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Delivering a keynote address at the 2008 Kellogg Latin American Business Conference on May 17 was Joaquim Tres, a senior adviser at the Inter-American Development Bank.

2020 vision

Kellogg conference looks into Latin America’s commercial future; experts weigh regional challenges, inequities and global prospects

By Aubrey Henretty

5/20/2008 - “Very often we talk about Latin America as a single entity, and in many respects it is,” Joaquim Tres, a senior adviser in the Inter-American Development Bank’s Office of the Secretary, told an audience at the 2008 Kellogg Latin American Business Conference. “But there are great differences, and Latin America is very diverse.”

During his keynote address on May 17, Tres noted that the region is home to “large economies and tiny ones,” speakers of some of the world’s most spoken languages (including Spanish and Portuguese) and income disparities. “We have seen blueprints for the region that have not adapted to particular challenges and particular opportunities,” he said.

The conference, organized and led by Kellogg students, brought business leaders from throughout North and South America to the James L. Allen Center. This year’s theme, “A Vision Towards 2020,” got attendees thinking — and talking — about Latin America’s future in the global economy.

One issue to watch, said Tres, is the effect of rising food prices on the region’s poorest citizens. If food prices rise as much in the coming year as they have in the past year, millions of people will suffer: “It is important to protect the most vulnerable because they spend between 70 and 80 percent of their income on food.”

Asked by a conference attendee to comment on Brazil’s growing economy, Tres declined politely, invoking the wisdom of a former colleague: “Once, I asked a Nobel laureate in economics what he thought of the U.S. economy, and he said, ‘I don’t do forecasts.’”

Following Tres’ address, Professor Sergio Rebelo moderated a round-table discussion on “Expanding Beyond Latin America.” Participants included José Parés, vice president of international operations at Grupo Modelo, and Roberto Castello-Branco, director of investor relations at Brazil-based mining company Vale. After outlining proven international growth strategies for their respective companies, participants offered advice applicable to all industries. Parés emphasized consistent quality and branding across continents and Castello-Branco said it’s important to be flexible and to listen to the locals.

“The challenge is to look globally, to interact with other cultures, and to have a very productive interchange of cultures, of experiences,” said Castello-Branco.

Two panel discussions rounded out the afternoon agenda. In “Addressing Social Inequalities in Latin America,” panelists discussed initiatives currently underway to breathe life into struggling sectors. Panelists included Rodrigo Arboleda, the director of development for the Latin American division of the One Laptop Per Child Program and Álvaro Rodríguez, the managing director of Latin American microfinance group IGNIA Partners. The second discussion, “Creating International Brand Equity” was moderated by Assistant Professor Derek Rucker and included panelists Angel Alverde, chief executive officer of Office Depot Mexico, and Elaine Sugimura, president of Havaianas USA.

“The 2008 Latin American Business Conference was a smashing success,” said conference co-chair Enrique Nehme ’08. “The conference highlighted the success stories, challenges and expectations [for Latin America] into the next decade. After a four year absence, the conference truly left a precedent for future Latin American Conferences to follow.”