A Map of the Reexport Trade on the Triple Frontier

(Sam Pepple / Sample Cartography. Supplementary Data Provided by LeadDog Consulting)

From Christine Folch's "Trouble on the Triple Frontier":

The tri-border area first became an economic powerhouse in the 1960s and 1970s, when generous tax legislation attracted a huge population of foreign merchants -- chiefly of Syrian, Lebanese, and Taiwanese origin. Current estimates set the primarily Shia Syrian-Lebanese community in the Triple Frontier at 20,000, or about three percent of the area's total population. Their main economic activity is the "reexport" trade to Brazil. Merchants in Paraguay import cigarettes, clothing, electronics, perfumes, and other luxury items from the United States, Europe, and China and then sell them to Brazilian sacoleiros (petty merchants, from the Portuguese for "bag") who take the products into Brazil to be resold in Rio de Janeiro (over 900 miles away), São Paulo (over 650 miles away), and everywhere in between.

Paraguay's relatively low import tariffs, free trade zones, and weak enforcement of customs duties make for good business. Electronics and information technology bought in Ciudad del Este are much cheaper than those bought in neighboring Argentina and Brazil. In 2004, for example, eight out of ten computers in Brazil had been purchased in Ciudad del Este for one-half to two-thirds of the price of what they would have cost in Brazil. As many as 30,000 sacoleiros a day transport high-cost items across the Friendship Bridge. Most of the time, they do not declare their purchases, smuggling the goods to avoid Brazilian import tariffs. 

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