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Brazil alone in LatAm in joining AIIB

By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York | China Daily Latin America | Updated: 2015-04-06 03:28

More than 45 countries have signed up to be a part of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and Brazil is the only Latin American country that has committed to the bank.

Australia, France, the UK, Germany, India, Italy, and South Korea are among the nations that have said they will join the AIIB, which has received the blessing of International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde. The new bank plans to invest $100 billion in infrastructure projects in Asian countries. China also has a "One Belt, One Road" strategy which is an initiative to promote economic and cultural ties with countries involved.

Kevin Gallagher, an associate professor at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University and co-director of the Global Economic Governance Initiative, said that Latin American nations in many ways have their own version of AIIB.

"Latin America already enjoys China as a member of the Inter-American Development Bank, China-CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) has set up approximately $35 billion in funds with Latin America, and of course China's policy banks provide upwards of $119 billion in finance to the region," he wrote in an e-mail.

The United States initially tried to discourage allies from joining the AIIB, seeing it as a challenge to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank over which it has considerable influence. The US reversed course after many of its allies signed up for it. Washington has questioned whether the AIIB will uphold international standards of governance, and social and environmental safeguards.

Analysts have said the creation of AIIB reflects China's growing economic and diplomatic might as well as its desire to harness this economic power for political purposes.

Rather than reflecting the influence of US opposition, Harold Trinkunas, who directs the Brookings Institution's Latin America Initiative, said most Latin American countries have not joined AIIB for reasons related to domestic economics and politics.

"Many now face the prospect of an economic slowdown, and some of the larger countries are also facing political scandals at home. Given that there is a requirement to contribute capital as a founding member, many governments may face public perception that the required capital contribution would be better spent at home. In addition, Latin America already has two major regional development banks, Inter-American Development Bank and the Corporacion Andina de Fomento, and most countries can also borrow from international capital markets, so joining another development bank does not appear to be as urgent as it may be to other founding members," Trinkunas said in an email.

Professor Enrique Dussel Peters at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico said "One Belt, One Road" initiative doesn't specifically refer to Latin America.

The strategy is "very open to different countries and continents, and has mentioned countries from Asia, Europe and even Africa, but there is not a single word on Latin America and the Caribbean," he wrote in an e-mail.

Peters speculates on why Brazil is the only Latin American nation to sign up for the bank. "As a result of the reluctance of the US to join AIIB, the already existing cooperation between Latin American countries and China as well as insufficient understanding of AIIB and its openness to Latin American countries - these are some of the reasons as to why the region has been slow or hesitant to participate explicitly," he said.

The massive business opportunity in Asia for infrastructure development is why many of the countries have joined the bank. According to the Asian Development Bank, Asia needs to invest about $8 trillion between 2010 and 2020 in national infrastructure and about $290 billion in regional infrastructure to connect its economies.

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