SANTIAGO, May 25 (Reuters) - Italian infrastructure company Astaldi is looking to expand into Argentina, the company's chairman said on Thursday, as it vies for contracts in a massive government infrastructure push.
The firm is examining several Argentine highway contracts, Paolo Astaldi said in a telephone interview in Santiago. He was in Chile for the start of construction of the state-of-the-art European Extremely Large Telescope, in which an Astaldi-led consortium is participating.
"We are very much interested in Argentina," said Astaldi. "So we're looking at that, and maybe we'll get some projects toward the end of the year."
Argentina's center-right government is boosting infrastructure spending, which it says is needed to make up for decades of underinvestment. It hopes that new projects will create jobs, spur sluggish growth and win over skeptical voters ahead of important elections.
It has announced billions of dollars of planned improvements to railways, roads and airports, which have attracted interest from foreign companies that have not historically been major Argentine investors.
Astaldi added that the company was interested in ambitious proposals to connect Argentina and Chile by digging tunnels under the Andes mountains. A key project is the Agua Negra tunnel, which would connect the two countries' northern regions for about $1.5 billion.
Chile, like Argentina, is also undergoing an infrastructure buildout. The company had not found a highway project of interest, Astaldi said, but was keeping a close eye on future developments at Chuquicamata, a huge copper mine belonging to state-owned company Codelco, that awarded Astaldi a $460 million contract in 2016 to build underground tunnels.
In recent years, the Italian company has been seeking to internationalize its operations. By the first quarter, over 80 percent of its revenue was international, and Astaldi said that share would likely remain stable or grow slightly.
A number of potential markets that the company has eyed, such as Cuba, remained "very interesting," Astaldi said.
(Reporting by Gram Slattery, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Richard Chang)