The China challenge.

Author:Morris, Ruth

As China's economy lost steam, imports of Latin American commodities went south. That reversal in trade turned into an incentive for Latin American companies to explore other business areas with the Asian giant and to diversify the basket of products and services to offer them.

China lifted its foot off the economic accelerator in 2014, sapping demand for many of Latin Americas exports in raw materials. But even as commodity prices slip, Latin Americas trade relationship with China is gradually deepening and diversifying, experts said, offering a less bumpy road moving forward.

While commodities still account for the bulk of Latin American exports to China, non-commodity trade is on the rise. Non-copper exports from Chile to China increased at a staggering rate of 61 percent over the past three years. Starwood Hotels has seen a near doubling of Chinese travelers checking into their Latin America hotels. In Mexico, tequila producers are betting China will become their number two customer, after the United States, in just four years.

Collaboration is gradually expanding into new industries too, including renewable energy, transmission technology and even earthquake-safe architecture. In July, Chinese President Xi Jinping underscored growing ties when he made an eight-day swing through the region, carrying a briefcase foil of new trade and credit deals.

"There's increasingly a sense that the commodities boom is not a forever thing," said Margaret Myers, director of the China and Latin America Program at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based policy forum. "I think the relationship is absolutely maturing as China starts to understand the diversity in the region."

For most, it's not a minute too soon. The International Monetary Fund believes that Latin America grew at a lackluster 1.3 percent in 2014--the second-lowest growth rate in 12 years--in part because China's slowdown has dampened commodities demand. China is the second largest trade partner in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the third largest source of foreign investment. Many see science and technology as a potential growth area, particularly as it relates to alternative energy.

"Brazil wants to strengthen its industrial position in this relationship," said Ilan Cuperstein, Brazil's representative at the China-Brazil Center for Climate Change and Energy Technology Innovation. "We can now develop solid, scientific cooperation that can lead to more advanced industries."


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