PATRICIO Torres is well-known for hosting exclusive dinners at his cosy Taman Duta residence. Invites are much looked forward to, as the suave Chilean Ambassador plays the perfect host.
As guests mingle and make themselves at home, Torres would light up the evening by announcing: “Let me introduce you all to this bottle of deluxe Chilean wine. Enjoy it.”
With Chilean wine varieties gaining recognition around the world for its quality and international standards, and sales catching up in Malaysia too, Torres is naturally very enthusiastic.
As a result of improved expertise in wine-making, Chile’s wine exports have been increasing, with exports rising from 40 million litres in 1990 to over 215 million litres last year.
Describing Chile’s expanding “wine universe”, Torres said: “In Malaysia, we have moved from basic table-wines to being recognised for our premium varieties.
“Over 20 Chilean vineyards sell their wines in Malaysia. And we have climbed from seventh spot to become the fourth largest wine exporter to Malaysia.”
(Australia retains the lions’ share of the wine market here with a 40% hold, followed by France and the United States.)
Last year (January to November), Chile pipped Italy to fourth spot with wine sales amounting to RM3.514 mil (290,447 litres), against Italy’s RM3.087mil (129,798 litres).
Over the same period, Australia sold RM37.887mil (1.658mil litres), with France raking in RM14.23mil (771,104 litres), and the US RM7.118mil (624,987 litres).
Chile’s grasp of the wine market here has been rising rapidly, registering a 120% growth over the 2003-04 period, and 38% over 2004-05. Popular Chilean wines here include the chardonnay, sauvignon blanc (white), cabernet sauvignon and carmenere (red).
“The carmenere is now the star among the Chilean reds. For many years, we were only famous for our Merlot,” said Torres, who entertains dozens of queries on Chilean wines from Malaysians.
Things are also looking good for other Chilean imports here, such as fruits and fish.
Chilean red globe grapes, prunes, pears, apples and kiwi fruits are becoming increasingly popular among Malaysians, and salmon and shellfish are also among the hot items.
“We are trying very hard to present an image here of a country producing great quality products.
“We want our products to be accepted based on a confidence? that if our wines are good, then our grapes, fruits and other products too must be good,” the Latin American explained.
As far as overall Chile-Malaysia trade is concerned, the envoy said things were looking promising with trade volume set to cross the US$300mil (RM1.1bil) mark this year.
“This time, the trade balance could be in Malaysia’s favour. Over the last 10 months of 2005, Malaysian exports to Chile grew by 30%,” Torres revealed.
Bilateral trade totalled US$236mil (RM873mil) last year, a 30% rise over the 2004-05 period. The volume had risen by 70% during the 2003-04 period.
Torres has more reason to smile. The International Trade and Industry Ministry (Miti), in its latest International Trade Report, has picked Chile as among three Latin American countries with the greatest trade potential with Malaysia.
“This is very encouraging news for Chile. We have been receiving a lot of support from Matrade and Mida to promote business opportunities between our countries.
“I look forward to a great year in doing business with Malaysia,” he added.
The signs for increased growth are becoming more evident, Torres said.
“Your electronic products are well accepted in Chile, and so is your furniture. Up to 20 Chilean furniture buyers attend furniture expos in Malaysia,” said the envoy, who keeps himself fit by running marathons.
On Chile’s appeal to the wider world, Torres said his country had adopted the motto “Chile All Ways Surprising” to market itself in the US and Europe this year.
“Some think that it’s a grammatical error,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a play on words, to express a dynamic image of a Chile which can deliver on all fronts.”
The laughter aside, Chilean economy has proven its resilience with its sustained 6% growth rate over the last decade.
Outgoing president Ricardo Lagos, who will be replaced by president-elect Michelle Bachelet on March 11 (Bachelet will become Chile’s first woman president), has said that the Chilean economy is set to grow by more than 6% this year on rising consumer demand and investments. ECONOMIC LINKS: Torres (left) with Chilean Foreign and Trade Minister Ignatio Walker who pledged Chile’s continued trade ties with Malaysia during his visit last week.