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Published July 16, 2010, 10:35 AM

Soy dispute palls Argentine leader’s China trip

BEIJING — China is playing down a monthslong ban on soy oil imports from Argentina, calling it a normal trade dispute, as Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and Chinese President Hu Jintao held talks this week.

BEIJING — China is playing down a monthslong ban on soy oil imports from Argentina, calling it a normal trade dispute, as Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and Chinese President Hu Jintao held talks this week.

Soy is a key export for Argentina, and the dispute is the most pressing issue for Fernandez, who is making the first trip to China by an Argentine president since 2004.

At the start of her meeting with Hu, Fernandez apologized three times for having had to postpone a planned January visit due to domestic political troubles. “Believe me, at the time I felt regretful,” Fernandez said.

After decades of relative neglect China and Latin America have forged strong commercial ties in recent years. China has pushed bullishly into the region, looking for natural re-sources and farm goods like soy to fuel its feverish growth and in turn boosting Latin America’s.

When asked by reporters about the soy dispute, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman called Argentina an important partner in Latin America and said the problem should be resolved.

“Regarding the import of soybean oil to China, it’s just a normal problem that comes with the development of trade and economic relations,” the spokesman, Qin Gang, told a routine media briefing. “I believe as long as the two countries follow the spirit of cooperation and mutual benefit and through friendly consultation, a proper resolution will be found.”

Argentine exports of soy oil to China totaled $1.4 billion last year, accounting for a sizable chunk of two-way trade that strongly favored Beijing. China placed the ban on soy imports on April 1, after saying it found shipments containing excessive levels of hexane, a potentially cancerous chemical used in soy processing. But the restrictions also came after Argentina last year imposed antidumping measures on some China-made goods.

China has denied the soy ban is a retaliatory measure while Argentina has said its soy products are not contaminated.

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