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China Could Help With Argentina's $1.5B Debt : A Look at China's Impact on Latin America and the Caribbean Region

First Posted: Jul 27, 2014 10:27 AM EDT
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China and Latin America's business arrangement seems to go as far back as 2000. Now China's influence is growing not just in Latin American countries, but also in the Caribbean region as well.

According to a Time magazine article dated July 21, Argentina owes its creditors, led by U.S. hedge funds, $1.5 billion. Maybe China can help. China appears to be throwing money and its influence around in countries such as Argentina and some of the English-speaking Caribbean.

With the amount of money that Argentina owes, it is no wonder the country is going through a recession and high inflation.

A week and a half ago, Argentina and China signed a multi-billion-dollar deal that entailed infrastructure-financing and a currency-swap during the Chinese president's visit to Argentina. Twenty agreements were included in the deal and, as part of the currency swap, 70 billion yuan currency (Chinese currency) was to  e bartered between the central banks of Argentina, at an equivalent of $11 billion, Capital reported.

To some, this is a rare financial gift that Argentina needed, but from a perhaps unlikely source. In fairness, China has been making trade deals with the top five nations in Latin America since 2000, they include Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Venezuela.

The $11 billion exchange could be exactly the financial injection the country needs, but to some financial experts and analysts it might make little or no impact. Argentina is facing depleting foreign-currency reserves, the reserves is the only money the country has to pay its creditors. Alberto Ramos, senior Latin America economist for Goldman Sachs, says that the financial swap does little to help Argentina's financial problems, and the yuan cannot be converted into other currencies, Capital reported.  

So why would the Chinese put their money there? And why would Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner allow them to do so? Perhaps it is to demonstrate that Argentina is still worth investing in. At the moment, China has agreed to lend Argentina $2.1 billion to buy railroad equipment and finance the construction of hydroelectric dams in the southern part of the country to the amount of $4.7 billion, Capital reported.

The whole thing sounds like a head-scratcher. China's gesture comes on the heels of the annual BRICS Summit 2014 that ran from July 15-17; this summit involved the presidents of five countries: Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa. At this conference, these leaders discussed international trade and finance. Deals were made between Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Brazil President Dilma Rousseff. Rousseff and Jinping agreed to deals that included passenger-jet sales, to power grid investments, The Wall Street Journal reported.

One of the deals that stood out was the BRICS nations formation of a bank that would rival the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). China has put up $41 billion, the largest contribution for this bank that they are forming, Newsweek reported.

This is a lot of money, and perhaps with it comes a lot of power and control. China has shown its financial control before in the English-speaking Caribbean. In 2012, there may have been cause for concern. In Baha Mar, the China State Construction dispatched Chinese workers to build a $2.6 billion resort, which was financed by the Export-Import Bank of China. Jamaica received Chinese aid worth $400 million. While in Guyana, Chinese companies mined for bauxite and wanted to build a hydroelectric plant and hotel to develop and modernize the country's main airport, The Economist reported.

The English speaking Caribbean countries became indebted to the Chinese government, but it came at a price.

"Chinese construction has been a disaster for national development, for the local construction sector and for local labor, and no money has been saved," Emile Elias, a Trinidadian contractor, said. As a result, Elias claimed at the time that many construction projects did not have proper paperwork, went over-budget, they were delayed, or were poorly built, The Economist reported.

Perceived investment from China to Argentina has not seemed to help the country. By July 30, Argentina has to get $539 million in interest payments to investors, or they could be declared in default. Maybe, just maybe, China could help. If they cannot, Argentina's financial crisis could be as worse as in 2001, Capital reported. 

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