Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on Thursday presided over the signing of a number of bilateral scientific, agricultural and educational agreements, highlighting the growing trade and personal ties between California and a nation with one of South America’s most dynamic economies.
The two have become natural trading partners over the last four decades, largely because of the work of the so-called Davis Boys, an informal group of Chileans who studied agriculture at UC Davis during the 1960s and 1970s.
“They are the ones who sowed the seeds for what is today a multibillion-dollar agricultural operation in Chile,” said UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef.
With help from Davis and other California universities, Chile has developed a sophisticated agricultural export market that has taken advantage of the coincidence that Chile and California have similar topography and climates but opposite growing seasons.
When it’s winter in California and the Northern Hemisphere, it’s summer in Chile and the Southern Hemisphere. So Chile ships peaches, table grapes and other fruit to California supermarkets during California’s winter, and California farmers supply similar products to Chilean consumers during the other months of the year.
Getting Californians accustomed to eating fresh fruit year-round has boosted demand for local produce, says Lovell Jarvis, a Davis agricultural economist, who has been involved with Chile since the mid-1960s.
“When Chilean imports rose, prices for U.S. fruit rose at the same time in the other season,” he said.
The seasonal fruit trade, combined with other trade, boosted bilateral commerce by 276% since the signing of the U.S.-Chilean Free Trade Agreement on Jan. 1, 2004. Total trade exceeded $1.6 billion in 2007.
California imports Chilean wine, seafood, copper and wood products, and Chile buys California-made transportation equipment, machinery and electronics.
The new agreements with California, the University of California and California State University will help Chile create a new group of Davis-educated innovators, Bachelet said.
Bachelet’s center-left Socialist Party government, which took office in 2006, has made progress in fostering economic growth, reducing poverty and improving educational opportunities across the 2,700-mile-long, string-bean-shaped nation of 16 million people on South America’s Pacific coast.
“Because we have made such great progress, today Chile’s objective is more ambitious. We aim to take a giant step and become a developed nation in the span of a generation,” she said.