[VIEWPOINT]A massive land of opportunitiesKoreans dominate the women’s apparel market in Brazil. In the Bom Retiro and Bras garment districts in Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, Koreans own 80 percent of more than 2,000 wholesale and retail women’s garment stores.
Except for the different signs, the market looks just like the Dongdaemun market.
The women’s ready-made garment market in Brazil was once dominated by Jews.
But the situation began to change as Koreans emigrated to Brazil to work on farms in the early 1960s. Koreans, born with good hands and armed with diligence, undertook the toughest jobs: needlework and machine sewing.
Gradually accumulating capital, Koreans took over the Jewish garment stores one-by-one. Now Korean businesses handle the entire network, from purchasing cloth to designing, ordering needlework and producing the finished products.
Globalization is not just happening in Brazil. As cheap Chinese-made cloth has poured in, the Korean-made cloth has disappeared.
Korean companies have also been harassed by the dumping of Chinese-made finished products.
As Brazilian large-scale distributors increase the pressure on Korean businesses to lower the prices of delivered goods to the level of the Chinese-made products, the burden has been passed to Bolivian workers who now carry out needlework contracts.
Bolivians, mostly illegal immigrants, receive an extremely low wage of one centavo, or about 0.5 cents, to sew a button. Because of this, labor disputes involving Koreans take place now and then.
Because the profitability of the garment business in Brazil is declining, some ethnic Koreans have begun to look for new business opportunities. But they have not yet found alternatives.
Nevertheless, most ethnic Koreans agree that South America is “the land of opportunities,” with much room for development.
Brazil is a large country, 32 times as big as the combined area of both South and North Korea , and with a population of 180 million people. Neighboring Argentina is 13 times as wide as the area of the Korean Peninsula. Among the 23 provinces in Argentina, 10 provinces are wider than the area of South Korea.
When seen from an airplane, the undeveloped pampas, or prairie of Argentina, stretches endlessly.
All kinds of food and mineral resources are still waiting to be developed, and natural tourist resources are spread from the tropical rainforest of the Amazon to the glacier of Antarctica.
Japanese people, with an immigration history of more than a century, have already taken firm root in Latin America. There are more than 1 million ethnic Japanese in Brazil alone.
Japanese immigrants, who have been assimilated completely into the local culture with six generations of descendants, work in every field, including politics, economics, legal professions and the media.
China, which is keen on diplomacy to secure natural resources, has quickened its pace, too. The number of Chinese immigrants is rapidly increasing in each country in Latin America and their appetite for business never wanes.
After a request by the Chinese government, the Brazilian government decided to accept a million Chinese immigrants.
However, there are a mere 100,000 Korean immigrants throughout Latin America.
The only region where Korean-flagged airlines do not run is Latin America. This leaves a wide land of opportunities idle.
Although the leftist winds are said to blow in Latin America, they are far from leftism in its traditional sense.
The leftism in Latin America is mixed with economic liberalism, political populism and resource nationalism. But the general trend is a practical approach, which distinguishes political purposes from economic gains.
Although Venezuela and Bolivia are loudly advocating anti-American and anti-neo-liberalism positions, they are just paying lip service to domestic politics.
We should not lose our available opportunities by being blinded by the illusion of leftist winds.
The changing Latin America is asking us to have a new awareness of and interest in it.
* The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok