Mesoamerica region is one of the most representative examples of regional integration processes in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC); it is comprised by the seven countries of Central America, Mexico, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic. With 226 million inhabitants and 3,115.5 million square kilometers, represents 35.8% of the total population of LAC, and 34.3% of the LAC region’s Gross Domestic Product (IMF, 2019). In Mesoamerica, the largest countries in terms of population, Mexico (124.7 M) and Colombia (49.8 M), coexist with small Central American countries and the Dominican Republic. In the economic sphere, the productive structure is similar among countries, dominated by the tertiary sector (services) with an export matrix concentrated in agricultural goods, however, there are important asymmetries in terms of income level and standards of living.
Mesoamerican countries have traditionally prioritized regional integration as a mean to achieve greater competitiveness and economic development.
In particular, improved connectivity through transport infrastructure and efficient mobility services has been a fundamental component of the region’s integration vision, because it facilitates international trade (intra and extra-regional) as well as labor and capital mobility. Policies to improve transport connectivity in the region has evolved from interventions focused on hard infrastructure, towards wide-ranging interventions that comprise soft aspects related to regulations, trade facilitation, technological innovations, and urban-rural connections.
Mesoamerica’s countries are improving their logistics performance by increasing the quality of transport networks and automating custom border processes. These aspects have been assessed in the Program “Honduras Transportation and Freight Logistics Sector Reform”, which includes the implementation of Coordinated Border Management that will increase public-private coordination, improve efficiency in tax collection, enhance phytosanitary controls, and upgrade security and transit controls; all of this resulting in reduction of trade costs and better cross-border mobility for people. The implementation of this program is expected to reduce in 2022, the customs processing time in up to 60% for exports of goods that have been classified as higher-risk targets for further inspection.
Despite the efforts made, Mesoamerica´s regional connectivity challenges are evidenced by the fact that significant areas continue to be relatively isolated from key economic centers and logistics corridors. In addition, there is limited integration of regional markets with respect to transportation services and, for some countries, improved regulations, multisectoral coordination and the widespread implementation of technology in the transport, logistics, and customs services are still a requirement. In the current global setting of economic slowdown, with commercial tensions and processes of monetary and financial normalization in advanced economies, the regional integration agenda of Mesoamerica is yet more important to resist economic external shocks and to boost the development agenda of the region.
All these aspects are currently at the center of the technical discussion to position Mesoamerica as one of the most integrated regions in the world; recognizing that the region must find creative and timely solutions for its regional connectivity challenges, especially to mainstream regional investments and continue integrating cities and rural areas to global regions. Transport connectivity can help integrate local communities and cities of the Mesoamerican region, promoting territorial development, and in this matter; regional platforms are key to mobilize resources to strategic sectors. The IDB works with the countries to make Latin America and the Caribbean an integrated mega-region, implementing a multisectoral approach with a focus on infrastructure projects across all transport modes and software interventions that allows for efficient mobility services.
In occasion of the International Transport Summit 2019, that will take place from 22 to 24 of May 2019, in the city of Leipzig in Germany, under the theme Transport Connectivity for Regional Integration; the IDB will host a side event titled: “Connectivity for Regional Development, The Mesoamerican Experience,” where, under the moderation of the Transport Division, a panel of five experts will discuss the current outlook of transport and freight logistics sector in Mesoamerica, as well as the complexities and underlying aspects related to the role of investments in cross-border infrastructure, financing, institutions, the incorporation of new technologies and the challenges to achieve development goals.
- United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, (2004) Desarrollo de infraestructura y crecimiento económico: revisión conceptual.
- United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, (2019) Logros y desafíos de la integración centroamericana – Aportes de la CEPAL.
- International Monetary Fund. (April de 2019), World Economic Outlook.
- Centro American Consil of Ministries for Economic Integration (COMIECO), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), (2015), Estrategia Centroamericana de Facilitación del Comercio y Competitividad con énfasis en Gestión Coordinada de Fronteras.
- Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Octubre 2018, Project documents for Honduras transportation and freight logistics sector reform (HO-L1198).