The Airport Economist: Next stop, doing business in Latin America


Over 2016 and 2017, I hosted a show The Airport Economist on how to do business in Asia. In a 12-part series, sponsored by Qantas, The World of Hyatt, ANZ Banking Group, Australia Post, Telstra, Blackmores and the Government of South Australia, we examined the economic trends of the Asian region and looked at how businesses – Australian and international – had entered the variety of Asian marketplaces on offer.

The trade opportunities and investment environments were vast and varied. In South East Asia, we discovered Singapore slings plenty of trade our way, in Indonesia it was the year of living prosperously, in Malaysia, you could try a MAFTA with your LAKSA, in Bangkok there were the Thais that bind and in Ho Chi Minh City we dubbed the episode Good Exporting Vietnam.

In North East Asia, in Japan, we studied the Arrows of Abeonomics and explored if size does matter and if demography really is destiny. In South Korea, in looking at international diplomacy with APEC and G20 etc, we found that Australia and South Korea had become Seoul mates. In China, we studied Panda-monium and compared the great mall of China and studied that other emerging economic superpower India in a grip of Modi-mania.

We then thought where else could we go in Asia. After all, Myanmar is opening up, in Mongolia there’s Genghis Khan-nomics, or we could explore Kazakhstan and the Eurasian region.

 Or should we go to the Middle East – in Israel, Tim Tams to Tel Aviv, Sheik, Model and Mall in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, or Prosperous on the Bosporus in Turkey? Or in Africa, in South Africa what would we call it? Free Trade Nelson Mandela?

In the UK, we are filming a Brexit special, but if we were to go to Europe, would we call it ‘Europhobia’, “Euro-sclerosis” or even “Eurovision” (although that’s already taken). Or given the fiscal issues plaguing the region, due to a self-inflicted common currency, we could call it “My Big Fat Greek Debt”?

And across the Atlantic is the time ripe for a show on the US economy given the current trade policy antics of the White House in flirting with protectionism and isolationism – or it may just be trade policy on twitter?

However, with all this noise in the world economy, we thought there is one region that stands out in terms of openness – Latin America.

That’s why we are here producing The Airport Economist Latin America series to be shown on Sky News, Seven, A Plus in partnership with LATAM Airlines the World of Hyatt, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) via the Council of Australia Latin America Relations (COALAR), CSIRO and the Government of Victoria. We’ve had some preparations with Great Southern Lands (launched by Bob Carr when he was Foreign Minister) and Latin Lessons by current Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

We’ve just been in Peru for our first episode of ‘Incanomics’ together with Peru’s new talented Trade Commissioner, Mario Vargas looking at why Peru is becoming a ‘superfoods superpower’ with a strong agricultural sector searching for markets in Asia and beyond. We also interviewed Australian Ambassador to Peru Nick McCaffrey about the opportunities in agribusiness, mining and professional services in the new Peru Australia Free Trade Agreement (PAFTA) which will eliminate 99 per cent of tariffs eliminated for Australian exporters in Peru. 

Chile’s commitment to free trade has allowed it to access 80 per cent of the world economy

In the second episode Red Hot Chile peppers the world with FTAs, we looked at Chile the ‘Andean Jaguar’ (as opposed to the Asian Tigers) to see what Chile’s commitment to free trade has allowed it to access 80 per cent of the world economy with its 26 FTAs spread over 65 countries reaching 4 billion global consumers.

At Expomin, one of the world’s largest mining shows, which attracts 1,300 exhibitors from over 35 countries, we interviewed a number of Australian mining engineering, technology and services companies with a strong footprint in Latin America including Duratray a Chilean Australian business manufacturing mining trucks, as well as Swann Global and Gekko Systems.

In Santiago, I also interviewed Orlando Jimenez from CSIRO Chile who explained how they lead innovation in several areas, including aquaculture, foodtech, medtech  as well as mining and mining technology. The Australian Ambassador Robert Fergusson also explained Chile’s attraction to Australia with 230 Australian companies established and/or brands represented in Chile – more than double the presence in any other LATAM country and Victoria’s Trade and Investment representative Natalia Gorrono, explained the reason for her state’s presence in Santiago as a Gateway to Latin America boosted by the new Santiago-Melbourne service by LATAM Airlines.

After Peru and Chile, we will look to that other Great Southern Land, Brazil, follow up on Argentina (see “Don’t buy from me, Argentina”) to see how it is recovering under Macri nomics (with President Macri) as it hosts the G20 in 2018. We will also look at Uruguay, the plucky country, the Mexico Moment and Colombia’s premium blend, with its vastly talented human capital. We also look to explore Ecuador, which as reached a target of 90 per cent renewable energy.

 So, why did we choose Latin America?

It’s partly because of rocks and crops – the resources sector that we are here to celebrate but also agriculture – as we add the dining boom to the mining boom. And of course, the technology and professional services we value add to the mining sector. Innovation is in the mines and in the farms, it’s not only some cool hipster in Surry Hills, San Francisco or the trendy part of Santiago or Sao Paulo. Just a look at the great Mining and Mining Engineering Technology and Services (METS) companies at Latin America Down Under was hard evidence of this with great innovative companies like Latin Resources, Hot Chili, Azure Minerals, Sol Gold, First Quantum, Crusader, and Dark Horse explaining their success.

Secondly, Latin America and Australia have become natural allies in the world trading system from the Cairns Group in the WTO to now the G20, APEC and the role that the Pacific Alliance plays in keeping economies open

This is important given the current disruption to trade and immigration in the global economy today where nations like Australia and our friends in Latin America can make the case for openness

In that journey, education will play an important role and Latin America is making its presence felt in Australian education already with future generations in good hands.

We already have strong presence of students from Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Argentina in Australia and their contribution – particularly in MBA classes is high quality.

And the AGSM also added a Doing business in Latin America study trip to its successful Asian course in 2015. And the case for education and immigration should be made as well as the case for trade and investment. So it just proves that being open to not only trade and investment, but ideas and people, will be why Latin America and Australia can succeed in the 21st century

Thanks for being part of that journey with us and I’ll see you at a mine, a lab, a farm, a hotel or at an airport somewhere during the series.

This post is based on an address Tim gave to Latin America Down Under, Perth, Western Australia 16- 17 May 2018