Chilean Ambassador Felipe Bulnes: A fruitful commercial partnership that can keep growing

The United States is one of Chile’s most important trading partners. The countries have formed a productive and mutually beneficial economic partnership, made possible by the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement enacted nine years ago. Today the United States is the No. 3 destination for total Chilean exports and the main destination for non-traditional exports, totaling $4.2 billion in 2011.

The U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement has brought great opportunities for Chilean industries and exporters as well as American companies. Since it went into effect, Chilean exports to the United States have increased by 80 percent — from $5 billion in 2004 to $9 billion last year.

In recent decades, Chile has been able to position itself in the international marketplace as a stable country with legal certainty, political and economic stability, a safe business environment, a network of 22 trade deals with 59 countries and 24 agreements for the avoidance of double taxation. Chile is the regional leader in Transparency International's corruption perception index as well as in numerous international rankings such as those concerning economic freedom, ease of doing business and competitiveness, among others.

There is no doubt that we still face major challenges as a country striving for development, but Chile retains responsible fiscal policies and sound macroeconomic fundamentals, which offer trust in future stability. In a global crisis environment greatly influenced by the situation in Europe, economists agree that Chile, like other Latin American countries, has the strength to cope with the fallout. In the first quarter of 2012 the Chilean economy grew by 5.6 percent and, according to OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) estimates, this year Chile will have one of the highest rates of economic growth in the region (4.4 percent).

Until recently, Chile was mostly recognized for its copper exports industry. Lately, however, it has diversified its export market. In 2011, its total food exports exceeded $12 billion.

Chile enjoys a number of competitive and comparative advantages in relation to the rest of the world, advantages that allow it to produce quality foods that stand out from its competitors' products. The country's geographical isolation — its northern desert, the Pacific Ocean, the Andes and Patagonia’s ice — all provide a healthy advantage, reducing pest and disease incidence. Meanwhile, the Mediterranean climate is beneficial for producing optimal raw materials, while graded and counter-season production provides marketable opportunities.

The United States is the most important market for Chilean food and beverage exports, accounting for 21 percent of the industry's shipments in 2011, totaling $2.6 billion. Chile supplies a wide range of products, such as fresh fruit, salmon fillets, wine, poultry and cattle, fruit juices and pulps, olive oil, canned fruit, powdered milk, olives and Pisco, among others. The American consumer market stands out as one of the most demanding and informed in the world, where quality and presentation of food is essential. And Chile has delivered, as evidenced by its strong market shares.

Chilean political and economic stability, meanwhile, has encouraged entrepreneurship, the development of modern infrastructure and export logistics, the use of technology for the production and processing of different products and compliance with international standards and certifications. These have all made Chile a safe and reliable supplier of healthy, high-quality food.

Chile is currently developing new products with higher added value focusing on niche markets, while at the same time working to innovate in its traditional sectors. This is true in the salmon industry, as well as the pork, poultry, cattle and sheep sectors. Chile is also developing new marketing channels for specific niche organic products, as well as halal and kosher products, through the development of product certification in order to appeal to different populations and interests.

As a country, we seek to continue to expand our trade relationship with the United States. By 2015, all trade between Chile and the United States will be tariff-free.

We have also opened our government procurement market to American companies. We are open to foreign investment and would like to encourage American companies to continue thinking about our country as a platform for doing business in South America. At the same time, we invite the American people to consider Chile when looking for a unique, beautiful and exciting tourist destination.

As the new Chilean ambassador to the United States, I am committed to sharing information about Chile and the trade opportunities available so that we can continue to strengthen the relationship that was established by the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement and grow together as partners.

Felipe Bulnes is Chile's ambassador to the United States.