Uruguay is at very early stages in oil exploration. So you don’t need to rush here yet… or do you? The big companies involved to-date include BP, Total, Tullow Oil, BG and Shell (Petrobras pulled out due to strategic reasons). We are already on Round II (click here for the upcoming Round III and for previous Round I). No oil yet, you know it will take years to find out if we even got any. So what’s the fuss all about?
Something must be happening for Uruguay to receive the visit of Carole Sweeney, UKTI Director for Advanced Manufacturing, who focused her agenda particularly on oil and gas. During her talk at the British Embassy here in Montevideo, she said that “the early bird catches the biscuit”, referring to the well-know first-mover advantage in an industry that is highly innovative and competitive. That’s actually a powerful message not just for the Uruguayan companies present at the event, and the government, but for British companies, too.
Let’s keep this simple for now. Let’s say that, firstly, there is activity going on now that’s worth looking at. Exploration is taking place, so operations are already running, people are working on Uruguay’s off-shore blocks. There is a need to supply them already. At the event, I spoke to a marine company that is already doing business with BP and they are now focusing on developing expertise in oil and gas.
Which brings me to my second point: there is going be more activity, and it could get pretty huge. My concern here, from the Uruguay side of things, is the heavy reliance on government to tell you what to do, or on waiting for oil companies to tell you what they want to buy. It doesn’t work like that. More of an entrepreneurial spirit is needed here. I have other concerns that are clearly shared by others here and in the UK, including the importance of education, R&D, and infrastructure, all topics covered at the event.
With respect to British companies, I hope that little by little, Uruguay starts appearing on their radar. Maybe these companies are already operating in Brazil, or even in the Falklands, so Uruguay might be a natural next step. Doing business in Uruguay has a lot of benefits: Uruguay has a stable economy, strong respect for the law and transparency. However, like in all Latin America, things take their time here. You cannot wait for an invitation tender to appear in order to start thinking about Uruguay. You need to build relationships and establish a presence. And that takes years. That’s why with our client, Ellis Patents, we are constantly keeping up-to-date with developments, attending events, building networks. Because this Yorkshire-based SME and world leading cable cleat manufacturer, which supplies the oil&gas sector as well as power generation, transmission and distribution, knows that these industries are strategic and there aren’t quick wins.
Uruguay has a lot to learn from Britain’s 40-50 years of North Sea experience. There’s a lot to learn about partnerships and, as Carole Sweeney said, about government and industry working together. I can already spot both the British and the Uruguayan companies that are thinking strategically, for the next 5-20 years. Those are asking questions, having meetings, sharing information. They’re moving fast. After all, we all want a bit of the biscuit.
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