Among Peru's many agricultural innovations is growing grapes in the Ica desert.

When Miguel Aleman was posted at Peru’s embassy in Beijing in the early 2000s, he started to see South American table grapes popping up at Chinese New Year celebrations. 

The only problem? They were coming in from neighboring Chile, not his country. The diplomat, now Peru’s consul general in Atlanta, sent word back to Lima about the potential missed opportunity in one of the world’s largest markets. 

“We were just at the beginning of this agricultural development,” Mr. Aleman said at the Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Georgia’s final networking breakfast of the year Nov. 15. 

Fast forward nearly two decades, and agriculture has become a huge foreign exchange earner for Peru and has helped fuel an annual economic growth rate that is nearly unrivaled in the world. The “Peruvian Miracle,” as some have called it, reduced poverty rates from more than half the population in 2000 to just 20.7 percent today. 

Miguel Aleman, right, addressed an audience at the Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Georgia’s final networking breakfast of the year Nov. 15.

“Not even China got rid of poverty at the same level as Peru,” he said, crediting a combination of sound policy and openness to trade. 

Grapes are just one avenue: More valuable for Peru are asparagus (Peru is the top global exporter), mangoes, avocados, blueberries and even sweet onions that are sent to Georgia in the off-season to replace Vidalias.

Mr. Aleman emphasized food as a major business opportunity while underscoring Peru’s recent success at the breakfast. 

Of the nearly 7 billion in exported from Peru to its free-trade agreement partner in the U.S., Georgia only imports about $117 million, partly because imports are calculated at the port of entry, and Georgia ports have trailed places like Miami and northern ports in the food trade. 

There are regulatory reasons for that, and the Georgia Ports Authority is aggressively courting more Peruvian business, but Mr. Aleman said more is to be done to foster recognition on both sides. Peruvians gravitate toward Miami, to the point that one estimate puts their ownership of the city’s residential real estate at 3 percent of the entire market, he said. 

“I have tried to persuade some Peruvian investors — I asked them, Why do you always go to Miami? Why not Atlanta?” he said. “In Miami, they feel at home. They can cross the street and have a very nice ceviche with fresh fish brought from Peru on the first airplane of the morning. Here, we have ceviche of frozen tilapia.”

He noted that Miami’s abundance of direct flights to Lima an speaking Spanish in everyday life are significant draws. Atlanta just has one nonstop daily flight to Lima. Delta celebrated its 20th anniversary of the route in August.

Georgia faces the same problem with other South American nations — it’s not just Peru. 

“A lot of people win South America don’t know where we are,” said Alejandro Coss, the LACC Georgia’s president, who noted that they tend to look first at New York, Florida and California. “We are like the hole in the donut.” 

One promising move: The Georgia Department of Economic Development opened an office in Lima and has been taking interested companies there. 

A few businesspeople in the audience asked what the next step would be if they were to seek business in Mr. Aleman’s country. He said the consulate can be a “facilitator” locally but that he would also put them in touch with the Peruvian trade office — in Miami. 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...