BUENOS AIRES — The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) on Thursday spotlighted China as an important trade partner for countries in the region, such as Argentina.

Argentina’s exports of primary goods to China have allowed the South American country to maintain a positive trade balance when the COVID-19 pandemic has depressed economies around the globe, according to ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Barcena.

“Exports to China are very important,” Barcena told Xinhua in a videoconference call from Santiago, Chile, where the agency is based. The call was held to present “The Effects of COVID-19 on International Trade and Logistics” report.

The value of regional exports is projected to contract by 23 percent this year, with that of regional imports down by 25 percent, even worse than the 24-percent contraction registered during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, according to the report.

“The impact of the pandemic on Argentina’s trade exchange has been very significant. Imports accumulated a 23-percent drop in the first half (of 2020) compared to the same period in 2019,” Barcena said.

Argentina’s decrease in imports “is mainly explained by the sharp drop in the level of (economic) activity,” and lower demand for manufactured goods from neighboring Brazil and the rest of the region, she added.

The ECLAC forecasts Argentina’s gross domestic product (GDP) will shrink 10.5 percent in 2020.

Argentine exports “also experienced a very significant drop of at least 11 percent in the same period, although less than that sustained in other countries in the region,” said Barcena.

A breakdown of Argentine exports indicated that manufactured goods and fuel took the biggest hits, dropping by 34.5 percent and 24 percent, respectively, while exports of processed agricultural goods fell 8 percent.

However, Argentina’s exports of primary products grew 14 percent.

“We see that exports of primary goods have suffered the least and are recovering faster,” the executive said.

“Exports to China are very important. In the first six months they grew 21 percent year-on-year, while exports from Argentina to Mercosur (Southern Common Market), the European Union (EU) and the United States fell,” Barcena noted.

Despite the challenging global scenario for Argentina’s sales abroad, “its sales to China were maintained; that is why it is so important” as an export market and trade partner, she said.

As the report noted, Argentina, as well as Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, benefited from a decline in sales from Australia to China, mainly due to a drought that cut into Australia’s grain production.

These Mercosur members also benefited from China’s stepped-up imports of beef and pork to ensure the food supply.

China was Argentina’s second largest trading partner in 2019, and its top trading partner in April and May of this year.

Among Argentina’s main exports to China are soybeans, frozen and deboned beef, shrimp and prawns, and animal or vegetable fats and oils, according to Guillermo Chaves, the chief of staff of the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship.

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