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SANTIAGO: The coronavirus epidemic has triggered the steepest drop in Latin American foreign trade in 2020 since the global financial crisis more than a decade ago, a UN body said Friday.

Exports from the region are estimated to have fallen 13 percent in value in 2020, and imports by 20 percent, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) said in a report.

The contraction in the value of exports was smaller than forecast (-23 percent) last August, the organization said.

At the time, “the rebound in demand among the region’s main trading partners, and China in particular, was not yet visible.”

The report said the greatest contraction of exports was in those bound for the region itself (-24 percent), while shipments to the United States and European Union were expected to fall by 14 percent and 13 percent respectively.

Exports to China should grow two percent, driven by agricultural and mineral and metal shipments, mainly from South America.

Exports of crops and livestock products are projected to increase slightly by two percent, while manufacturing exports are expected to drop 14 percent and mining and oil exports by 21 percent.

Imports would post double-digit declines in all categories.

“In sum, the expected trend in regional foreign trade in 2020 suggests there will be a loss of productive capacity in the industrial sector,” said the report.

The Latin American and Caribbean region has been hard hit by the coronavirus epidemic with 17 million recorded infections and more than 550,000 deaths.

The ECLAC has forecast a 7.7-percent economic contraction for the region for 2020, the largest in 120 years.