José Campusano Alarcón:

We're not afraidof competition

On wine, salmon and Luis Corvalan

It would be tough to find a Russian person who hasn't tried some kind of Chilean product. It is no wonder that the Chilean stand at the recent international food fair in Moscow was one of the most elaborate stands there.

A total of ten Chilean companies took part in the food fair. They brought fish, poultry, pork, tomato paste, juice and, of course, wine. “Wine is our key ambassador,” said head of the Trade Department at the Chilean embassy in Moscow (“ProChile”) José Campusano Alarcón in an interview with Capital Ideas. If this is really the case, the ambassador is doing a fantastic job. Suffice it to say that Chilean wine is served at official gatherings, including the economic forum in St. Petersburg last year. It is also widely available at Russian grocery stores.

“We can talk about Chilean wine forever,” José says, “but I’d like to talk about a specific kind of wine today – Carménère. This wine is made from a type of grape that is only available in Chile. It first appeared in Bordeaux, France, which is famous for its wine. However, it was completely wiped out in Europe by pests in the middle of the 19th century. So now Carménère is only made in Chile. Why? Because Chile has a microclimate that was created due to its unique location. The country is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and tall mountains, there is the Atacama Desert, plus - the proximity of Antarctica! As a result, the soil, water, and air there are so pure that we end up with top-quality wine!”

 Of course, good quality isn’t limited to Chilean wine. It applies to just about any produce grown in this South American country. Incidentally, the wine Mr. Alarcón is talking about ranks fourth on the list of the most popular Chilean products on the Russian market. The winner here is salmon: in 2015, 97% of salmon sold in Russia was of Chilean origin. “As we wait for the official 2016 numbers to be released, we hope that we will keep our lead in terms of salmon exports,” José says.

Out of all the food products Chile exports to Russia, 68.89% is fish and seafood (mainly salmon). Fresh fruit (apples, pears, and grapes) account for 11.87%. Frozen vegetables, fruit and berries come in third at 7.07%. Wine is fourth (4.56%) and pork is fifth (4.47%). “In the 1970’s, Russians associated Chile with Salvador Allende, the singer Victor Jara and Luis Corvalan,” José jokes, “For this generation, it’s salmon and wine before anything else!”.

Considering the growing trade volumes, there are few problems with logistics between Russia and Chile. All Chilean products are shipped by sea to Riga or St. Petersburg, then delivered to different parts of Russia.

Aside from Russia, Chile exports fish and agricultural products to other parts of the world as well. So how did a country whose primary export had always been copper suddenly become one of the world’s agrarian leaders? It happened because of economic diversification programs that began in the 90s, when democratic forces once again came to power in Chile after Pinochet. “These changes could have happened even sooner, back in the 1970s, after Salvador Allende’s victory,” José says, “He was already planning agricultural reforms back then. But the coup that happened in September of 1973 put a stop to these plans for a long time.”

Today, in light of the economic sanctions and unstable oil prices, we talk a lot about the need to diversify the Russian economy. Perhaps some things can be learned from Chileans in this respect. Agriculture is, after all, where we started our diversification process…

Why wouldn’t business people from two countries try to create joint ventures – for example, to build poultry farms together?

“A number of proposals have already been made by businessmen from Armenia and Kazakhstan the last time a Chilean delegation of officials and business representatives visited countries that belong to the Eurasian Economic Union,” José Campusano Alarcón responds. Chile isn’t afraid that the sanctions will be lifted. “We are prepared to compete with anybody,” José says with confidence.

However, this doesn’t mean that Chilean businessmen have it easy in Russia. They understand that a lot still needs to be done in order to establish their place on the Russian market. And this isn’t just about business, but also about knowing how to present and sell your products. There is another sphere closely related to business, which has a direct impact on sales volumes of wine, juice, and just about anything else you can imagine.

What is it?

- “Let’s do a thought experiment,” José Campusano Alarcón explains, “Imagine that there are three identical red apples in front of you. One of them is from Chile, one from South Africa and one is from Serbia. Which apple will you choose?”

I say that I would pick the apple from Chile. And not because I want to flatter José, but because I know how good Chilean apples are. “But generally speaking, if you don’t have preferences ahead of time, a person will pick the apple from the country they like the most,” José says, “a country that produces literature or art they enjoy. This is why I think it is important to introduce Russians to our culture, our sports and so on.”

Russians will have an opportunity to get to know more about Chilean football this summer, when the Chilean team comes to Russia for the Confederations Cup. After all, they are the best team of the Americas.



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