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Seeking closer ties with the UK

Education in Argentina is given a high priority. The result is a nation of extremely well qualified professionals.

But the economic downturn is making it difficult for these skills to be properly utilised and many have been forced into the growing ranks of the unemployed.

Engineering and architecture, in particular, have a vast over-supply. It is no exaggeration to say that in Buenos Aires you are quite likely to have a professional engineer driving your taxi.

The government's cash crisis has slashed public spending and with it jobs in the built environment and construction.

Whereas in the late 1990s construction was one of the most dynamic sectors and grew by around 23%, in 1999 and 2000 recession kicked in, halted growth and put large chunks of the profession out of work.

Add to this the continued popularity of studying engineering and architecture at university, and the prevalence of post graduate studies helped by free university tuition, and the potential resource is huge.

So with an oversupply of highly educated and qualified professional engineers and a dearth of work or money to pay for it, why would any UK firm consider heading to Argentina to find business?

Well clearly, as in most other parts of the world, any UK business attempting to enter the market must add value and specialist expertise to succeed.

Already in place and highly successful is consultant Halcrow. Led by local regional director for Latin America Sergio Sour, the 90-strong local office is leading the way in water and transportation, utilising Halcrow Group resources where necessary but primarily operating as an autonomous unit.

According to Sour, it is vital to operate in this way and often requires him to abandon group policy - or at least bend the rules slightly - so as to translate to the style of business in Argentina and the rest of Latin America.

Similar experiences are reported by Barney Wainwright, who runs the Buenos Aires office of French structural engineering consultant Terrell International. And as country representative for the Institution of Civil Engineers, Wainwright can confirm that there are few other ex-pat engineers around.

Wainwright is attempting to break into markets by working with local firms to offer steel building construction expertise in an environment that has historically used only concrete frame techniques. This, he says, requires getting immersed in clients' needs and processes to identify where steel construction can be applied.

Finding the right local partners is always vital for UK firms when working abroad but according to Helen Deas, first secretary commercial at the British Embassy in Buenos Aires, this is particularly so in Argentina.

'The attitude to the UK is very positive as we are seen as very sensible and trustworthy people to do business with, ' she says. 'Finding a partner is the most important thing - but getting into bed with the wrong one will be a very damaging experience for your business.'

With strong southern European roots, Argentine firms are keen to partner with Europeans. Interestingly, there are already contractors from Germany, Italy, Spain and France working in Argentina, but so far very little involvement from the UK.

Reorganisations within the Department of Trade & Industry have seen Argentina, along with many other countries, taken off the Trade Partners UK export priority list. Nevertheless, TPUK insists it remains an area of special interest.

INFOPLUS For further information about opportunities to do business in Argentina contact Claudia Morales at the British Argentine Chamber of Commerce at the Argentina Embassy on (020) 7495 8730.

British Consultants Bureau:

(020) 7222 3651 www. bcb. co. uk Contact Charles Longstaff at the British Embassy in Buenos Aires 0054 11 4576 2222 www. britain. org. ar

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