Driven by voracious Asian demand, Brazilian and Argentine farmers are scrambling to plant as much soy as they can while Chilean mine workers rack up overtime burrowing into the earth for copper.
With China buying up all the raw material it can to fuel an unprecedented economic expansion, Latin America is looking to Asia to build on a booming trade relationship that has no end in sight. And Asian countries -- particularly China -- are looking for political payback for being good customers.
Before he arrived at this week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit of 21 economies facing the Pacific, Chinese President Hu Jintao (
Hu was quickly rewarded by Brazil, Chile and Argentina with a prize: Declarations by the countries that the Asian giant is now a market economy, a status China has been seeking worldwide to keep countries from imposing penalties on the dumping of Chinese exports.
In return, China pledged multibillion dollar investments in Argentine energy production, infrastructure and railways. Brazil got accords that will increase its imports of chicken and beef to China, and a US$1 billion agreement to build a a natural gas pipeline.
Chile and China are nego-tiating a free trade agree-ment, but China didn't ask for the market economy declaration as a condition, said Hugo Lavados, who heads Chile's trade promotion office and announced the decision on Friday.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun also spent three days in Brazil ahead of the APEC summit, endorsing a free trade zone for his country with the Mercosur bloc -- Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
Brazil wants to export ethanol fuel and mid-sized airplanes to South Korea and hopes the Asian nation will invest in Brazil's crumbling infrastructure.
Although experts say Latin America still wants to maintain close relationships with the US, Latin American countries clearly want to increase their trade flow to Asia and are willing to grant political concessions in return.
"I see this as a new initiative that has legs and is going to walk," said Riordan Roett, Western Hemisphere department chairman at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. "Is there going to be a quid pro quo the Chinese ask of Latin America? Politics is always linked to trade, and there is no reason the Chinese should act any differently."
From 2001 to last year alone, exports from Latin America to Asia jumped from US$22 billion to US$29 billion -- an increase of 32 percent -- due mainly to Chinese growth of more than 9 percent annually. Latin American exports of raw materials have also increased to countries like South Korea, Japan and Australia.