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Hamburgers in Montevideo?

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I’ll bite.  Uruguay’s beef and energy sectors are steps ahead.

While it may not fit everyone’s definition of an emerging market, Uruguay sounds like a dynamic place.  The country’s Investment Promotion Agency and other investment officials recently presented a program in New York highlighting the country’s investment potential, which I attended via a nearly flawless live video feed on the web.

Uruguay boasts some enviable attributes.  Tucked away snugly between Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay has easy access to its Mercosur neighbors (Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay) as well as Chile and the markets of other countries that are Mercosur associates.  The investment team visiting New York claimed that Uruguay has no ethnic or religious conflicts and no natural disasters (not including the prolific paternity of the Paraguayan president, next door).  Stability has attracted multinational investors and employers like Petrobras, Merrill Lynch, Weyerhaeuser and Tata.  “We are a quiet country,” said one of the Uruguayans.

Even better than quiet, Uruguay is smart.  The country is implementing some impressive measures to boost its competitiveness, two of which seemed particularly interesting:

Uruguay is going green.  The country aims to be the regional leader in renewable energies; specifically, biomass and wind.  At the end of 2008, Uruguay established a new laboratory solely for renewable energy that will help to identify investors for renewable energy projects and create jobs.  By 2015 Uruguay will have an additional 500 megawatts of renewable energy on line.

Uruguay also seems to be doing a good job with its large cattle industry, which exports to over 100 countries.  The country’s beef industry is 100% traceable, which sounds especially good to consumers worried about food safety.  Traceability also boosts profits:  Animals registered in Paraguay’s traceability system sell for as much as $0.30 per kilo more than those not registered.  For a 700-pound cow, that means an additional profit of about $93, while the traceability system costs about $4 per animal.  Most of Uruguay’s cattle is grass-fed, and is not subjected to hormone shots.  Neighboring Brazil has a cattle industry that is many times larger than Uruguay, and Brazil declared earlier this year that it would ‘dominate’ the world’s cattle industry within 10 years, but Brazil has had recent difficulties with both foot-and-mouth disease and proving that its own traceability system works.

And not only are they quiet, but the Uruguayans sound downright welcoming.  “We welcome any size investment, from $20,000 to millions,” one of the investment team said.  The investment promotion office also encourages proposals for free-trade zones.

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