SINGAPORE will groom more tertiary students to work for companies that are venturing into Latin America, trade agency IE Singapore said yesterday.

To further pave the way for Singapore firms, the agency also signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of the Federal District of Brazil, an area which includes the nation's capital, Brasilia.

Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang told the Latin Asia Business Forum 2012 yesterday that Singapore was developing a pipeline of talent to "address the lack of ready manpower to support Singapore companies' expansion into Latin America".

As more Singapore firms take on increasingly complex projects in Latin America, they face a "shortage of executives who are familiar with the region's business practices and cultural norms", IE Singapore noted in a statement.

It is working with the National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore Management University (SMU) and Singapore University of Technology and Design to organise student exchanges with Latin America and internships with firms that operate there.

For instance, two dozen students and faculty members from NUS will embark on a three-week programme that includes trips to Brazil and Chile in June next year. IE Singapore has also been supporting SMU's Mexico internship programme since 2010.

IE Singapore chief executive Teo Eng Cheong told reporters on the sidelines of the forum, held by the agency at Raffles City Convention Centre, that it was increasing efforts to boost the number of internships. He said it was already supporting a large part of the cost of an internship, which he estimated to be in the "low thousands" per intern, and was helping to match interns with companies.

More than 20 students have participated in internships and exchanges with Latin America so far. IE Singapore told The Straits Times that it hopes to reach out to about 200 students in the next three to five years.

Companies working with IE Singapore on internship placements include commodity trader Olam International and textile firm Grupo Kaybee.

Grupo Kaybee chief executive Govind Karunakaran said that unlike Singapore, Latin America has a business culture where "interpersonal relationships are of paramount importance".

"Singaporean companies serious about trade and business in Latin America must be prepared to invest long-term in people who have a sense of adventure and curiosity."

Bilateral trade with Latin America and the Caribbean expanded 37 per cent in 2010 to reach $37.9 billion last year.

The region is projected to grow 3.7 per cent this year, according to data from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.