Peru’s new president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is gearing up for the challenges posed by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. His crammed desk is piled with books such as The Populist Deception, along with Peru and the United States: The Condor and the Eagle.
Uppermost in his mind is the threat of rising protectionism. Hosting this year’s Apec summit in Lima this November, the former World Bank economist emerged as Latin America’s champion of free trade.
“In the US and Britain, protectionism is taking over,” he told delegates from the 21 nations gathered at the summit. “It is fundamental that world trade grows again and that protectionism be defeated.”
Speaking to the Financial Times at his offices after the summit, Mr Kuczynski says: “If the Apec meeting was going to do anything of international relevance, it had to warn against the dangers of protectionism in view of these recent elections.”
Mr Kuczynski’s stance on global trade should come as no surprise. Elected in June after pledging to deliver economic growth to fund social investment, and seen as a centrist, pro-market figure, the new president has an exalted internationalist background.
The son of a German-Polish migrant, he is a cousin of French-Swiss film director Jean-Luc Godard, attended the Royal College of Music, and studied at Oxford university in the UK and Princeton in the US.
In the past four decades, the 78-year-old president has worked as a mine manager in Guinea, a Wall Street investment banker, and served as Peru’s prime minister, and finance and mining minister. A former US citizen, he relinquished his nationality a year ago to stand for election in Peru.
Peru’s top trading partners are China and the US. But although the country’s relationship with the US remains strong, Mr Kuczynski says, he is seeking to deepen ties with Beijing: “We are putting due emphasis where it belongs, which is our biggest market.”
Following June’s elections, the new president visited China before any other country. Peru hosted Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, on a state visit on Monday last week, the day Mr Trump vowed to scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), of which Peru is a signatory.
Chinese investment in Peru currently stands at about $14bn. But even with low prices for natural resources weighing on his country’s copper-dependent economy, Mr Kuczynski is confident he can entice China to invest more. “The Chinese feel good that my first visit was to them, not to America,” he says.
Peru’s economy is forecast to grow 4 per cent this year, making it Latin America’s fastest major economy. But, says the president, that would be “disappointing” and he aims to lift it to 5 per cent by 2018.Given the uncertainty surrounding the future of the TPP, Peru is considering the merits of a rival Chinese initiative, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. But Mr Kuczynski has not given up on the TPP. “It’s not the end of the world [if the US does not join TPP]. Some of us at Apec had a discussion on whether you could do TPP without the US,” he says.