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Entre Ríos: Where trends are set for the future of Latin America

Article - February 18, 2015

Figures in trade, industry and human development show Entre Ríos as a strong powerhouse in development. The province’s recent history teaches a lesson for the future to the whole continent


Argentina’s province of Entre Ríos is in itself a micro cosmos of the whole continent: a region endowed with enormous potential in the primary sectors (agriculture and forestry resources in this case), gradually enters a revival for the industrial sector, adds value to locally produced raw material and links its productive industries with international value chains and markets. In the meantime, services gain greater importance in the economy and activities such as trade, logistics and finance become major drivers of growth and job creation.

Moreover, as has happened in the rest of the continent, Entre Ríos’s diverse and multicultural society see how their quality of life keeps improving as the focus shifts to empowering people with major health care and education initiatives, widening the reach of the measures to secure access to these public services.

All of the above at a time when the regional integration of Latin America gathers steam. Governments all over the continent have shown a strong desire to further deepen their ties in trade and development, and officials from countries in South America work together to coordinate industrial policies that would strengthen the region’s competitiveness.

That was one of the conclusions reached at the December 2014 Mercosur Summit held in Entre Rio’s capital Paraná. And it may very well be that Entre Rios’ history of success inspired leaders to determine that government efforts to boost growth have to come with the enhancement of the regional integration’s social dimension.

Micro cosmos explained

During the last 40 years, Argentina has gone through many changes in its economy and productive sectors. Although affected by many international shocks and rather volatile public finance, the country enjoyed a relative revival in its industrial sectors in the 70s and 80s, creating thus development centres in the country – but leaving some places behind.

For decades, these disparities led some Entrerrians, mainly young people, to leave their birth place and swell the suburbs and slums of Buenos Aires and other industrial centres. That is no longer the trend: under a new leadership, the province has emerged has a major powerhouse in the continent, both in terms of economic development and social progress.

After being elected governor in 2007, Sergio Urribarri has led the push for regional development. An Entrerrian himself, Mr. Urribarri witnessed how the region was losing its young population: “I was born and raised in rural Entre Ríos, and I suffered seeing how many young people had to leave”. Unemployment and the lack of basic services were the main drivers behind the exodus.

Mr. Urribarri has made his tenure one for curving these trends, making remarkable progress: in education, the province now has 100 more schools and the government makes sure that some 40 thousand pupils study with grants, bringing illiteracy down from 2.7% to 1.8% in four years. In healthcare, rates of infant mortality have been reduced to an historic 10.1%, below Argentina’s average. Moreover, the province has made a remarkable extension of natural gas supplies and households plugged to gas distribution systems have increased by 255% between 2003 and 2012. All in all, the increase in public investment has grown by 155% in the last year, three times higher than the national average.

Yet, the biggest achievement of the province’s investment in its people is the impact it has had on the real economy. Mr. Urribarri’s guideline is to give public investment a leading role in boosting economic development in cooperation with the private sector. One of the first things the governor did after taking oath was to meet industrial groups and entrepreneurs. After being neglected for years by the previous ruling elite, "together we detected the objectives and started working. Entre Ríos is today an example of public-private cooperation" says Mr. Urribarri.

The joint, coordinated action has propped the province’s economy to record levels. After tackling major bottlenecks in access to finance and infrastructure (in the last seven years Entre Ríos have been the top investor in road infrastructure to promote trade) the province has experienced seven years of continued growth, with an increase of 34% of the provincial GDP in the last 5 years. Now the province is among the top exporters of Argentina, with an increase in exports of almost 70% between 2009 and 2013. What’s more, Entre Ríos holds top positions in national productivity indexes: it is the main producer of poultry and citrus fruits; its rice farms produce 37% of the total yields in the country and its forestry and farming sectors rank third in the nation. Industry has been registering growth rates of over 119% in the last five years and the service sector, especially tourism, is going through years of significant revival.  

More to come

Further integration with a social dimension. That was the conclusion of the Paraná’s Mercosur summit, and it has been happening in Entre Ríos for quite a long time. The South-South cooperation under Mercosur and other entities have helped to foster a vibrant, interconnected area, both in terms of economy and society empowerment. Yet, there is much more to come.

For Mr. Urribarri attracting investment is one of his top priorities, and the governor spares no effort. In a recent trip to China, alongside Argentina’s President, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the governor managed to secure USD 250 million in investments and gained larger market access to meat exports from his province.

With the next phase of development yet to come, Mr. Urribarri may not be in charge of Entre Ríos by the time the coming investments bear fruit – although he might oversee it from the Casa Rosada, as he is well positioned to succeed Ms. Fernandez in his party’s presidential ticket in the coming elections. While it is not possible to determine the speed nor the pace of this development, one thing is sure: it would come pairing social and economic progress in a much more integrated area. Just like it happens in Entre Ríos.