Leigh Miller for GlobalAtlanta
Tapping into the Southeast U.S. market via Atlanta is one of the Argentine government’s priorities for growing the country’s exports, which have doubled over the past four years as the economy recovers from crisis, according to Gustavo Martino, director of trade promotion for Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

“Atlanta is one of our priorities,” because the potential for growth in Argentine exports to the Southeast is greater than for other U.S. regions, Mr. Martino told GlobalAtlanta during an interview in his office in Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, on Nov. 23.

“The U.S. market is so huge, we have to regionalize our promotion. In Atlanta and the Southeast, there is room to grow,” he said, adding that Argentine companies are already selling in other markets such as Miami, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Atlanta and the Southeast are relatively untapped markets for Argentine firms, so his office is helping them find partners and export their products here, he said.

Mr. Martino’s department is promoting 12 Argentine sectors to increase exports globally. Following the country’s economic crisis in 2001 caused by massive devaluation of the peso, the government has been promoting exports as one means of reviving the economy.

And it has worked, Mr. Martino said. With a 15 percent annual growth rate, Argentine exports are on target to reach $50 billion this year, up from $25 billion four years ago, he said. The economy as a whole is growing at a rate of 9 percent annually, unemployment has shrunk from 24 percent in 2001 to 10 percent this year, and the percentage of the population living in poverty has decreased from 57 percent in 2001 to 30 percent currently, he said.

Exports, including to Georgia, have contributed to this improvement, said Edgardo Galotti, former deputy consul general of Argentina in Atlanta from 1998-2003, who now works as an adviser to Mr. Martino’s department.

An Argentine trade mission to Georgia last year resulted in various new business relationships, Mr. Galotti said, citing an Argentine company that sold plastic products to Home Depot Inc., one that is supplying Coca-Cola Co. with raw materials and several Argentine wineries that are now distributing to Atlanta.

“Atlanta is a gateway to the Southeast,” said Mr. Martino, noting that Delta Air Lines Inc.’s nonstop flight between Atlanta and Buenos Aires helps to promote business ties. He added that the Argentine Consulate General in Atlanta headed by Carlos Layus has been instrumental in promoting Argentine companies and products in the Southeast.

Mr. Galotti added that while the Argentine private sector was not as familiar with Atlanta during his term at the consulate, visits since then led by Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Craig Lesser to Buenos Aires have increased Georgia’s profile in Argentina.

The new presence of an Argentine-American Chamber of Commerce in Atlanta headed by Carlos Astolfi has also made an impact on business relations, he said.

Atlanta companies such as Cable News Network LP LLLP, Coca-Cola, Georgia Pacific Corp., United Parcel Service Inc. and others have invested some $5 billion in Argentina, Mr. Martino noted.

His department is encouraging Argentine companies exporting auto parts, biotechnology, cosmetics, construction materials, design and fashion, gourmet and organic foods, information technology, leather goods, wines and wood products to look at the Southeast as a viable market.

Argentine exports are doing well not just because of the peso devaluation but because of the high quality of the products, Mr. Martino said.

Argentine wines, such as malbec, are increasingly popular in the U.S., he said. Argentina is also becoming known as an outsourcing location for software development and for call centers. The U.S. is Argentina’s second largest auto parts market after Brazil, he added.

While China is Argentina’s third largest trading partner, the Americas still represent Argentina’s strongest markets, Mr. Martino said. The Argentine foreign affairs minister took a 30-company trade mission to Shanghai and Nanjing in China during the week of Nov. 20.

Member countries of the Mercosur trade bloc are Argentina’s top trading partners, along with the United States, Mr. Martino noted. Although Argentina is staunchly against the U.S.’ policies on agricultural subsidies, the country is open to a free trade agreement with the U.S., particularly for food and agriculture products, he said.

For more information about trading with Argentina, including trade show information or market research and product promotion assistance, visit their Web site. Contact Mr. Martino at (54) (11) 4819-7987. Contact the Argentine consulate in Atlanta at (404) 880-0805.