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Mercopress, Uruguay, Jan. 7, 2009

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Uruguay, Peru, Brazil best performing economies

Brazil's economy, Latin America's largest, will likely end 2008 with an expansion of 5.9%, according to new estimates from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

That will be its best performance in 14 years, according to a Latin Business Chronicle analysis of data from the International Monetary Fund.

The growth is better than most economists had predicted throughout the year and confirms 2009 as one of Brazil's best ever.

Another major surprise is Uruguay, which will likely see its GDP grow by 11.5% in 2008 according to ECLAC. That's the highest growth in Latin America and its best result since 2004. Uruguay saw exports surge - partly due to agriculture expanding strongly and partly thanks to the opening of a 1 billion US dollars paper mill built and operated by Finland-based Botnia.

Peru and Panama will still be among the top winners, however. Peru's economy should expand by 9.4%, while that of Panama is likely to grow by 9.2%.

"Despite a deteriorating global backdrop and a U.S. recession, we believe that public works related to the expansion of the Canal and other sizable infrastructure projects will remain key drivers of economic activity" said JP Morgan analyst Franco Uccelli.

However Mexico, the second-largest economy in the region, will suffer from the second-lowest growth in the region - only 1.8% (its lowest level in five years). Only Haiti can boast a worse result, with 1.5% GDP growth.

Venezuela, the fourth-largest economy, will see an expansion of only 4.8% -or nearly half of its 8.4% growth in 2007.

Latin America's combined GDP will have expanded by 4.6% in 2008, ECLAC says in its latest report Preliminary Overview of the Economies of Latin America and the Caribbean 2008, released this week

But prospects for 2009 are not that encouraging: all economies with the exception of Haiti will see a clear slowdown. Peru will likely see the best growth at 5% followed by Panama at 4.5% growth and Cuba at 4% growth.

Brazil's economy will expand by 2.1%, which would be its lowest rate since 2003. Mexico will see the worst result, expanding its economy by a mere 0.5%, according to ECLAC. That will be its worst performance since 2001. Venezuela's GDP will grow by 3%, its lowest level since 2003, when the economy declined.

Latin America's combined GDP should expand by 1.9% in 2009, ECLAC estimates. That will be its worst result since 2002, according to the Latin Business Chronicle analysis.

Separately, ECLAC released new data on Latin America's trade in 2007 -- showing that the region's exports reached 751.4 billion USD, an increase of 13.3% from 2006. Imports grew by 17.6% to 687 billion USD.  

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