Next week Carlos Menem will make the first trip by an Argentinian president to the UK since the 1960s. He arrives with talk of South American countries like Argentina veering between two extremes - the promise of becoming the new Tiger economies or being the next to catch the Asian financial flu.
Most of the world's attention is focused on Brazil, which as the region's largest market is its economic bellwether. The huge country has a fundamentally sound economy, but like many Asian casualties it has been severely stretched. As any decline could have a severe impact on its neighbours, Brazil needs to be watched closely.
But it is Memem's nation which could offer some of the most significant opportunities for UK firms.
The events of 1982, when the Argentinian armed forces occupied the Falkland Islands and were forcibly ejected by Britian, have been largely forgotten. UK household names like Cadbury, British Gas, Rolls Royce and Reebok, among many others, are doing good business there.
These firms have largely made an entry into the market on the back of a massive privatisation process which is now winding down. However, this is proving to be the cue for an increase in infrastructure expenditure.
For a country with a land area big enough to accommodate most of western Europe, Argentina has historically under-invested in its infrastructure. Now, as this shortfall starts to hinder newly privatised and growing industries, the private sector is putting its hand in its own pocket to fund schemes in most areas.
Construction output in 1997 reached around pounds12bn, a 20% rise on the previous year. No similar increase is expected this year, given the dip in economic confidence, but growth is still likely to be around the 8% mark.
The majority of the opportunities are likely to arise in:
Ports: Plans worth pounds700M are in the pipeline, including a major upgrade of Buenos Aires port.
Rail: Projects valued at over pounds2bn are on the stocks including two Buenos Aires Metro projects.
Water: As privatisation moves into the provinces, work on new treatment plants is expected.
Bridges: A pounds600M crossing of the River Plate to Colonia in Uruguay is planned.
Housing: Private mortgages are becoming widely available for the first time, fuelling a boom.
In Chile, the scale of planned projects is less ambitious, but its own privatisation process is at an earlier stage and could offer more opportunities.
The country has been a democracy since 1994 and has earned a reputation as one of South America's most stable. But its reasonably high exposure to the Asian crisis has caused increasing market nervousness and forced the Government to reduce public spending. However, to compensate, Chile is accelerating infrastructure privatisation, hoping that new private sector cash will bolster the construction sector. This is expected to grow by 2.5% in 1998, compared to 8% in 1997.
The main opportunities for civils firms in Chile are:
Water: One major company privatisation under way and another planned next year should yield projects worth pounds600M.
Ports: Privatisation of all public sector ports starts this year with the three largest. The remaining eight will be sold in 1999 and should see pounds750M of investment in the next 10 to 15 years.
Highways: around pounds1.3bn of concessions are to be brought forward, mainly in urban areas, with project values in excess of pounds125M. The pounds300M Chacao Channel Suspension bridge and approach is planned for 2001.