China can help diversify trade: Ex-Peruvian leader

Updated: 2015-04-27 04:28

By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York(China Daily Latin America)

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China can help diversify trade: Ex-Peruvian leader

Alejandro Toledo, former president of Peru, called on Latin America to reduce diversify foreign trade in a speech at the America Society/Council of the Americas in New York on April 22. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY / COURTESY OF AMERICAS SOCIETY/COUNCIL OF THE AMERICAS

Latin America's future rests on diversifying its foreign trade, moving from focusing on exporting raw materials to becoming a better-rounded trading hub, and China can play a role in that diversification, according to former president of Peru.

Toledo, who served as the Peruvian leader form 2001-2006, was in New York on April 22 and spoke at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas addressing key points from his new book, The Shared Society: A Vision for the Global Future of Latin America.

Toledo said he would like to see Latin America's trade with China include more than just the mainland buying natural resources from the region. He noted that China's cooling economy has had an "adverse" impact on trade. "It's vital that we diversity the composition of our foreign trade," he said.

China can become an important factor in trade diversification, Toledo said. "China has 1.3 billion people. If we can get even 5 percent of them to eat a mango every day then you can see what a difference it would make."

So far Brazil is the only Latin American nation to join China's Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, but Toledo expects more countries to sign up.

"China is not the most sophisticated entrepreneur," he said with a smile about the country's efforts to market the AIIB. "China needs to become more concerned about climate change and the environment and then more Latin American nations will join the bank."

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced last week that Venezuela had secured $5 billion in development financing from China, which has become an important aid source for the country. Battered by low oil prices, Venezuela's economy is plagued by high inflation and a shortage of many consumer staples. During Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Venezuela last year, the two presidents signed 38 agreements, including a $4 billion loan in exchange for oil.

"Natural resources are finite and so is the money collected from the countries with the resources," said Toledo. He said Venezuela hasn't been able to modernize its economy. "They haven't been able to diversify (the economy). They need a strong democratic foundation. It's not sufficient to just be an elected democracy. You must also govern democratically," he said.

His book which will also be translated into Mandarin, urges Latin America to take a leadership role and "…have the courage to make decisions today knowing that the results may not show up for years," he said.

Toledo said Latin America's challenges for next 35 years include providing an adequate amount of potable water, food security and climate change, adding that fortunately the region has the natural resources to meet those challenges.

"Latin America has about 37 percent of the world's clean drinking water. It also has some of the world's most valuable biodiversity like the Amazon. We also have an incredible amount of cultural diversity and is not a weakness but an asset," he said.

Toledo said Latin America has a unique climate that allows the region to function as a year-round food produce: "Peru is the world's biggest producer of asparagus and avocados. We can take advantage of this to diversify our trade."

He also urged Latin America to promote more eco-tourism, noting that in addition to the Amazon, the region has Patagonia (shared by Argentina and Chile) and access to Antarctica.