The Argentinian-American Chamber of Commerce of the Southeast in Atlanta is being revived thanks to a newly appointed board of directors aiming to capitalize on the country’s recent economic optimism.
While Argentina has faced hiccups in recent months, including a slide in the peso’s value that led to a $50 billion credit line from the International Monetary Fund, the overall trajectory of the economy has been trending toward reform.
The shift is thanks largely to Mauricio Macri, the businessman-turned-president who took power in 2016 promising a drastic turn from the leftist policies of the previous Kirchner administration.
It has taken those two years to persuade local Argentines to let down their guard and get involved with the chamber, said Luigi Perez, who heads up travel company Outland Cuisine and is serving as the chamber’s president.
Many Argentine expatriates in Atlanta who harbored a love of country in their hearts didn’t want to be outwardly associated with a Kirchner government they saw as corrupt, populist and antagonistic to the rest of the world, Mr. Perez said.
“If my government in Argentina was the same as the one before, we would not have a chamber today, because people don’t want to identify with the corruption,” Mr. Perez told Global Atlanta. “We lost a lot of our identity here.”
Mainly, he said, it was hard for the type of businesspeople who move to the U.S. to promote a country with the stringent export and currency controls put in place by the former regime.
Slowly, though, over the course of years (and many lunches) and with coaxing and backing from Argentine Consul General Jorge Lopez Menardi, who was sent to Atlanta by the new government in 2016, the group gained traction.
The chamber held a launch breakfast at the Buckhead Club in late May to announce its revival, reveal the newly constituted board and generate momentum for a slate of events to be held in the fall, including a food and wine festival and a business and trade forum.
At the event, Mr. Menardi said there’s no reason trade between Argentina and the Southeast U.S. shouldn’t be happening at a much greater clip. The problem has been awareness.
“Georgia has the same GDP as Argentina and we only trade $300 million a year. That’s nothing, so the potential is huge,” he said.
Meanwhile, trade in services is already taking off. Film houses are coming to Atlanta, and Argentine software companies have taken notice of the city’s growing tech scene. They’ve targeted the city both for customers and as a base to expand into U.S. market. Mariano Saldana, the Atlanta-based managing director for Lanin Technologies, is doing just that. He’s one of the chamber’s new board members.
At the same time, Atlanta giants like Coca-Cola, Equifax and Turner Broadcasting have major operations in the country, which is also home to Latin American unicorns like Globant, a software firm valued at $1.7 billion, and MercadoLibre, an e-commerce portal valued at $6.5 billion. Atlanta financial technology company BitPay, which processes cryptocurrency payments, put an office in Argentina in 2014, as companies and individuals were turning to bitcoin as a hedge against inflation and to transfer cash offshore.
In addition to constant advocacy from local stalwarts like Argentine attorney Guillermo Wasserman of the Wasserman West law firm, Mr. Perez credited the current board for putting forth the financial backing needed to get the chamber off the ground.
He also praised Gabriel Botto, who heads up the Monster energy drink business for Coca-Cola globally. The Argentina native got involved with the chamber directly after moving to Atlanta from Italy.
At the May breakfast, Mr. Botto said the board has already reached out to potential partner organizations in Argentina, laying the groundwork for exchanges.
“Our intention is to be a platform to develop trade and investment. We want this to be a two-way dialogue from Argentina to Atlanta,” he said.
Mr. Perez said the Argentina Food, Wine and Culture Festival in early October will provide a great first touchpoint. He signed a participation agreement with Rio Negro. The southern province plans to send chefs, food companies and even a scientist who will share how such a dry climate produces such a bounty of crops. Another region is looking to promote at the festival its use of the culinary arts to advance the cause of economic inclusion.
Mr. Perez said the chamber hopes to foster university and research exchanges, even as it focuses on media and entertainment and information technology.
The new Argentine American Chamber of Commerce Southeast board of directors is as follows:
- Luigi Perez, Outland Cuisine founder and president
- Gabriel Botto, Coca-Cola
- Oscar Infante, Turner
- Sebastian Souto, Souto Foods president
- Josh Weinrobe, former Turner; digital media consultant and Emory Goizueta Business School lecturer
- Guillermo Wasserman, partner at Wasserman West law firm
- Maria Pia Candotti-Sherman, Argentine Attorney & Escribana
- Pedro Dorado, Eversheds Sutherland law firm
- Constanza Demmel, COO, TECME
- Mariano Saldana, managing director, Lanin Technologies
- Jorge Lopez Menardi, consul general of Argentina in Atlanta
Read more: Argentina — New Day or False Dawn?
Learn more: http://aaccse.org