By SERGIO HELD in Cajica, Colombia | Global Chinese Daily | Updated: 2022-03-23 08:58
Ties between Latin America and China have grown stronger with the expansion of the Belt and Road Initiative, as people on both sides build stronger ties and increase exchanges.
Between 2002 and 2021, trade between the world’s second largest economy and Latin America has grown from $18 billion to $450 billion.
“This is a particularly good time for China’s relations with Latin America. The COVID-19 pandemic is now a bit better under control, trade is moving extremely fast and very dynamically, despite challenges such as global freight rates,” said Henrique Reis in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Reis is director of international relations at the China Trade Center Group, which promotes the development and improvement of trade, technological and cultural cooperation between China and Brazil.
Brazil is one of the countries in the region whose trade performance with China is reaching new heights and generating more cultural exchanges.
“China and Brazil set a new trade record last year, reaching over $135 billion,” Reis said. Exports to China rose 29.4% to over $87 billion. Around 31% of Brazilian exports went to China, which is Brazil’s main trading partner.
Neighboring Argentina is also strengthening its ties with China. President Alberto Fernandez visited Beijing this year for the opening of the Winter Olympics and to mark his country’s official adherence to the China-led Belt and Road Initiative.
“Argentina’s incorporation into the BRI is an important step. Argentina faces a historic opportunity to expand lines of cooperation and trade with China,” said Vicente Teruggi, Projects Director at the ‘Sino-Argentinian Observatory, a non-profit organization in Buenos Aires.
Teruggi said this is not limited “to cooperation, financing and trade, but also allows Argentina to bring its technology, knowledge and value-added products to the entire BRI bloc”.
Trade between China and Argentina in 2021 totaled $19.6 billion, with Argentina’s exports exceeding $6.1 billion, up about 17 percent year-on-year. In December 2021, Argentina exported more than 36,000 tons of meat to China, three times more than in January 2018, according to Delta Analysis, an analysis company based in Buenos Aires.
With its entry into the BRI, Argentina now faces one of the biggest challenges of the past 20 years, Teruggi said. “It is an opportunity to be seized in a strategic and planned way and which requires a lot of patience.”
In the Andean region, Peru’s trade with China is also growing at a rapid pace. Peru’s coffee exports to China more than tripled between 2018 and 2021 to over $1.4 billion. Markets are also increasing for indigenous products such as quinoa, an Andean cereal.
According to the Peruvian government, trade between Peru and mainland China in 2021 increased by 39%, reaching nearly $31 billion, largely supported by mining and fishing products. Meanwhile, trade with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region increased by 72%.
“China was Peru’s export destination in 2021, largely because of raw materials and agro-industrial products,” said Ramon Abasolo, a political analyst in Lima.
David Castrillon, professor-researcher in international relations at Externado University of Colombia, said: “The economic relationship between Latin America and China is entering a new stage that promises greater development for the region.”
Colombia is also a country that is increasing its economic exchanges with China and, like others like Uruguay, aims to sign a free trade agreement with China by the end of the year.
Free trade agreements and the BRI help Latin America and China integrate more deeply.
“What was a strictly commercial relationship has now broadened and deepened into new areas, for example, the export of consumer goods and services, the financing and participation in construction projects, and the financing of public and private companies,” Castillon said.
Former Peruvian Foreign Minister Oscar Maurtua said China has great importance in the region and the BRI is essential for China to achieve its international goals.
“In the 19th century, power predominated in the Mediterranean, in the 20th century in the Atlantic and in the 21st century in the Pacific; and China has a transcendent role,” Maurtua said.
“China asserted itself in Latin America in the face of the dismissive attitude of the previous US administration, between 2017 and 2020,” he said, adding that the BRI “projects it (China) to the scale world”.
The author is a freelance journalist for China Daily.