Patricio Utreras: Chile stands ready to become a new strategic partner for the Czech Republic
Ambassador of Chile to the Czech Republic Patricio Utreras says that during the last years, Czech Republic and Chile have proven to be “like-minded countries”, with a common set of values and interests on the most relevant issues, like respect for international law, protection of environment and also our view on free trade and investments. In this context, he is convinced that in times of this global crisis provoked by the Russian invasion to Ukraine, it is more important than ever that our two countries strengthen their already excellent bilateral relations, expanding them with and strategic sense.
There’s a clear upward trend in Chilean-Czech relations. What has contributed the most to this increase?
In the period 2014-2021, Chilean exports to the Czech market increased by 26%, reaching the amount of 49 million USD, while Czech exports to Chile also increased by 93%, reaching USD 112 million. It is difficult to identify one specific factor. The increase in our (food) products exports could have been due to the general confinement of the population. The increase in Czech export particularly before the pandemic may have been contributed by the demand for capital goods in Chilean economy and the dynamic promotion from the Czech government, also via CzechTrade office in Santiago.
In which sectors, in addition to the already prosperous food industry (e.g. wine), do you see the biggest opportunities for Chilean investments and/or imports into the Czech Republic?
Food covers 70% of Chilean exports to the Czech market. Traditionally, we have exported wine but also new products such as pork, turkey and beef or superfood such as maqui berry or stevia. Beyond food, we believe there are possibilities in textile industry: at the moment there is an increase in exports of wool, particularly for automotive. We also believe that important steps must be taken in investment and tourism as well.
Chile is suffering from drought
Czech companies can help
In September 2021, during your visit to the Zlín Region, you gave the prestigious Strait of Magellan Award to SATTURN HOLEŠOV. The company has thus become the only holder of this prestigious award for innovation and exploration with global impact, for the unique ENCELADUS project focused on wastewater treatment and water retention in Chile. What have you found the most interesting about the project and the company?
In Chile we are suffering from drought for more than 13 years. As a consequence, many small rural communities are getting their drinking water through water-tank trucks. And because some of these communities are not connected to water treatment plants, they cannot reuse the little residential water that they got. With Enceladus they could reuse this water in their private gardens, for they livestock or their artisan work, etc. I thought that a system like this could change their lives.
We contacted our Ministry of Public Works, and they analyzed and studied the Enceladus system and concluded that it would be fully applicable to Chile. This convinced us of the potential positive impact that this technology may have in Chile. Besides, I was very impressed not only by the creativity and innovative spirit of Satturn but also by their engagement with their city and region. To me, this company is an important economic and social driver for the Zlín region and, perhaps in the future, also for the bilateral relations with my country.
Another Czech company that has succeeded in Chile is Solek, which builds solar and green hydrogen power plants there. Please name some other Czech companies that are active in your market.
I understand that Solek is already an important player in the very dynamic sector of non-conventional renewable sources of energy. Another Czech company contributing to the development of this sector is Škoda Power through their association with the Korean Doosan; together they built “Cerro Dominador”, the biggest solar concentration plant in Latin America, and they have more under construction. The turbines of the plant are made by Škoda Power.
An example from a completely different sector is Rudolf Jelinek, who are in the Chilean market for more than 15 years. They have an orchard where they grow pears for the pear variety of slivovice. The presence in Chile of this traditional, renowned Czech company is a symbol of the strong ties between our two countries.
Chile has challenges like drought, while the Czech Republic has plenty of experience and technical expertise in the field of water management.
Your embassy together with the Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic recently organised the "First bilateral Chilean-Czech workshop on drought adaptation: Mapping, recharging and monitoring of aquifers". Envi-tech, renewable energy, waste management and also metallurgy are among the sectors where a lot of cooperation already exists between our countries.
Chile has challenges like drought, while the Czech Republic has plenty of experience and technical expertise in the fields of water management. Masaryk Institute for Water, the Czech Geological Service or the University of Life Sciences have participated in this first workshop organized with the Ministry of Environment. Now we are looking forward to the visit of Chilean experts from government institutions and the Universidad de Chile, probably very soon.
Other demand drivers for these technologies and products is that our country has enormous reserves of minerals like cooper, lithium, iron, and many more. These industries require not only traditional extractive technologies but also green mining, and there are specific niches for Czech products and technologies. Besides, by 2030 Chile is looking to become the country where energy from renewables will be produced at the lowest cost, making it very attractive for the production of green hydrogen (produced with solar and wind energy). And Czech hydrogen technologies could be the basis for a long-term partnership with Chile in this sector.
Inspiring cooperations between the public and private sector
Recently you have also launched Start-Up Chile programmes aimed at Czech companies. Please describe them and tell us what they have to offer.
This program is really amazing in my view. It has been around for over 12 years and back in the day, it was one of the first in the world. We offer to young companies the financial and technical support for developing and expanding their business from Chile. The Chilean government offers a non-refundable grant with no strings attached, a several-week coaching programme in Chile (ticket and expenses paid) or contacts for leading companies and potential investors. There is no obligation for the company to stay in Chile. You will surely ask: what does Chile get out of it? The answer is simple: we want to attract to our country innovative companies that are creating new solutions to global challenges and, through this process, we inject the innovative and creative spirit to our business environment.
Culture, science and education
Chile and Czechia also have many cooperations in culture, science, education or R&D - the most significant is probably the Chilean support for the Czech Antarctic Program. What exactly is this collaboration about?
Chilean Navy and other authorities like the Chilean Antarctic Institute provide logistical and administrative support to the yearly expeditions of the Czech Antarctic Program based in the Brno Masaryk University. Every year Czech scientists enter the White Continent through the Chilean port of Punta Arenas, to arrive at their Mendel Polar Station.
Having in mind the global challenges that we have as a consequence of climate change, such as the Czech Republic and Chile widen and deepen their existing cooperation in Antarctic sciences and also in political issues in the context of the Antarctic System. For this reason, there was the first political dialogue on Antarctic issues on 19 May in Prague between delegations from Chile and the Czech Republic. We look forward to continuing this dialogue in Santiago next year.
Another good example of our cooperation are agreements between many Chilean and Czech universities. What universities are involved? What is your vision of how to develop this project further?
There are at least 13 Chilean universities with cooperation agreements with Czech universities like Charles University, Hradec Kralove University, Masaryk University in Brno or Czech Technical University in Prague. It is worth noting the special relation that unites our most traditional universities: Charles University and Universidad de Chile, where there is a strong will to deepen and widen their cooperation in many areas. As for further developments, I should mention the Memorandum of Understanding between the Czech Academy of Sciences and the National Agency for Research and Development in Chile (ANID). This agreement will allow the call for joint projects between scientists from both countries.
Mr. Utreras was interviewed by Jana Jenšíková and Daniel Libertin
Photo credits: Patricio Utreras