Between 2005 and 2019, Argentina has received maximum investment from China amounting to US$30.6 billion, which is 39 per cent of the total Chinese investment in South America.
At the heart of the new Chinese investments in Argentina, is the proposal to build 25 industrial pig farms in Argentina, which will significantly increase pork exports to China. The project involving investment of US$3.8 billion, is expected to generate annual production of 900,000 tons amounting to US$2.5 million in annual exports.
As per media reports, the pig farms will be set up with Chinese investment in partnership with local producers in Argentina, which currently has 10 industrial pig farms exclusively for export to China. In addition, 25 new farms are due to start operation in the next six years, which will exclusively export pork to China.
Pork is the staple meat in Chinese diet, with majority of Chinese population consuming pork, an economic source of protein as compared to beef and mutton. However, in the last few years, African swine fever has declined Chinese pork production by a fifth, to an estimated 20 million tons, which has escalated meat prices in the country. China now imports more pork from Latin American countries such as Brazil and Mexico, and is now eyeing Argentina to meet its demand.
Argentinian government is selling this project as a great investment opportunity which will provide significant export opportunities and generate employment. However, there is increasing opposition and criticism of the project, as the pig farms are likely to accompany environmental and human risks. The production of pork will require deforestation for setting up pig farms. Also, according to one estimate, six thousand litres of water is required to produce one kilo of pork, thus coming with huge environmental costs.
Moreover, Chinese pig farms are synonymous with diseases such as swine flu, thus the potential disease and contamination risks are high. With the world struggling to cope with COVID-19 pandemic, Latin America can hardly afford another disease like Swine flu.
Criticism of the Chinese project on environmental grounds is growing daily, as social and environmental organizations argue that the proposed volume of pork production would lead to unprecedented levels of water and soil pollution in Argentina. The investment plan is also being opposed by local pork producers, who claim that the investment does not include small and medium sized pork suppliers, and would only benefit big producers.
Many non-government organizations have already started criticizing the project over environmental impact ranging from deforestation, soil pollution, water depletion to greenhouse gas emissions.
Although, Argentina enjoys maximum Chinese investment in Latin America, there is a growing discontent among local population on the negative impacts of cooperation with China. According to local media reports, “China out” slogans were made in a rally in Buenos Aires during a protest march against the government.
There are concerns among local Argentineans that too much dependence on Chinese investment will reduce its economic autonomy. ‘Sino phobia’ is growing in Argentina. Recently, arrests were made in Buenos Aires involving mistreatment of two Chinese entrepreneurs owning super market chains in Argentina by customers who blamed them for the COVID-19 outbreak in Argentina.