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International Focus: South American Countries Strengthen Ties with China

by Cynthya Porter

As the U.S. tussles with China over fair trade, the unlikely winners in that discord have been the Latin American countries that have seen their business with China grow exponentially as a result of the embargo war. Soybeans, mineral products, agriculture, and more are being exported to China in higher amounts than ever before as China seeks to fill the void left by its U.S. embargos. In turn, exhibition halls in Latin American countries are dominated by Chinese firms hoping to expand their trade to Latin America as well, an effort that has vaulted China past the U.S. as the main importer and exporter in countries like Chile, Peru, Uruguay and others.

China’s trading ties to Latin America have a long history. Diplomatic relations date to 1970, and the free trade agreement signed between Chile and China in 2005 was the first such agreement for China anywhere in the world. With that agreement in place, by 2017 the value of trade between China and Chile had grown by 325 percent. Recent Chilean administrations have worked to remove even more trade barriers on things like Chilean services, Chinese automobiles, and tourism between countries.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a program that will invest in the infrastructure of more than 68 countries around the world, stands to further deepen trade ties in Latin America. For example, the Chinese government plans to build two hydroelectric dams in Argentina that will provide more than 5,000 jobs and help free the country from fossil fuels. Chile, Uruguay, and Venezuela have joined China’s Belt and Road project too, with those agreements expected to pave the way for more Chinese companies to do business within the borders of a growing number of Latin American countries.

In terms of tradeshow capacity for those gatherings, the venues in South America are miniscule compared to the gargantuan exposition centers being built across China. To wit, all of the convention space in Buenos Aires, Argentina, could fit inside a single venue in Shanghai. Even so, there a handful of Latin American cities, including Buenos Aires with 4.6 million sq.ft. of venue space, that have the capacity to host expositions of a significant size. Sao Paulo has 4.3 million sq.ft., Medellin, Colombia, has 2.6 million sq.ft., Ecuador has 430,000 sq.ft. and Santiago, Chile, has just over 100,000 sq.ft.

But what the emerging tradeshow and import/export market in Latin America lacks in size, it makes up for with an ambition to grow the gross domestic product of economies that have struggled in years past. Argentina, with what many consider one of the world’s most difficult customs processes to navigate for a tradeshow, has seen a reduction in trade barriers recently with the election of pro-business president Mauricio Macri. Likewise, Chile elected new business-centric leadership in 2018, and the GDP was expected to expand by 4 percent by year’s end. At the G20 Summit it hosted in November 2018, Argentina was the first country to make sustained development a focus of the agenda to be discussed with world leaders, a strong indication that the priorities are shifting for a region that is just beginning to find its feet in global trade.

Cynthya Porter is a 70-time award-winning journalist recognized by national and international associations for her journalistic expertise in tradeshow topics, travel writing, photography, and news. She has covered the exhibition industry for seven years and, though she makes her home in the Midwest, travels the world in search of interesting stories and photographs.

This story originally appeared in the March/April issue of Exhibit City News, p. 52. For original layout, visit


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