Ambassador Zou Xiaoli has been the People’s Republic of China’s envoy to Argentina since 2018.
Even if his diplomatic experience also takes in Australia, Italy and Greece, it’s more than probable that he never had so much work as during this year. At least regarding the bilateral relationship with the nation led by Alberto Fernández – since April, and for the first time in history, China has become Argentina’s leading trade partner, a novelty which also includes a long list of important investments from the Asian powerhouse that spans the length and breadth of the country.
Zou confirms this in an exclusive interview that “since Fernández took office, our relationship has strengthened,” a concept worthy of a front page.
Today China is Argentina’s main trading partner. How will this relationship continue in the future? What are your country’s plans for Argentina?
The economic and commercial relationship between China and Argentina is characterised by a solid base, great potential and broad perspectives. Despite the cyclical adversities, in the first half of this year Argentine exports to China registered a year-on-year growth of 20.6 percent in contrast to the current situation of international trade.
For three straight months China has been the main market for Argentine products. The renewal of the currency swap, the arrival of the first cargo of Argentine lemons in China and the Framework Agreement for Space Cooperation coming into force all reflect the excellent state of the bilateral relationship which is developing in a more diversified, balanced and sustainable direction of high quality and which will continue to release its potential in the sectors of infrastructure, energy, transport and communication as well as in the fields of health, science and technology, tourism and the aerospace industry.
This cooperation will not only serve to boost Argentina’s economic recovery but also play an important role in China’s relationship with Mercosur and other Latin American countries.
Chinese Trade Minister Zhong Shan recently conversed with Foreign Minister Felipe Solá to invite Argentina to participate in the third edition of China’s International Import Exhibition as a guest of honour and until now nearly 50 Argentine companies have registered, to whom we will extend the necessary facilities and support.
What has changed in the relationship with this country since President Fernández came to power? Can you say that it has improved?
Binational relations have always been solid and from the start our countries have mutually considered each other to be friends, partners and brothers. Since President Alberto Fernández took over, our ties have strengthened, which we see reflected in the intense financial, commercial, agricultural, aerospace, scientific and technological cooperation, in ever closer cultural interchange and also consultation over international and regional issues.
In the face of the pandemic, our presidents have exchanged letters on three occasions, expressing the determination to confront this health emergency jointly. Our government, provinces and cities, hospitals, companies and the Chinese community in Argentina have all fraternally donated plentiful medical equipment.
Numerous video-conferences have also been held to share experiences with Covid-19. There is no doubt that Sino-Argentine relations, tested by the tough challenges of the pandemic, will reach a higher level once this health trauma is over.
Is Fernández planning to visit China or Xi Jinping Argentina?
Both China and Argentina attach great importance to high-level contacts, in particular between both heads of state, with a view to boosting bilateral ties. President Xi has already extended a cordial invitation to President Fernández to visit China, which was gladly accepted and which will be carried out at a time convenient to both.
China has various important capital investments in Argentina (the solar plant in Jujuy, Sinopec oil company, among others). Which do you consider the most important?
In recent years China and its companies have consolidated themselves as one of the main investors in Argentina. There are currently over 20 Chinese investment projects totalling more than US$11.7 billion and the financing granted to those projects is around US$10 billion, also generating almost 100,000 local jobs. All these projects are important since they directly contribute to Argentina’s long-term development while Chinese companies secure access to a broader international market so that the benefits are reciprocal.
Several environmental activists, among them Environment Minister Juan Cabandié, warn that the possible agreement with China to increase Argentine pork exports to your country could carry various environmental risks. Is that so?
The framework agreement for investment, trade and cooperation in the pork sector between China and Argentina constitute an integral long-term plan based on the principle of equality and mutual benefit. Argentina has the advantages of resources, technology and scientific development while China offers major market demand and financial support.
China will support associations between solid business groups of high repute in both countries, always on the premise of strictly complying with local regulations in order to extend the value chain of the pig farming industry and increase the added value of the Argentine products reaching the Chinese market in such a way that the pig-raising methods are modern, ecological, efficient and safe.
To that end we are encouraging the interchange of personnel and technical cooperation between the scientific and veterinary research institutions in both countries for the prevention and control of diseases such as swine fever. Direct negotiations between the companies and institutions of both countries to define concrete projects still lie ahead.