February 6, 2018 / 10:16 PM / a month ago

Peru defends China as good trade partner after U.S. warnings

LIMA (Reuters) - Peru’s trade minister defended China as a good trade partner on Tuesday, after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Latin American countries against excessive reliance on economic ties with the Asian powerhouse.

Peru's Foreign Trade and Tourism Minister Eduardo Ferreyros gestures to media after Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks during APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

Eduardo Ferreyros said Peru’s 2010 trade liberalization deal with China had allowed the Andean nation of about 30 million people to post a $2.74 billion trade surplus with Beijing last year.

“China is a good trade partner,” Ferreyros told foreign media, as Tillerson met with President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in Lima, a stop on Tillerson’s five-nation Latin American tour. “We’re happy with the results of the trade agreement.”

The remarks were the Peruvian government’s first signal since Tillerson’s warning that it does not share Washington’s concerns about growing Chinese influence in the region.

Before kicking off his trip to Latin America on Friday, Tillerson suggested that China could become a new imperial power in the region, and accused it of deploying unfair trade practices.

“I appreciate advice, no matter where it comes from. But we’re careful with all of our trade relations,” Ferreyros said, when asked about Tillerson’s remarks.

Ferreyros also praised Peru’s trade relationship with Washington, despite a trade deficit with the United States. “I’m not afraid of trade deficits,” Ferreyros said.

Since China first overtook the United States as Peru’s biggest trade partner in 2011, thanks mostly to its appetite for Peru’s metals exports, bilateral trade has surged and diplomatic ties have tightened.

Kuczynski, a former Wall Street banker, made a point of visiting China before any other nation on his first official trip abroad as president in 2016.

Under former president Barack Obama, the United States had hoped to counter China’s rise in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region, which includes large parts of Latin America, with the sweeping Trans-Pacific trade deal known as the TPP.

While President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the TPP upon taking office, the 11 remaining signatories, including Peru and Japan, have struck a similar deal that they plan to sign without the United States in March.

Tillerson, who left Peru for Colombia on Tuesday, said on Monday that Trump was open to evaluating the benefits of the United States joining the so-called TPP-11 pact in the future, which Ferreyros called “a good sign.”

All countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including China, were welcome to join TPP-11, Ferreyros said. “But the deal has closed and countries that want to join obviously can’t renegotiate the whole agreement,” he added.

Reporting By Marco Aquino, Writing By Mitra Taj, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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