I analyze export-import data, connecting it to trade policy, life
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Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela’s opposition-run congress, holds up an image of Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar as he declares himself interim president until new elections can be called, at a rally demanding President Nicolas Maduro’s resignation in Caracas on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Just a decade ago, Venezuela was the United States’ 10th most important trade partner.
Today, it ranks 33rd, its political system under siege, its economy ravaged and the story of a people’s suffering easy to tell in trade data.
Thousands of those people took to the streets of the capital in Caracas on Wednesday. Juan Guaido, the 35-year-old president of the National Assembly for just three weeks, declared himself interim president and recently reelected Nicholas Maduro’s government illegitimate.
President Trump recognized Guaido as the interim president as did many countries in South America and the Organization of American States. Maduro responded by giving all U.S. diplomats 72 hours to leave the country. Guaido suggested the Americans are welcome there.
Inflation? It might have topped 1 million percent last year. The International Monetary Fund forecast its 2019 inflation at 10 million percent.
While Venezuela’s wounds are largely self-inflicted, there is another factor: Oil.
Several other oil-producing nations have shown precipitous drops down the ladder of U.S. trade partners similar to Venezuela in that time:
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- Saudi Arabia, which slipped 13, from No. 9 to No. 22;
- Nigeria, which fell 29 positions, from No. 19 to No. 48;
- Venezuelan neighbor Trinidad and Tobago, down 16, from No. 43 to No. 59;
- Algeria, down 28, from No. 32 to No. 60;
- Angola, off 37 from No. 31 to No. 68.
Oil prices, while partially rebounding last year, have been in a steep, multi-year slump.
In 2008, U.S. oil imports from Venezuela totaled $43.73 billion. Venezuela ranked third behind only Canada and Saudi Arabia as U.S. oil importers. By the end of last year, that total was $8.62 billion and the South American nation slipped behind Mexico and Iraq to rank fifth.
The real story, the human story, is on the export side, U.S. exports to Venezuela.
- Exports of cell phones and related equipment peaked in 2012 at $727.92 million. Through the first 10 months of 2018, the latest data available during the U.S. government shutdown, that total was $32.25 million.
- Exports of the major category of motor vehicle parts also peaked in 2012, at $666.82 million. In 2018, that total was $26.49 million.
Cell phones are important today, certainly, and motor vehicle parts keep cars and trucks running. Corn and wheat, important food sources that are susceptible to price fluctuations, cut deeper.
- The value of U.S. corn exports fell from $401.79 in 2012 to $57.75 million in 2018.
- Exports of U.S. wheat stood at $396.01 in 2008. By 2018, that total fell to $81.88 million.
Those tell a story of suffering. Steep declines in U.S. exports of medical devices and medicines cut deeper still.
- Exports of medical devices in a category including everything from expensive devices like MRI and electrocardiogram machines to syringes and sutures peaked at $381.69 million in 2011. The total for the first 10 months of 2018 was $11.36 million.
- Exports of the major medicine category, those largely in pill form, have fallen from a peak of $215.04 million in 2010 to $7.74 million.
The massive protests in Venezuela occurred on the anniversary of the 1958 uprising that overthrew the military dictatorship. Only time will tell if the current protests lead to a change in government.