Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 18:22 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 18:22 | SYDNEY

Latin America: Opportunity knocks


Martine Letts

25 September 2012 14:58

Now is Latin America's moment in the sun, pronounced John Grill, the long serving chief executive of global company Worley Parsons, at the annual dinner of the Australia-Latin America Business Council in Sydney last week.

In Australia, we have been a little slow in catching on to this fact but there are signs this is changing. The political and economic transformation of Latin America has generated greater prosperity and stability and has made it an increasingly attractive destination for international business. Australian businesses, especially in the mining sector, have led the way and there are growing opportunities in the education, tourism, energy and environmental technology sectors.

Latin America has looked to Australia and the Pacific to provide models for its own developmental aspirations; the recent visit to Australia by President Sebastian Pinera of Chile was the most recent testament to the extraordinary opportunities for both continents. 

Pinera's speech at the Lowy Institute provided a vivid example of one Latin American country's determined and steady path to greater prosperity and a progressive reduction of poverty through greater engagement with the outside world. This includes an open economy, friendly investment climate and determination to invest in its people through education. 

Pinera' s speech revealed that Australia has been a role model for Chile's economic development. Chile is also now at the stage where some its social and economic policies can be a model for other developing countries; one member of the audience suggested that Chile's pension scheme would be an excellent model for Burma.

Australia and Brazil are the two largest economies in the southern hemisphere and those who think and talk about these things acknowledge that greater mutual engagement is long overdue.

Mutual lack of awareness of the opportunities remains an impediment to building closer economic and political links between Australia and Latin America. Yet more than ever we face common challenges as a consequence of the shift of economic and geo-strategic weight from the North Atlantic to Asia, dominated by China. This shift will shape our destinies, and as resource dependent economies we share the challenges of China's rise to our economies, trade and investment policies, and even our political culture.

These questions were the subject of the Melbourne Latin America Dialogue in August hosted by the University of Melbourne which attracted more than 200 local and international delegates and 60 speakers from the world of business, government, academia and science. The Lowy Institute was there and spoke to numerous delegates. What emerged from this conference and our interviews was that what unites Australia and Latin America is much greater than what divides us and that distance is preeminently psychological.

Over the next week we will post some of our interviews with the participants who provided fascinating insights into the relationship and the exciting opportunities for closer engagement between Australia and Latin America. Above is my talk with Dr Wendy Jarvie from UNSW and Dr Sean Burgess from the ANU about why Australian higher and vocational eduction should be so attractive to Latin America, and why Australia should learn more about Latin America.

Look out for our next video on Australia and Brazil from the Brazilian perspective, which includes some fascinating polling on how Brazil views its place in the world and how little Brazilians know about Australia.

Also to be posted soon is a video looking at common political and economic challenges for Australia and Latin America in China, and the need to cement the political and economic relationships between the two continents.