Rocking in Latin America

South America has a mix of well-established and developing mining regions where Queensland’s technology and expertise are highly regarded. Austrade expert Crispin Conroy tells Brisbane Business News how mining services, water management and agribusiness present great opportunities. We also speak to Ludowici and GroundProbe about their operations in South America.

QUEENSLAND and South America may specialise in similar sectors but instead of viewing the continent as a competitor, many Brisbane-based companies are opting for cooperation instead.

Austrade senior trade commissioner for Latin America Crispin Conroy, says while many countries in the region compete with Queensland in similar areas, they cater to different markets and Australian expertise is in high demand.

“The primary opportunity for Queensland companies is in the mining services and technology sector – Queensland has an active part in Chile, Peru, Colombia and Brazil,” says Conroy.

“Another area of interest is coal with the opportunity to sell to those countries, as well as clean coal technology which the Queensland Government has been supporting.”
On the other hand, Colombia is one of the major coal exporters in the world so there are many opportunities for Brisbane-based companies to provide equipment and service system advice there.

He says there is strong participation from Queensland in mining exhibitions in South America, including Chile’s Expomin which will take place in May 2010, as well as similar expos in Brazil and Peru that are set for September this year.

There is also strong export potential for water and environmental management consulting, as well as agribusiness due to the state’s expertise in animal genetics.

“Sinclair Knight Merz has been dealing in consulting services for water and environmental management practices – some places, even if they do have water they don’t develop their water systems well,” says Conroy.

Mining service expansion

GroundProbe chief commercial officer David Noon says in the current economic climate mining operations are digging more aggressively than before, leading to deeper and steeper open pit mines where the risk of rock wall failure has risen.

Open pit mines are prevalent in Chile and Peru, where the Brisbane-based company has 18 instalments of its real time monitoring system which anticipates the sort of rock falls and slope failures that can be disastrous for mine workers and equipment.

“We do know that it has saved lives, there’s no doubt about it — It also protects equipment, so if our service wasn’t there you’d have a loss of capital as well as a loss in production,” says Noon.

“We have anticipated over 200 rock falls and provided greater than two hours of warning – for a small proportion of rock falls we have given between five minutes to two hours warning.”

He estimates that between 25 per cent to 40 per cent of GroundProbe’s sales revenues come from Chile and Peru, with 15 staff out of 60 globally.

The mining service provider has an office in Chile’s capital Santiago but expects to open a new office in the northern city of Antofagasta by early 2010, along with expansion plans into Brazil in the future.

Be where the customers are
For Ludowici’s Eddie McKerr, who helped initiate the company’s venture into Chile in 2003, South American operations are a ‘natural extension’ of Ludowici’s place in the mining industry.

When the operations started out there were just three staff but that number has since increased to 18, with work in the continent generating 10 per cent of Ludowici’s global revenues.
“We supply capital equipment to the mining industry and our reach extends from Santiago to Peru, Argentina, Bolivia and Colombia,” says McKerr.

“The region itself has a healthy respect for Australian technology and if you have a demonstrated technological advantage they’re very receptive to it.”

With an office in Santiago and satellite offices in Antofagasta and Arequipa in Peru, McKerr says another advantage is the high quality of the employee talent pool in South America.

“The quality of the people there is also very high and we’ve had engineers over there that we’ve brought back to Australia. They’re very well qualified,” he says.

He points out that while Chile has mines that are well-established dating back to the 1930s, the mining industry in Peru, Argentina and Bolivia is relatively under-developed.

“We wanted to be there in time for the growth and our value proposition to customers is to be where they are,” he says.

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