Doing Business in Argentina
Argentina shares with Chile the southernmost tip of South America and the world’s third longest border. It is the world’s eighth largest country in terms of surface and stretches, from tip to toe, a distance of 4,000 km, a distance similar to that between London and Baghdad.
Beside from the recurrent images of tango, football, good wines and beef, Argentina is also the world’s 21st largest economy (IMF WEO 10/12), the second largest in South America, similar to The Netherlands or Saudi Arabia: twice the size of Chile, Austria, Norway or Switzerland and three times the size of Finland or the United Arab Emirates to name but a few. Its 40.1 million inhabitants generate the second highest per capita GDP in South America, currently US$ 18,205 (IMF WEO 10/12).
The capital of Argentina is Buenos Aires. It is a sophisticated and buoyant city of 12.8 million, influential in the region and jointly ranked with Mexico and Sao Paulo as the top city in Latin America according to Loughborough University’s Globalisation and World Cities research project (2010).
The Argentine economy has grown the last ten years with an average growth of 7.3% and with estimates of over 2.5% growth for 2012 and higher for 2013.
Strengths of the market
In brief these are:
- Argentina is the second largest economy in South America
- Varied and significant reserves of natural resources (food, minerals, hydrocarbons)
- Second manufacturing capability (in output and diversity) in South America
- Qualified labour and work force
- Level of sophistication of the market
- Part of Mercosur, the common market of southern South America
- Entry route to other Spanish speaking markets in the Southern Cone
- Buenos Aires is the hub for the country so your one stop shop in most industry sectors
- Familiar, European business culture
- Together with Brazil, the only two countries in Latin America with direct daily flights from the UK
- 3 hour time difference with the UK (4 hours during Argentina’s winter/UK summer)
Opportunities in Argentina
Argentina offers a wide range of business opportunities. It has a large industrial base that has been favoured in recent years by a number of measures. This means that although opportunities for the exports of finished products abound, they will be in different niches and subsectors and not all across the board.
Target sectors identified by UK Trade & Investment are listed below, However, a wide range of UK goods and services are demanded in Argentina where they have a reputation for quality and innovation:
- Education and Training
- Environment & Water
- Food and Drinks
- ICT (Mobile + Internet)
- Life Sciences (CRO + Telemedicine)
- Non conventional oil and gas
- Sustainable Construction
Trade between UK and Argentina
Argentina’s foreign trade is more or less evenly divided between Mercosur (the Common Market of the South), the EU, NAFTA and Asean countries.
UK Exports to Argentina in 2012 fell by 7% year on year to £355m. The list of products exported from the UK is varied. The UK’s top ten exports to Argentina are:
- Medicines and pharmaceutical products
- Non Ferrous Metals
- Chemical materials
- Road vehicles
- Power-generating equipment
- Specialist industrial machinery
- Miscellaneous manufactured articles
- Organic chemicals
- General industrial machinery
- Professional and scientific instruments
- Live animals
In 2012, Argentina exported £609m to the UK, an increase of 3% compared to 2011. Argentina exports to the UK include animal feedstuffs, meat, fruit & vegetables, beverages and vegetable oils. The UK is Argentina’s largest European market for wines.
It is important to note that the fall in British Exports to Argentina matched the overall reduction of Argentine imports of 7%. This is a relatively low fall, in the context of Argentine measures designed to make importing more difficult that have affected Argentina’s largest trading partner, Brazil with a reduction of 18% in their exports to Argentina.
The UK is an important investor in Argentina with 120 UK companies owning operations in Argentina including 30 FTSE 100 companies. UK companies continue to have an important stake in sectors such as pharmaceuticals (GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca), financial services (HSBC, RSA & Willis), consumer goods (Unilever, Reckitt Benckiser), and energy (BP and Shell). Some of these companies have been operating in Argentina for over 100 years.
Argentina is well known for its economic crises. What is less known is its ability to bounce back rapidly. The last of these crises took place in 2001/02 when GDP fell by 11%, the currency devaluated to a fourth of its value and Argentina defaulted on its sovereign debt. Since then, Argentina’s economy has grown by an average of 7.3% for the last ten years. 2012 finished with a growth of 2.6% and estimates place growth for 2013 above that figure. Argentina has repaid its debt with IMF and in two stages reached an agreement with 93% of its private creditors. Asides from this 7% referred to as “hold outs”, Argentina is still in arrears with an approximate US$ 6 billion debt to the Paris Club, the lack of payment of which can be attributed largely to political rather than economic reasons.
Imports exceeded pre-crisis levels in 2004 and international reserves reached an all time record of US$ 52.6 billion in February 2011. International reserves currently (December2012) stand at US$ 43 billion. Argentina also has a healthy balance of payment with exports exceeding imports by US$ 12.7billion in 2012. Much of this economic activity has been supported by record world prices for grains, of which Argentina is one of the top 5 global exporters.
Argentina is resource rich, self sufficient in foodstuffs, power and has substantial reserves of oil & gas. It is the world’s top ten producer of 26 agricultural commodities (FAO 2010). It also boasts South America’s second largest industrial base both in terms of output and variety of goods produced. Currently some of the most promising business opportunities are to be found in adding value to Argentina’s export sectors such as agriculture, oil & gas, petrochemicals and design.
Argentina is also an online power. Spanish is the world´s third most prolific online language and the one with the highest per capita spending power per cyber-user. Argentina produces 50% of the World’s online Spanish language content, and Facebook penetration is 12th highest in the world. It has the highest mobile phone penetration in the America’s (147%, more than the UK) and the highest Android penetration which offers great opportunities for British content on the networks. Large public works like the replication of a second 50,000km broadband backbone will increase business opportunities in these market sectors.
On the bilateral front there are areas where the UK really shines. As an example, 120 British acts have played in Buenos Aires in the last 20 months including a worldwide record of ten consecutive shows for Roger Waters’ The Wall performed in front of a total 700,000 people and for which the artist himself raised US$ 40 million.
Science and innovation collaboration presents significant opportunities too. Argentine innovation investment per capita outstrips all other South American countries except Uruguay and Brazil (eg by a ratio of nearly 2:1 compared to Chile and 7:1 compared to Colombia).The British economy benefits from a large number of Argentine technicians and innovators based in UK companies and research institutes, and the high quality of collaborations (e.g. Argentina researchers’ articles with UK partners are more successful than those they have with any of their other top-ten collaborators [source: Royal Society]).
Argentina is one of the five members of MERCOSUR, the Southern Cone Common Market, which came into effect on 1 January 1995 with a programme for the phased elimination of internal tariffs and the introduction of a common external tariff. With a population of 275 million, the 2011 total output from the five Mercosur countries was US$ 3,471 bn, making this grouping the world’s fifth largest economy and equalling 74% of the South American output. Mercosur comprises Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. Bolivia, Chile and Peru are associate members. Mercosur internal trade has increased annually, but relations have been strained in the past few years by the effects of the Brazilian and Argentine devaluations and internal trading disputes as well as by the other members suspending Paraguay while they examine the legality of their Presidential change. Mercosur is negotiating a trade agreement with the EU, but progress has stalled in recent years.