Chile is considered one of South America’s most stable and prosperous countries. It leads the continent in competitiveness, income per capita, the uptake of globalisation, economic freedom, and low perception of corruption.
“Chile has a market-oriented economy characterised by a high level of foreign trade and a reputation for strong financial institutions and sound policy that have given it the strongest sovereign bond rating in South America,” says Dr Nicholas Baker, Austrade’s Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner Chile & the Andean Region.
The Australia-Chile Free Trade Agreement (ACI-FTA) entered into force on 6 March 2009. It was Australia’s fifth FTA and the first with a Latin American country, covering goods, services and investment.
“Since the ACI-FTA entered into force, there has been a significant increase in Australian companies operating in Chile, to over 200,” Dr Baker continues. “Many of these companies have expanded their business beyond Chile and into Latin America more broadly.”
Australia’s goods and services trade with Chile in 2020:
- Exports: A$610 million
- Imports: A$655.5 million
- Total merchandise trade (exports + imports): $A12,867 million
- Investment in Chile: A$2,870 million
- Investment from Chile: A$68 million
More comprehensive trade data can be found here on the DFAT website
Traditional and recent opportunities
Dr Baker says that Chile is home to the largest number of Australian companies operating in Latin America, with the trade relationship traditionally dominated by the mining and mining equipment, technology and services sector. In recent years, this has expanded to renewables, agriculture, genetics trade (namely ovine and bovine genetics for livestock and poultry), food, infrastructure development, health, transport and logistics.
Resources and energy
Mining is a major driver of the Chilean economy, contributing more than 50 per cent of Chile’s exports and 11 per cent of gross domestic product in 2021, according to the International Trade Administration.
“According to the Chilean Copper Commission’s Mining portfolio 2019, Chile produces 28 per cent of global copper and is a significant producer of lithium, with 50 per cent of the world’s lithium,” Dr Baker explains. “There is also growing demand for its gold, silver and molybdenum processing, which has resulted in 44 new mining projects, which are planned to start operation from 2019-2028.”
Some of the world’s major miners are present in Chile, including BHP (its Escondida mine is the world’s largest copper mine), Anglo American and Tek, with local miners Codelco (State-owned) and Antofagasta also dominating the mining landscape. The country focuses on sustainable mining practices and the decarbonisation of its mining operations, from their fleets of vehicles to power generation at the mine site.
“Australian miners and suppliers are well placed to partner with Chilean producers and processors, including in areas where Australian businesses can assist with environmental and social demands, safety requirements and working in remote locations, where energy is expensive and water scarce,” Dr Baker continues.
Renewables and green hydrogen
Chile is a world leader in the generation of renewable energy, including solar, wind and geothermal. Previous and current governments have set ambitious targets in emissions reduction and decommissioning fossil fuels, making Chile Latin America’s leader in attracting foreign investment in renewables – more capital now than Mexico and Brazil.
According to the International Energy Agency, Chile aims to produce 70 per cent of its electricity through renewable energy sources by 2030. With coal-fired power being reduced to only 30 per cent in 2020, it is expected that coal will be completely phased out by 2040.
“There is an increasing uptake of producing green hydrogen, with projects underway in the northern deserts and windy southern region,” notes Dr Baker. “Australian exporters of hydrogen-related technology and services will find opportunities in Chile as producers seek expertise in electrolysers, equipment and carbon capture.”
Chile’s agricultural sector is the country’s second most important export industry after mining.
“Like Australia, Chile’s diverse climatic zones allow for a variety of crops, including fruit (grapes, apples, pears, blueberries, and cherries), fish and shellfish, nuts, meat (beef, lamb and poultry), wine, wool and timber,” Dr Baker continues. “Sales of edible fruits and nuts are the most important group of exports at $US5.8 billion, with salmon and other fish in second place at $US4.9 billion. Other relevant sectors include pulp and paper ($US2.9 billion), wines ($US1.9 billion) and meat ($US900 million).
“While Chile is often seen as a direct competitor to Australia in the food and wine sector, several niche areas in the mid to premium level segments offer opportunities for Australian exporters. Gourmet sauces and condiments have had success in the Chilean market, as have crackers, biscuits, and dairy products such as soft cheeses. Healthy snacks and beverages such as dairy alternatives and convenient ready-to-cook meals can be found in Chile.
“Although Chile’s agribusiness sector continues to grow faster than its overall economy, it must overcome some serious hurdles if it wishes to keep up with demand. Some of these challenges are similar to those Australia has faced (drought, algae plumes and pests) and Australian technology and services are well positioned to help solve.”
Productivity is high on the government’s agenda, and there is a renewed focus on skills and vocational education and training as part of the country’s ambitious education reforms.
“Training and research for the mining sector are in demand with the University of Queensland’s Sustainable Mining Institute present in Chile. The Chilean government’s scholarship program, Becas Chile, plans to reinstate its scholarship funding from 2023, presenting further opportunities for Australian universities to attract students.”
Emerging opportunities for Australian exporters
Traditional Australian mining equipment, technology and services (METS) companies have had great success in Chile. There is a shift towards METS 4.0 and an emphasis on environmental, social and governance (ESG) solutions, which both Chilean and multi-national miners now demand.
Australia’s premier research organisation, CSIRO (set up in Chile over 11 years ago), partners with METS companies and mines on various projects in ESG and the latest in innovation, including alternative forms of energy and mining. Solar energy innovation and environmental monitoring of communities connected to the mining sector also offer opportunities.
Industry value in Chile’s transport infrastructure sector is driven by strong government support and the push for concessions and public-private partnerships (PPPs). Improving and expanding the country’s freight and public transport networks are instrumental in Chile’s future economic growth. Australian innovation in signalling, track monitoring and maintenance, and Australian know-how in rail infrastructure and operations present opportunities for exporters in this sector to Chile.
A local presence is a key to success
If your goal is to do business with the Chilean government or some of its state-owned assets, it is important to have a subsidiary or representative in the market. Even in the private sector, Chilean customers want to know there is someone physically present in the same time zone who can respond to questions or issues.
While senior leaders often speak fluent English, Australian companies will benefit from having staff or partners that speak Spanish. This is particularly relevant in middle management levels, where many negotiations are conducted.
Dr Baker says this also applies to most other markets across Latin America. “Like its neighbours across South America, Chile bases business practices on personal relationships, so a fly-in-fly out approach to business won’t be effective. Return visits, attending annual trade shows and events and supporting your representatives are key to business success here.”
Doing business in the capital, Santiago, where most business is conducted, is relatively easy as it is a sophisticated city. However, visits to regional Chile are also important, particularly for the mining, agriculture and energy sectors.
Large infrastructure projects, tenders and important investment opportunities in different industries in Chile can seem bureaucratic. Several agencies and legal firms can guide you including those members of the Australia Chile Chamber of Commerce, AusCham.
“Investing time to build and develop relationships is essential to business success, together with taking a long-term view to any investment decisions, notes Dr Baker.
The Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) accelerates the growth of exporters, attracts foreign investors and stimulates the visitor economy. Through a network of 1,200 experts in 67 international offices, Austrade gives Australian businesses a competitive edge in the global marketplace. Connect at austrade.gov.au.
Austrade contact information:
Dr Nicholas Baker
Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner Chile & the Andean Region
Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade)
Contact: 13 28 78