By Pan Kwan Yuk Chinaâ€™s shadow looms large over Latin America. The regionâ€™s abundance of natural resources, from oil in Argentina to iron ore in Brazil and copper in Chile, has made it a natural draw for the resource-hungry Asian giant. A flurry of deals over the past 18 months â€“ including Cnoocâ€™s acquisition of a 50 per cent stake in Argentinaâ€™s Bridas for $7bn and Sinochemâ€™s $3.1bn purchase of a stake in Brazilian assets â€“ has only underscored Chinaâ€™s growing role in the region. But just how big is China Incâ€™s presence in Latin America? A report out this week from the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) goes some way to answering this question â€“ and the findings make for an intriguing read. According to the report, Foreign Direct Investment in Latin America and the Caribbean, Chinese direct investment in Latin America expanded dramatically in 2010, with companies investing over $15bn in the region. Thatâ€™s more than double the amount invested in the two decades from 1990 to 2009. And itâ€™s speeding up: so far this year, the figure is already $22.7bn. Investment is mirrored by trade. As John Paul Rathone, the FTâ€™s Latin America editor, noted recently: 'The change has been rapid: in 1999, trade betwen Latin America and China was a mere $8bn. By 2009, according to UN figures, it had grown 16 times to $130bn. By comparison, bilateral trade with the US rose by just a half over the same period.' As is the case with trade, the main recipients of Chinaâ€™s investment have been Brazil and Argentina (see chart above). While the bulk of Chinaâ€™s interest has been in energy, it is also hungry for other resources â€“ including minerals and agricultural commodities like soybeans. While Chinese FDI in the region will continue to be dominated by companies specialising in natural resources, ECLAC expects Chinese companies to diversify into infrastructure development and manufacturing. Already China has promised to invest a further $10bn in Argentinaâ€™s rail network. Interestingly, with the exception of Costa Rica, Chinese investment has almost no relevance in Mexico and Central America. As Rathbone pointed out in his article, this has to do with the dominance of manufactured goods in the Mexican economy. In 2006, before the financial crisis erupted, 9 per cent of Brazilâ€™s exports went to the other Bric countries â€“ Russia, India and China. By 200 that had almost doubled to 17 per cent. As a result, the Brazilian economy boomed. 'Mexico has had a very different experience because its economy has closer ties to the industrialised worldâ€¦.Bric exports still account for only 3 per cent of its total. Furthermore, manufactured goods rather than commodities play a larger role in the Mexican economy. China, therefore, is more of an economic competitor than a complement. As a result, suggests an IADB study â€œOne Region: Two Speeds?â€, Mexicoâ€™s economy has grown at half Brazilâ€™s pace.' But for all the talk about the rise of Chinese investment in Latin America, it is worth bearing in mind that, in absolute terms, the United States remained the main investor in the region in 2010, accounting for 17 per cent of total FDI inflow, followed by the Netherlands (13 per cent), China (9 per cent), and Canada, Spain and the United Kingdom (4 per cent apiece). But how long will things remain this way? Given its thirst for raw materials and deep pockets, donâ€™t be surprise if China Inc leads the pack in a couple of yearsâ€™ time.