This issue, Diplomat sits down with Consul in Charge Mario Ignacio Artaza to get the full story on ‘the place where earth ends’: La República de Chile in Hong Kong
Mr. Mario Ignacio Artaza
Consul in Charge of Chile in Hong Kong and Macau
In 1984 in Los Angeles, nobody realized the youngest accredited photojournalist at the Olympics would become the torch bearer for his nation in Asia. With only one zoom lens, he still had the perspective that would make him a success on the diplomatic scene on the other side of the world.
Paid nearly nothing and surviving on press lounge sandwiches, Mario Ignacio Artaza, the aspiring journalist – still a student – kicked off his reporting career at the Olympics. During the following 10 years, Mr. Artaza covered news in almost every field including sports, economics, and defense. He even traveled to Kuwait and Iraq on a UN mandate regarding two Middle East countries’ border issue immediately after Gulf War I and with President Patricio Aylwin as a member of the Presidential Press Corps.
Journalism was his passion until an ad for the Diplomatic Academy caught his eye.
At that time, standard practice was to choose a pseudonym to use on the application to avoid favouritism. That practice certainly appealed to Mario, whose father, also Mario, was well-known career diplomat expelled from Chile during Pinochet era. Under the nom de plume “Dimalow’, he made his application -unbeknownst to his father.
And that is how it begins. Upon graduation, he was picked by Ambassador Alejandro Jara, now the Deputy Director-General of WTO, to work as a member of his team on the FTA—Free Trade Agreement–negotiation processes then underway with Canada, Mexico and United States at the NAFTA Department of the General Directorate for International Economic Relations. The expertise on trade negotiations later brought him to Singapore, Beijing and now Hong Kong.
The FTA – A First for Hong Kong and Latin America
Mr. Artaza came to Hong Kong with a clear agenda: establish an FTA between Hong Kong and Chile. The always-in-motion CG wasted no time. On day one he paid his respects to the doyen of the Consular Corps in Hong Kong. With a 5 year mandate in Hong Kong, Mr. Artaza dove into the business right away, meeting with the Chairs of all the major Chambers of Commerce, authorities and senior officers of InvestHK and HKTDC all within the very first week.
One might question the necessity of signing such an agreement with Hong Kong given its reputation as a free port. But to Mario, it’s certainly much more than simple exchange of goods and service.
“It’s like a wedding contract. It is between two people who see eye to eye with each other, who have a heart that is shared, who have a common programme and road to undertake for the benefit of both sides.”
Through an FTA, image and visibility are raised and a common guideline provided for sectoral cooperation in areas such as finance, education, and investment. Mario believes first, you must make both sides more aware of the existence and relevance of the other. Then a more developed relationship will follow, facilitating movements of capital and people.
It took altogether 3 rounds of negotiation over 9 months for both parties to accomplish the 1st stage of the agreement. Signed in September 2012, the Hong Kong government is now ready to enact the Agreement and now awaits approval by the Chilean Congress.
The second stage will look into the investment and other bilateral elements, such as air links. Mario hopes for big outcomes. “We want more openness, for example, the direct flight to be more ‘direct’, allowing passengers to travel to Chile without changing planes in New Zealand.” “We would also like to attract more Chinese capital flowing out of China through Hong Kong to come to Chile, or Latin America. It’s very challenging establishing this, with such a short time frame and a team of only 5 professionals. But I work from 8am to 8pm, plus Saturday morning to connect with Santiago, so hopefully we can get this started the third trimester this year. I do not wish to rest until the goal is achieved!”
One might think this is it, the biggest achievement a diplomat can reach with a team of 6 and an annual operational budget (excluding salaries and rent) of under $25,000USD/year. But for Mario there’s always more.
“I’m someone who gets bored fast. I’m constantly hungry for new challenges”
Apart from FTA, he is proud of having Chile being the only Latin American Country mentioned in 2 policy addresses; that Donald Tsang visited Chile as his first Latin American port of call in April 2012, and that Chilean wine is much more than just a fad and is here to stay in Hong Kong. He now has his sights on a Working Holiday scheme. for youth.
“My job here is to re-invent the relationship.”
The connections exist between Chile and Hong Kong might surprise you. The first painting that displays Chile’s presence in China is in Hong Kong. It was painted in 1860 by a Chinese painter who first showing a scene of commerce and business in Canton – including the Chilean flag flying over their mission there. The only Chilean naval officer who died on duty and is buried outside of Chile is buried in St. Michael’s cemetery (see photo). He came here in November, 1900 and never left, succumbing to a deadly fever. A model of his ship, the General Baquedano, will be presented to the Hong Kong Maritime Museum at the end of this month.
“We are not newcomers to Hong Kong. My primary job here is to re-invent the relationship between Chile and Hong Kong, to make another sphere of interest while giving consideration to the historical reality and presence.”
“Chile is for Hong Kong the same that Hong Kong is for Chile. Chile prides himself being the most logical gateway for any Asia Pacific country into Latin America, because of our high standard, our work force, how we respect our laws and how we apply them. We feel the same way with Hong Kong. Hong Kong is the world’s most competitive economy; Chile is the most competitive economy in Latin America. Hong Kong is ranked #1 on the Index of Economic Freedom; Chile is ranked #7, highest ranking in Latin America. So both are natural partners. Without an FTA, usually economies don’t look at each other because they are ‘just not sexy enough to the other side’. I want the relationship to be really sexy. Our FTA is not just a piece of document signed with good photographs, but something that truly benefits the people of both regions.”
He believes Hong Kong and Chile share interests on many issues on the agenda. For example, universal pension, standard working hours, minimum wage, raising the bar on quality of life, access to education and housing, greater participation in decision making and process are all issues Chile has grappled with. Both sides can learn from each other’s experiences and cooperate.
“I’m of the view that the relationship between Chile and Hong Kong today as it stands is far more than what it was when I came here in 2010. I have no doubt about it. Today Chile is on the map of Hong Kong government officials, LegCo, the private sector, universities, the cultural sector, the youth…we are not just a name that is recognized only for our wines and meats. We are known as a nation that can be an equitable partner for an economy like Hong Kong!”
It’s like a fashion show!
“In a territory where you have the most foreign representative offices and where you have to compete with over 100 colleagues on daily basis, we are all showing ourselves as the most beautiful, the most unique, the most friendly, the most talented…like in the midst of a fashion show!”
With a team of only 3 Consulate affairs and 3 trade staffers, split between 3 Chileans and 3 locals, the Consulate General covers Hong Kong and Macau (at times resolving issues for Chilean nationals living in Taiwan as there’s no Chilean Consulate in Taiwan). They serve 115 Chileans and a dozen Chilean companies. It is a young community of which the average age is under 35,. They are aspiring entrepreneurs and professionals who came to Hong Kong to establish more business between Chile and Hong Kong.
“I’m the one through whom people see Chile.”
What message did he want to pass to the new coming diplomats in Hong Kong?
As a Mongkok lover, who enjoys a glass of yuanyang milk tea (half tea half coffee) while watching people walk himself, Mario says, “ first of all, walking the streets, every single one – especially those unknown small ones. You are guaranteed to find something that will impact you. There is no better way to get to know a country or a culture than by observing the people. Second, visiting the cemeteries. The best way to know how people organize themselves, treat each other, respect each other, and value each other, is through their cemeteries. I find myself in peace when I see others at peace with their past.”