There are far too few examples of good government these days. That’s why Peru, a small commodity-driven economy with an already accomplished new President, deserves more of the world’s attention. Since taking office in July, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, an economist and technocrat uninterested in political ideology, has advanced reform with real support from an opposition-led legislature, in part because he has focused on investments that can directly improve the lives of ordinary people. “If we reduce crime, take strong anticorruption measures, reactivate our economy and invest in quality health, education and basic infrastructure,” he assured me during a recent interview, “people will see that favorably.”
These types of investments take time to improve lives. Kuczynski is no populist, and every President knows that his successor can simply dismantle his accomplishments. “Look at what just happened in the U.S.,” the President said. But “achieving broad-based inclusive growth and addressing the grievances of local populations that feel left behind are the best things we can do to ensure that populist rhetoric does not take hold in Peru again.”
Although Kuczynski shares Donald Trump’s confidence in the economic and political benefits of substantial long-term investment in the country’s failing physical infrastructure, he has a very different attitude toward trade. That’s clear in his government’s commitment to membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an enormous trade deal that Trump has pledged to abandon. “The 11 remaining members could continue to work toward the agreement,” Kuczynski insisted to me. “We would prefer to move forward with the U.S. of course, but if that is not possible, we will work with what we have.”
Where the U.S. steps back, China will continue to step forward. “China is actually our main trading partner, and Peruvian-Chinese relations have never been this good,” Kuczynski told me. Beijing is eager to fill the trade gap with big regional agreements of its own. It’s investing in the infrastructure projects that Kuczynski cares about. China is buying more of Peru’s agricultural products these days, and Kuczynski says he expects to attract growing numbers of Chinese tourists.
Peru’s President has a credible plan for his country’s continued development, and he has already achieved promising early results. He remains committed to the country’s mining sector, but he knows Peru must diversify both its exports and its trade partnerships. Kuczynski knows he must meet the needs of ordinary citizens if he is to boost growth–and remain popular. And he knows his country can’t afford to go it alone.
This appears in the December 12, 2016 issue of TIME.