Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr said Australian mining companies could invest $150 billion in Latin America over the next decade.
Speaking at the Latin America Down Under mining conference in Sydney, Carr said the investment potential in the region was massive.
"The potential for investment is huge – as much as $150 billion over the next decade," Carr said.
According to AAP Australia's resources sector currently has 200 mining projects in Latin America, with 80 Australian mining companies operating in the region.
"Australian mining investment in Latin America has arguably been light-years ahead of a more general link between our continents," Carr said.
"And it's growing fast."
Carr said the reputation of Australian mining was built on mining skills as well as care for environmental issues and the well-being of local communities.
"Our miners are also ambassadors for Australia overseas," he said.
Latin America was a region of vast potential, he said.
"Our mining industry has shown it understands that as clearly as any industry."
To date there are scattered Australian operations in Peru for copper and gold, in Brazil for iron ore, and two – Tigers Realm and New Age Exploration – looking at coal in Colombia even though the country is more recognised for its oil and gas .
Mexico has also attracted one Australian operator – Azure Minerals.
One of the major Australian operations in the region was Andean Resources and its 2.5 million ounce Cerro Negro gold deposit in Argentina.
Another Australian mining company is New Age Exploration (NAE), which operates in Colombia.
Last year the trade commissioner at the Australian embassy in Peru, Dan Sullivan, told Australian Mining he was concerned Australian companies were missing out on opportunities in Latin America.
“…there are around 300 to 400 Canadian companies here, the Canadians are all over South America, which means that Australian mining companies are missing out on the opportunities here, and this worries me,” he said.
Sullivan went on to say that the perception of Australians and their expertise is fairly positive throughout the region.
“These South American countries are looking for miners that interact with the local communities,” he said.
“People in Latin America are used to dealing with North Americans, so they typically find dealing with Australians a ‘refreshing change’ in terms of attitude, as they tend to not come with the same preconceptions of working in South America as other might.”
However this ‘refreshing change’ is unlikely to happen if the old perception of Latin America itself is changed in Australia, from a series of unstable countries and governments to a region full of opportunity.