As China and Latin America continue making news headlines with high-profile summits and ever-growing investment relations, critical factors driving investment movements take shape, paving the way for successful initiatives between the two countries and ultimately creating an increase in overall diversification of investment in sectors from transportation infrastructure to natural resources, and technology. Relations between Latin America and China continue to strengthen, and we see the relative involvement of the United States slowly tapering off as its commitment to free trade and traditional investment promotion vehicles such as the Export-Import Bank of the United States are in question. So, what exactly does this mean for Latin America and how is the U.S. affected? Gaston Fernandez, partner at Hogan Lovells, weighs in on the subject.
“The numbers in terms of Chinese investment in the U.S. show that such investment has fallen off significantly. The enactment of the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018 (“FIRRMA”) has placed more scrutiny on foreign investment, and I think there is a perception that national security review has been expanded to something on a broader scope, perhaps more than it was in the past. One example from the headlines would be the U.S. imposing steel and aluminum tariffs on the E.U., Canada and Mexico for national security reasons. I think it’s hard to pin down the motivations for the decline in Chinese investment in the U.S. but there has certainly been a decline, and as a result we’re seeing the same amount of overall Chinese outbound investment going to other regions in the world such as Europe, Latin America, and other developing countries.”
This poses the question of how Mexico will be involved. NAFTA may soon be a thing of the past upon ratification of its replacement, the USMCA, but uncertainty remains in the minds of global trade leaders and investors alike. In this new environment, diversification of investment sources might very well be the key to success if the government wants to see its vision of development projects come to fruition, such as railways extending from the Pacific to the Caribbean and expansion of electricity transmission infrastructure. It’s not a question of opportunity as much as it is a question of lessons learned from recent history in the region, claims Fernandez.
“For many years in Mexico there was a natural tendency to focus on development through NAFTA because it was in many ways taken for granted as the simplest and most effective option for promotion of foreign direct investment. Considering the recent rise of foreign investment from other sources throughout Latin America, there may be some value in diversifying and trying to attract more investment from other countries.”
Diversification presents opportunities when the right investors are involved. Smart selection of projects and partners will determine success in Mexico as plans move from policy goals to implementation.
“In the last 20-30 years, China has built an incredible amount of infrastructure in terms of rail, electricity transmission, and highways, so they have the recent experience and in general China tends to subsidize project costs through loans that are below market rates to promote exports. That combination of attributes has made China an attractive partner for countries throughout Latin America, and I think that could appeal to Mexico as well,” added Fernandez.
The most critical element of global diversification will ultimately lead to a greater economic impact. As more countries are involved with each other to collaborate on economic development, the sources of investment become more diverse. Not all countries are open for investment in the current political environment, and that provides more opportunities for developing countries to tap into the open market to capture the overflow of investment which may have originally ended up elsewhere. Many countries in Latin America are currently looking promising.
“I think now we’re seeing a wider range of Chinese commercial banks and project owners willing to invest their equity, as well as Chinese insurance companies looking to invest insurance assets and Chinese tech startups that are now expanding their offerings of products into Latin America. There’s going to be increased diversification of where the money is coming from, which is good. Going forward, investment will be reaching more sectors of the economy than just the traditional perception of Chinese investments being principally related to natural resources and transportation infrastructure. We’re starting to see investments across a more diverse range of industries, and I think that’s going to be a good thing for Latin America,” Fernandez concluded.
Gaston P. Fernandez is a partner at Hogan Lovells. He often represents Latin American national governments and companies and has worked on matters involving Asian investment throughout Latin America in the petrochemical, power generation, transportation, and mining industries. He has been involved with the negotiation and successful closing of credit facilities for Latin American national governments and companies from U.S., European, and Asian banks, including China Development Bank, The Export-Import Bank of China, Bank of China, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), and The Export-Import Bank of Korea.