By Kate Madley

Argentina’s rugby team is in Wales this weekend for the first match of the autumn international series at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

This match is well-established in the sporting the calendar, but do we give much thought to the potential for stronger business links with the country we are playing?

Argentina is Latin America’s second largest economy and its 40 million inhabitants enjoy the continent’s highest GDP per capita of US $15,570.

“There are 40 million sophisticated consumers in Argentina who want the latest designer and high tech goods,” says Rhodri Morgan, former First Minister for Wales.

“There are a number of opportunities for Welsh manufacturers in this respect. I also think there are opportunities in infrastructure with Argentina’s substantial investment in improving their transport systems.”

“After the Argentine economic collapse in 1999 there hasn’t been the volume of bilateral trade between Wales and Argentina. However, Latin America has been growing healthily in recent years and there are now many opportunities for trade.”

Like most of the world, Argentina’s economy contracted in 2009, but since then the country has enjoyed high growth rates of 8% in 2010 and 7% in 2011. Growth of 4% is forecast for 2012.

UK exports to Argentina increased by 16% in 2011 to £383 million, and a recent report by UKTI identified life sciences, creative design and ICT as just some of the goods and services in demand from UK businesses.

Connections between Wales and Argentina extend beyond trade and sporting ties as the 150th anniversary of Welsh settlers in Patagonia approaches in 2015.

Today, the Chubut region in Argentina has a population of 550,000 of which 50,000 claim to have some Welsh ancestry, and it is estimated that 5,000 speak the Welsh language.

The Welsh settlers in Patagonia introduced a number of well known traditions such as ‘torta galesa’ meaning Welsh cake and the Eisteddfod del Chubut, an annual event of poetry and song competition held in Spanish and Welsh.

“We share very similar cultural tastes with Argentina, they enjoy nothing more than steak and mash potato, and if you define yourself as Welsh in Argentina you can expect a warm reception,” says Rhodri Morgan, who visited Patagonia in 2001 where a memorandum of understanding was signed between Wales and Chubut.

“Wales has had a significant role in Argentina because of our links with Patagonia. It was our influence that resulted in a referendum rather than war over the land dispute between southern Argentina and Chile in 1881; this has always put Wales in a positive light to the indigenous community. The Welsh and Mapuche and Tehuelche Indian tribes have a harmonious history, we can also be legitimately proud of this.”

“In Wales we need to work hard on raising our profile. I have read recently that there are 170 million people who claim Irish descent globally. Wales does not have the luxury of this number of ambassadors, and that is why networking opportunities are so important.”

Argentina may seem a long way from Wales, but the time difference is only three hours making daily communication easier – as long as you work on some Spanish.

“One significant challenge in doing business in Argentina is the language barrier – you need to be competent in Spanish because English is not a second language to the country,” says the former First Minister.

“And the Falklands dispute is a difficult situation politically, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities for trade.”