Peru: Targeting Chinese investments
A changing global economy and a shifting dynamic between Peru and China could lead to changes in the two countries’ relationship as the former’s economy continues to expand and the latter’s growth trajectory slows.
Peru and China have grown to become close economic partners over the past few years. For China, this relationship permits greater access to the primary materials the country needs to fuel its industry. For Peru, China is a new and lucrative export market. However, growth indicators in China point to a slowdown for the Asian giant, with potential consequences for Peru.
The two countries solidified their partnership in March 2010 with the launch of a free trade agreement that has seen bilateral trade grow by 30% annually. By late 2011, Chinese investment in Peru had reached $147.8m. This figure, however, does not include total investments by Chinese companies registered in a third country; their investments in Peru totalled $588.38m.
Most of China’s investments in Peru are concentrated in the mining sector. Two of the most prominent Chinese-Peruvian mining projects are a $1.2bn expansion of the Shougang Hierro Marcona iron ore mine in Ica and the $2.2bn Chinalco copper mine in Toromocho.
The trade relationship works both ways, of course, and China has become a primary recipient of Peruvian exports. From 2010 to 2011, for example, Peru saw a 71.2% increase in exports to China, which totalled $12.3bn. The number of companies exporting to China also grew from 456 in 2010 to 500 in 2011.
Over the coming years, this rhythm is expected to continue. In a statement to local press in November, Salomón Lerner, then the prime minister, predicted that Chinese investment in Peru in 2012-13 would increase by 30-40%. This would amount to some $1bn-1.2bn, a figure that would likely allow Peru to maintain its title as the primary recipient of Chinese investment in South America.
Peruvian business and economic leaders hope to see China diversify its investments to include sectors of the economy other than mining. China appears to be responding. In late 2011, the China Fishery Group acquired two Peruvian fishing companies for a total of $26.16m. And the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China will be opening its first branch in Lima in 2012, signalling the country’s entry into the banking sector.
Leaders have also expressed their desire for China to invest in industries that would support technology transfer, such as manufacturing, automobile assembly and electronics.
As China shows signs of slowing, however, now is an important time for Peru to review some of these goals, as well as assess some of the vulnerabilities it may experience as a result of its partnership with China.
If China were to experience a significant slowdown, Peru would feel the effects through two different channels. Firstly, it would suffer a direct drop in exports to China. Secondly, as a dominant consumer of primary materials, a slowdown in China would undoubtedly cause a fall in global metals prices, thus producing significant consequences for exporters of metals, such as Peru.
“More so than a recession in Europe or the US, a scenario in which China would suffer a hard landing would be a major concern for us,” Alonso Segura, the head of strategy and chief economist at Banco de Crédito del Peru, said. “While it is very difficult to put a number on it, some say that a growth rate in China below 4-5% would be felt in Peru. I think below 6% is where we start to become concerned.”
This scenario could be a way off. In mid-April, China’s National Bureau of Statistics announced that growth figures for the first quarter of 2012 reached 8.1%, down from 8.9% in the previous quarter. While still an impressive figure, this is the slowest growth China has experienced in 11 quarters.
These figures should indicate that there is not yet a reason to sound the alarm bells in Peru. But realistically, China will not be able to maintain a growth rate of this nature forever. These initial drops in growth should serve as a mild warning, pushing Peru to think more seriously about how it can take advantage of its relationship with China to establish a sustainable growth model that is less reliant on commodities.