China's President Xi Jinping, left, and Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez exchange documents during the signing of bilateral agreements at Casa Rosada presidential palace in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday. Image Credit: AP

Buenos Aires: Relations between Argentina and China are poised to reach unprecedented “new horizons,” Chinese President Xi Jinping told lawmakers in Buenos Aires during a summit visit Saturday.

Xi is on a Latin American charm offensive to secure bilateral trade deals — particularly coveted raw materials — from governments throughout the region.

China is Argentina’s third-largest trading partner behind the South American Mercosur bloc and the European Union, and one of its main destinations for food exports.

“Our two countries find themselves at a historic crossroads,” said Xi, as he met with Vice President Amado Boudou and the heads of both chambers of Argentina’s legislature.

“We have just marked 10 years in the strategic association between Argentina and China and the time has come to open new horizons,” he told lawmakers through a translator.

On Friday, the first day of his three-day visit, the Chinese leader called the China-Argentina relationship one of “integral strategic importance” for both sides.

Xi and President Cristina Kirchner signed more than 20 trade deals in hydropower, marine and rail industries worth $7 billion (Dh26 billion).

Among the agreements was a bilateral “strategic partnership,” similar to others signed with emerging nations such as Brazil.

“I want to emphasise that we have signed an agreement to raise the level of our relations in order to turn them into a strategic partnership, along with investments in oil, mining, the nuclear field, agriculture and plant diseases,” Xi said at the Casa Rosada presidential complex.

Nuclear plant

The two countries also announced Chinese plans for huge investment in hydroelectric power, shipbuilding, railways and a deal to help Argentina build its fourth nuclear plant.

China will contribute $4.4 billion toward the construction of two hydroelectric dams in Argentina’s southern Santa Cruz province and an additional $2.1 billion to remodel strategic rail transportation for carrying goods, especially food.

It will also contribute $423 million for the construction of 11 ships.

“In today’s world, the best opportunities occur for emerging nations, as demonstrated in the recent BRICS summit in Brasilia,” Kirchner said.

Xi also was in Brazil this week for a summit of the BRICS group of emerging powers — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — and South American presidents.

The gathering saw the countries agree to launch a New Development Bank to fund infrastructure projects in developing nations and an emergency reserve, drawing praise from Latin American leaders who see them as alternatives to Western-dominated financial institutions.

Following the BRICS summit, Xi signed deals with Brazil, met with regional leaders and proposed a $20 billion infrastructure fund that highlights Beijing’s growing interests in the region.

On Sunday, Xi will continue on to Caracas, where he hopes to further develop his country’s strategic relationship with the oil giant.

Trade between the two exceeded $20 billion in 2012 and China is the second largest buyer of Venezuelan oil.

The visit is Xi’s second to Latin America since taking office last year, when he toured Mexico, Costa Rica, as well as Trinidad and Tobago.