The governments of Latin America are not noted for their devotion to human rights. And the prospects for any improvement in that direction look dismal. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder: to the businessmen of South Africa, Latin America seems a haven of peace in a troubled world and their sights are firmly set in that direction.
Nervous at the prospect of embargoes imposed by their traditional markets, trade delegations from South Africa have been seen buzzing round the capitals of Latin America. And friendship has now been sealed by the creation of a South Africa-South America Chamber of Commerce.
The volume of business is still relatively small. Brazil’s trade with the Republic is only five per cent of Britain’s with South Africa. But it is going to be important and the shock of Iran’s trade embargo on South Africa has shown just why. AECI, the South African affiliate of Britain’s Imperial Chemical Industries, lost a valuable Iranian market in chemicals and plastics. Now it has already made up a lot of ground in Latin America with sales of PVC, glass and steel.
Construction programmes are a traditional South African interest in South America. GATX-Fuller for example is putting the finishing touches to a cement factory in Uruguay. But sales of consumer items are rising rapidly and so is tourism - in both directions.
The South African Office of Aereolineas Argentina, in the Financial Times of London, claims there is an ,explosion of traffic. South Africa is our fastest growing market’. More than 20,000 holiday-makers from Argentina are due to visit South Africa this year, attracted by the country’s relatively cheap shopping. They can get items like cameras and clothing in Johannesburg at half the prices in Buenos Aires’.