BEIJING – With Peru formally joining the Belt and Road initiative, a total of 19 Latin American countries are now a part of the ambitious multi-billion dollar global infrastructure and investment plan promoted by China since 2013.
On Thursday, the South American country signed a bilateral memorandum of understanding to join the initiative, coinciding with the inauguration of the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, attended by representatives from more than 150 countries and international organizations, including 37 heads of state.
The Peruvian Foreign Trade and Tourism Minister, Edgar Vazquez, signed the agreement with China’s Vice-Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, Ning Jizhe.
Bilateral relations between Beijing and Lima have been on the rise since the signing of a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries in 2010, which last year resulted in China becoming Peru’s largest trade partner.
Peru is now among the 19 countries from Latin American and the Caribbean to have joined the project, along with Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, Panama, Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic, among others.
Uruguay – whose top trading partner is China – was the first Latin American country to officially join the Belt and Road initiative at the beginning of 2018, just a year after China became the main destination for Uruguayan exports, with sales touching $2.5 billion in 2017.
China’s other major partner in the continent is Chile, which officially joined the Belt and Road initiative in Nov.
In 2018, bilateral commercial exchanges increased by 37 percent, reaching up to $35 billion.
Other countries such as Mexico and Colombia are very close to joining Beijing’s infrastructure and investment plan, whereas Paraguay – which has no diplomatic or commercial ties with China – is the only Latin American country that is not a part of any of the projects under the Belt and Road initiative.
The extensive reach of Chinese investment in the continent has drawn the ire of Washington, which has termed Beijing’s presence in the region as interference.
Chilean President Sebastian Piñera was the only Latin American leader present at this year’s summit in Beijing after Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez was unable to make it to the forum on health grounds.
Almost all Latin American countries have sent ministers as representatives to the Belt and Road forum, although Brazil, an important country from the region, only sent its ambassador in China as representative.