25/05/2004 - 22:00

Missing a Latin beat

25/05/2004 - 22:00

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THE recent positive economic performance by countries in South America has prompted Western Australia’s Latin America Business Association Inc (WALABAI) to foster local business interest in that part of the world.

Missing a Latin beat

THE recent positive economic performance by countries in South America has prompted Western Australia’s Latin America Business Association Inc (WALABAI) to foster local business interest in that part of the world.

Interest in South America among Western Australian businesses has lagged in the past few years.

Parts of South America are sometimes perceived negatively by business because of the distance from Australia and/or their political or economical risk.

But WALABAI vice-president Alan Barker said things were changing and many South American countries were developing and moving into positive growth.

He said South America, with a population of nearly 500 million, had huge market potential, and urged those looking for new opportunities to contact the association.

The region’s GDP has moved from negative territory two years ago (-1.1 per cent) to 2.2 per cent last year and is expected to reach 3.1 per cent this year.

Confirming the region’s development, BHP Billiton CEO Chip Goodyear, on a visit to Perth earlier this year, noted South America as a major developing economy, behind India and China.

Despite the region’s emerging presence Mr Barker, who lived in Argentina for more than 20 years, said Western Australian businesses were ignoring opportunities in the South American market – particularly in the region’s vast mining sector.

“We believe South America should be more of a priority than it is,” he said.

“Significantly, Latin America is an important mining region.”

Mr Barker said many Western Australian companies felt disinclined to look at the opportunities available in that part of the world.

WALABAI has embarked on a tour of major regional centres in WA to spread the word about South American business opportunities.

As well as the metropolitan area, businesses in Bunbury, Kalgoorlie, Geraldton and potentially Port Hedland are being targeted by WALABAI.

The association’s membership has dropped from about 50 three years ago to present levels of around 30 – a reflection of the local trading interest in South America, Mr Barker said.

While he conceded that some countries in the north of South America remained a concern, on the whole much of “bad press” the region received was in the past.

“There is a mindset that the place is not worth going too,” Mr Barker said.

“But I have taken many trade delegations over there and people are staggered at the market and the ease of doing business.”

In terms of travel time, Mr Barker said, South America was as close as the US or Europe, and was more culturally aligned with Australia than Asian countries.

Austrade’s WA manager Jenny Mathews said opportunities for WA companies in South America existed in areas such as mining, oil and gas technology, telecommunications, ITC, infrastructure, agribusiness and computer software.

Austrade has offices in Argentina, Peru, Brazil and Chile.

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