On weekend evenings in Buenos Aires´ upscale Palermo neighbourhood, newly washed sedans and SUVs line up along the wide Libertador Avenue, creating a shimmering cascade of lights as their occupants eagerly await valet parking.
The restaurant of choice is a fashionable American-style bistro, aptly named Kansas. It has become a staple for well-heeled Porteños whose frequent trips to Miami and New York leave them craving burgers and good service. Known for remarkable consistency in a land of improvisation, the only thing that has changed since its opening six years ago is its clientele. It’s now packed with Chinese.
Chinatown apparently is unable to satisfy the increasingly sophisticated tastes of Argentina’s Chinese immigrants. At 120,000-strong, when including Taiwanese and temporary visa holders, the Chinese are the fastest growing non-Latin American immigrant population. Since 2004, Argentina has granted over 26,000 visas to the Chinese—a figure topped only by neighbouring Paraguayans, Bolivians and Peruvians, many of whom find work with the Chinese upon arrival.
A Chinese supermarket opens every two days in Buenos Aires. With over 10,000 in total, it’s rare to walk more than a few blocks without coming across one. Los chinos, as they are known, collectively generate a whopping $6 billion a year. Their secret to success? Location. Location. Location. They also manage to maintain competitive prices thanks to their broad wholesale distribution network; this is especially difficult with inflation topping 20 percent yearly since the 2003 economic recovery.
Ever evolving, this year the Chinese markets began branding their own products and offering a credit card financed with an initial $20 million by the Chamber of Chinese Supermarkets (CASRECH) and backed by the Chinese government.
Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner began a five-day visit to China on Sunday in an effort to strengthen the China-Argentine strategic partnership. As part of her first presidential visit to China since, she is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who according to foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang "attaches great importance to President Cristina's visit."
In a speech at the Beijing University of International Business and Economics President Fernández de Kirchner said, "It is important to realize we are immersed on a new international scenario…Countries should grow at a harmonious pace," she also stressed that Argentina will seek to be part of the next G20 summit to "combat fiscal parasites”.
In addition to meeting with the President, the remainder of her visit will consist of bilateral talks with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and the mayor of Shanghai, Hang Zheng, along with Chinese entrepreneurs and a visit to the Shanghai 2010 Expo.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.