They are Nice: China in Latin America

Renminbi banknotes. image from wikipedia

A plan for a…railway across the Amazon, from Brazil’s Atlantic coast to Peru, is among a sheaf of infrastructure projects that China is offering to finance in Latin America. Li Keqiang, China’s prime minister, signed an agreement for a feasibility study for the railway during an eight-day trip through South America that began on May 18th, 2015 in Brazil and took him to Colombia, Peru and Chile…

The same goes for Chinese loans. The $22 billion lent last year outstripped credits from traditional multilateral development banks, according to China-Latin America Economic Bulletin, published by Boston University. Apart from Brazil, the money has mainly gone to Venezuela, Ecuador and Argentina, where it has helped to sustain left-wing governments. Mr Li’s trip suggests a new interest in the business-minded countries of the Pacific Alliance.

Many governments in Latin America have embraced the Chinese dragon as a welcome alternative to the United States and the conditions imposed by the IMF and the World Bank. For a region with huge shortcomings in infrastructure, China’s investment, like its trade, is potentially a boon. But both have pitfalls.  An obvious one is sweetheart deals. In 2014 Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina’s president, negotiated a currency swap with China, as an alternative to settling her dispute with foreign bondholders. The price is high: the money is tied to 15 infrastructure deals in which Chinese firms face no competition.

Excerpts, The Chinese Chequebook, Economist,  May 23, 2015, at 29

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