December 5, 2015 / 1:05 AM / 2 years ago

Argentina's Macri eyes new gas links with Chile, Pacific

SANTIAGO, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Argentine president-elect Mauricio Macri said on Friday he was looking to build new Pacific trade links in energy supply as he seeks improved relations with neighboring Chile.

Center-right Macri won Argentina's presidential election on Nov. 22, bringing to an end more than a decade of free-spending leftist populism and promising to open up Latin America's no.3 economy to investors.

With a short interregnum period - he is due to be sworn in on Dec. 10 - Macri made a whistlestop tour of Brazil and Chile on Friday.

In Chile, one of the region's most developed and stable economies, Macri echoed previous comments that he would seek to improve regional integration.

Argentina and Chile, who came close to blows over the Beagle Channel border dispute during the 1970s, have continued to have on-and-off cool relations in recent decades.

In the mid-2000s, Argentina angered Chile and triggered a diplomatic crisis when it cut off gas exports, as its own supply faltered.

However, exports to Chile could be resumed once Argentine reserves, such as the enormous Vaca Muerta in Patagonia, begin producing, said Macri on Friday, after meeting with Chilean center-left President Michelle Bachelet.

"When Vaca Muerta, Los Molles, begin producing in three to four years we are going to be able to return to export gas from Argentina to Chile, for sure," he said.

In the meantime, the cross-Andean pipes could be used to pump fuel in the other direction, he said.

Chile has almost no hydrocarbons of its own but its Pacific-facing ports can be used to import gas from outside the region.

"If we can substitute imports that we are making via the Atlantic to via the Pacific through Chile, that is something our energy minister is looking at," said Macri.

But Argentina could not think of "foregoing" gas supplies from Bolivia, he said. Run by leftist leader Evo Morales, landlocked Bolivia is currently an important supplier of gas to both Argentina and Brazil. (Reporting by Felipe Iturrieta; Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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