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Chairman's Message

In today’s era of almost instant news and increasingly connected global markets, it never ceases  to  amaze  me  how  little  coverage the  markets of  Latin  America receive  in  the Australian media. When was the last time that you read some insightful article about the business activity in the region  - particularly one authored by an Australian journalist -  or saw a locally-made television program providing an in-depth analysis of issues impacting upon business in the region?

Perhaps a small exception could be made for coverage of the region’s mining sector, which is the primary sector connecting Australia with Latin America, but even there, much more could be said and is warranted. Beyond mining, there are compelling reasons why the region should figure much more prominently in our media and in our thinking.

Just to refresh our memory, let’s list some of the region’s key attributes, including the fact that it occupies some 14% of the earth’s land surface area, has a population estimated at more than 590 million and a GDP in excess of USD 5 trillion; has 25% of the world’s arable land (including 32% of the unused land suitable for farming), has 20% of the world’s fresh water and over 10% of the world’s oil reserves, not to mention that it generates 10% of global agricultural exports, producing over 50% of the world’s soybean exports, over 33% of the world’s corn and 44% of the world’s beef. It also consistently captures 25% of the annual global mining exploration spend.

With those credentials, can there be any doubt that Australia simply cannot afford to ignore the region or to fail in deepening its business relationship with Latin America? It may not enjoy the geographic proximity or growth rates of the Asian markets, nor be as complementary for the Australian economy as the markets of Asia, but it is increasingly relevant to Australia  and holds extensive and worthwhile opportunities that our companies are well-positioned to exploit.

Failure to embrace Latin America adequately will mean that Australia will forgo opportunities that are there for the taking and will result in other nations enhancing their competitive prospects at our expense. We need to understand the growing links between Latin America and Asia, and to appreciate that they can impact upon Australia. We need to be far more engaged with the region, far more creative in our thinking and much more assertive in our action. And we need to act quickly.

What media coverage there  is,  tends to be dominated by  commentators and analysts from overseas, who in turn lack an understanding of the particular perspectives that Australia needs to take when evaluating developments in Latin America. It a lso tends to be relatively superficial and lacking the hard-hitting analysis that is required if Australian business is to successfully identify the opportunities on offer and the strategies that need to be implemented to ensure a successful entry into the regi on. Current reporting tends to focus on the ‘black and white’ extremes, but to lack the subtle investigation of the far larger grey areas.

Which of our peak business organisations are actively monitoring Latin America and promoting the region? Which local think ta nk is producing comprehensive analysis of how Australia can engage and profit from Latin America? Apart from Austrade’s former chief economist, Tim Harcourt, which local economists are sufficiently knowledgeable about Latin America and actively presenting on the region? Who are the local opinion shapers and creative thinkers who have the requisite knowledge of Latin America to be advocating why and how we should be embracing the region?

Despite these laments, the picture is not entirely bleak. Far too much does remain to be done, but we can draw encouragement from the gains that are being made.

A growing number of Australian companies are going to the region, with an increasing number of them being from outside the mining sector. Furthermore, a growing number of our world-class universities are expanding their links with counterparts in the region and with the companies that are active in the region. The pool of talented graduates and executives that have combined Australian-Latin American experience is growing and they will bring about enhanced trade and investment flows between the markets. Beyond business and academia, other links are being built and expanded, including in the areas of sport, the arts, t ourism and many more. All will yield positive dividends.

To facilitate this process, we need to ensure that all stakeholders interested in the Australia-Latin America relationship play their part and make their voices heard. As we approach 2014   - the year when this Council celebrates the 25th  anniversary of its founding - give some thought to what YOU can do to help build the relationship between Australia and Latin America.

Jose Blanco, Chairman

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