Buenos Aires (AFP) – Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to boost trade and investment with Argentina during a state visit Monday to the country with Latin America’s third-biggest economy.
Argentina currently lags behind its neighbors Brazil and Chile in doing business with the Asian giant, but Japan says it wants to boost economic ties a year after a new conservative government took power in Buenos Aires.
“We have agreed to strengthen bilateral ties,” Abe told reporters after meeting with Argentine President Mauricio Macri at the presidential palace.
“We hope to promote political and economic links and the exchange of people.”
The two signed bilateral deals but gave no details of them during a brief appearance to the media.
Macri said he hoped for a “strategic alliance” between the two countries.
It was the first visit to Buenos Aires by a Japanese prime minister in 57 years. The last was by Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, in 1959.
Japan’s ambassador in Buenos Aires, Noriteru Fukushima, said in July that Japan wanted to multiply investment in Argentina over three years to as much as $3.0 billion a year from its current level of $100 million.
Japanese carmakers such as Honda, Toyota and Nissan are already key players in Argentina’s auto industry.
Toyota, for example, is looking to expand there, said Belisario de Azevedo, an economist at Argentine consultancy Abeceb, ahead of the visit.
Japan has trading agreements with Brazil, Mexico and Chile, but not with Argentina.
Japanese exports to Argentina were worth about $1.2 billion in 2015, according to the Argentine state statistics institute.
That was twice the amount that Argentina exported to Japan.
Macri has been working to boost Argentina’s trade ties since he took office a year ago after 12 years of protectionist policies under his leftist predecessors.
French President Francois Hollande, his US counterpart Barack Obama, Italian leader Mateo Renzi and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have each traveled to Buenos Aires this year.