Experts with first hand knowledge on the region gathered at an Economic House interactive session and did a SWOT on South America.
The Café con Visa
Vinod Surana, Partner & CEO, Surana & Surana International Attorneys
My interaction with South America was propelled by destiny than by any planned action. I was part of the delegation that went to South America. Two days before departure I got an email from CII that I was to head the delegation. I had never led any delegation till then and hence I spent a lot of energy studyng Indo-S America relations in the good 20 hour plus flight.
From Brazil we went to Uruguay, Peru, Argentina and Chile. It was 10 days of non-stop reading, presentations and selling India. I had to speak on Indian GDP, trade, business, corporate houses and culture. We had to promote India and in a subtle manner counter the influence of China. The delegation was a success. Subsequently I led such delegations annually. This helped build relationships in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
In 2010, we brought out a publication on Indo-Uruguayan relations- an investment guide. It was released in Mumbai by the speaker of Uruguayan parliament. We bought out a similar publication for Argentina also. It was released in Buenos Aires in 2011. Slowly relations began to expand. A 62 member delegation of San Luis headed by their Governor visited Chennai last May. San Luis province opened their office here.
During my travel I saw a lot of possibilities. Though large companies like Havel’s, Mahindra, TCS, Infosys, Aurobindo, and United Phosphorous have set up shops, there is a need to encourage medium-sized companies to make use of the rich resources and opportunities.
Though problems of travel and visa existed, these have become things of past. Thanks to the efforts of Indian Ambassadors R Viswanathan and S Swaminathan, the situations have changed dramatically. The Café con visa introduced by R Viswanathan, former ambassador of India to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, caught the attention of many business people. It was 90-day free visa, which could be extended by another 90 days. If you applied for a visa in his office he would invite you for a cup of coffee and before you finish your coffee the visa would be ready!
Trading won’t work out...
Dr R Ravichandran, Secretary General, Indo-LAC Chamber of Commerce & Industry
There are challenges that exist in convincing businessmen, especially Chennai-based, investing in a distant land. My first trip was in 1993. Since then I have travelled 34 times to almost all countries in South America. I have spoken to 100 plus companies about SA. Most foreign delegations land in Delhi, go to Mumbai, Bangalore or Hyderabad for business and Goa to relax. Chennai has been mostly left out and hence I was keen to form a chamber from South. My aim was to create a business model for SME. Big companies do not need us. In 1993 interest rate in Brazil was 10 per cent per month and inflation was 300 per cent; yet there were lot of opportunities to be tapped.
Doing business with South Americans takes more than discussing just business. If you send a formal email, you will never get a response. It takes travel and perseverance to strike business deals. Though the initial investments cost a fortune, a deal signed once is for a lifetime. People think of exporting rice, spice and leather goods. Trading businesses does not last long. Three things are important for successful business: value added products, setting up factories or warehouses in SA and, more importantly, a joint venture partner.