More to ties than copper and energy

Updated: 2015-06-16 01:15

(China Daily Latin America)

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More to ties than copper and energy

Jorge Heine, Chile's ambassador to China, said he hopes more Chileans will get to know of China's tremendous capacity for innovation. Provided to China Daily

Chilean envoy looks for more Chinese investment in country and closer personal connections, Pu Zhendong reports.

Chile has its eyes set on more Chinese investment to support key industries such as copper refining and energy, in addition to money from China to fund its infrastructure, said Jorge Heine, Chile's ambassador to China.

"The China-Chile relationship has a strong basis in trade, but Chinese investment in Chile is lacking, or lagging behind that of other Latin American countries," Heine said. "We would like to change that and give more impetus to Chinese investors."

Trade between the two countries has increased fourfold since Chile signed a free trade agreement with China in 2005 and vowed to reduce tariffs.

Relations between the two nations have reached a turning point. From the beginning of this year, the two countries finally phased in zero duty treatment that covers 97 percent of their exports, including Chilean products most significant to the Chinese market, including copper, vegetables, fish oil, meat, cherries, plums and nectarines.

Heine, 66, praised the China-Chile free trade agreement as "a classic example" of how such agreements can benefit two economies despite claims that multiple overlapping agreements will lead to discriminatory trade complications.

"We will not see all countries lower their tariffs to zero any time soon. In the meantime, bilateral and plurilateral agreements allow us to continue to liberalize international trade," Heine said, adding that Chile has so far signed 23 free trade agreements with 63 countries.

Chilean customs said bilateral trade soared to $33.9 billion last year, accounting for more than one-fifth of the country's entire trade flow. China has been Chile's largest trading partner for the past five years.

Heine said the Chinese market is critical as Chile is ramping up efforts to rank among the world's top 10 food exporters by 2020.

"Chinese consumers have strong confidence in Chilean food products," he said.

Copper exports account for a substantial part of the bilateral trade, as Chile is the world's biggest producer and exporter of copper, while China has been the biggest consumer and importer. In 2013, China brought in Chilean copper worth $15.2 billion, 79 percent of the country's total exports to China and 37.5 percent of its total copper export.

"Much of the copper exported to China is in its basic form, and then gets refined in China, because China has more advanced refining technology," Heine said.

"There is room for collaboration with Chinese companies to enhance Chile's refining capability. Many Chinese importers are quite open to the possibility of investing in that area in Chile."

However, compared with thriving trade, Chinese investment in Chile is low, considered largely inadequate by observers. Heine said the country has been working to facilitate further investment of China in Chile, especially in infrastructure and energy.

"Chinese companies, having comparative advantages in those particular areas, are now going out of the country. We see tremendous room for them to invest in Chile, a country that has enjoyed the best performance of Latin American economies during the past 25 years," he said.

Last year, during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Latin America, China extended a $20 billion loan to the region for infrastructure development, which Heine said is likely to alleviate infrastructure demand on the continent.

"Although historic figures have shown comparatively low Chinese investment, there are signs suggesting a bright prospect as we have been receiving increasing visiting Chinese business groups," said Jorge Pizarro, executive vice-president of Chile's Foreign Investment Committee.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Chile and China. Describing Premier Li Ke-qiang's first official visit to Santiago and Latin America as "especially significant", Heine said the visit keeps good momentum in the relationship between the two countries going.

Leaders of the two countries met twice in July last year on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Brasilia, Brazil, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Beijing in November, and vowed to strengthen economic cooperation.

Heine, the author of 15 books and some 90 academic articles, was previously ambassador of Chile to India, and South Africa. He assumed his current post in July.

He said he would commit to promoting tourism and people-to-people exchanges between China and Chile during his tenure, as he believes "art and culture can bring people together".

"We do so much trade, but we do not know each other as much, as people," Heine said. "I'm hoping more Chileans will get to know China's tremendous capacity for innovation and breaking new ground in so many human endeavors."

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