U.S. embassies in Latin America are offering more U.S. business people a chance to profit from Latin America's economic boom through a package of services known as the Gold Key Service.
The program sets up interviews with potential distributors, sales agents or other contacts and provides secretarial help as well as interpreters.Though it has been offered by many U.S. embassies worldwide on an informal basis for years, increased interest in overseas markets has prompted some U.S. embassies to put a name - and a price tag - on the service.
"It's one of the most successful programs we have," said Albert Alexander, commercial counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Argentina. "Companies don't have to fumble around. They're paying high hotel rates, and we can get them the information and appointments they need so they don't waste time. It's a bargain."
About 40 U.S. companies are expected to use the service by the end of the current fiscal year, which ends in September. That's up from 26 in the U.S. fiscal year 1993 and 16 in fiscal 1992.
The program in Buenos Aires, organized as a Gold Key Service about three years ago, is offered through the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
For a $300 initial fee, the embassy hires an outside contractor to work with the business person and set up a day's worth of appointments. The number of appointments depends on whether the person goes to the location of the Argentine business or meets with people at a single site.
Each additional day of appointments costs $200. Costs of interpretors or secretarial help is extra and are paid directly to the provider of the service. Interpreters, for example, cost $200 a day.
Currently, about 60 U.S. embassies provide Gold Key services. Uruguay recently began offering the package.
"The demand has been pretty constant; companies across the board from all sizes have been interested," said Robert Gorter, a commerce specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo. "It remains to be seen whether Mercosur increases the demand" for services, he said, referring to the Spanish acronym for the Southern Cone Common Market, which is set to begin operating a free-trade area on Jan. 1, 1995.
Mercosur includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
For $250, the embassy in Uruguay will set up a day's worth of appointments, which usually is enough for investors interested in doing business in this nation of 3 million people, Mr. Gorter said.
Mr. Alexander contends the creation of Mercosur will increase the demand for such services, as U.S. companies try to set up a regional base in Argentina.
"This area has been off the scope for 15 years; a lot of the investors know nothing about South America and don't have the range of contacts they need," he said, adding that many investors are looking to Argentina as an investment base because of Brazil's economic instability.
Brazil offers Gold Key services; Paraguay does not.
The increased business interest in Argentina has prompted the American Chamber of Commerce here to streamline and reorganize its services for U.S. business executives.
"We work with the U.S. embassy and we can complement what they do," said Felix Zumelzu, the chamber's executive director. "We can give people a different perspective . . . We know what it's like to operate here."
By the end of the year, the chamber hopes to expand the services it offers - including computer links with U.S. data bases that provide trade information - and tie into a new electronic system being developed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington.
This system, for use by chamber members worldwide, would allow companies to exchange documents, such as draft contracts, electronically.
The chamber would provide such services free of charge to its members, with a fee for nonmembers."