iShare Latin America 40 (NYSEArca: ILF) hasn’t exactly been lighting up the performance charts, but that may not remain the case for long.

Andres Oppenheimer for The Miami Herald reports that although President Obama called for a “sputnik moment” for the United States in the State of the Union address, there’s a case to expand that dream beyond our borders:

  • Only 2% of all world investments in research and development of new products are carried out in Latin America. This leaves plenty of room for more growth and R&D to take place in these nearby countries.
  • All 32 Latin American countries together, including giants Brazil and Mexico, register fewer than 3% of the patents registered annually by just one Asian country, South Korea, according to the U.S. Trademarks and Patents Office. [Behind Peru’s ETFs Pain Is A Fast Growing Market.]

There’s a major growth opportunity in this country, and Obama apparently has plans to seize it. Jared A. Favole and Carolina Pica for The Wall Street Journal report that Obama will embark on his first trip to South and Central America in March, making stops in Chile, Brazil and El Salvador as he tries to shore up security and economic ties with the emerging economies. Obama urged stepped-up investments in infrastructure and clean energy to help keep Latin America competitive. [5 Latin America ETFs To Watch In 2011.]

ILF and SPDR S&P Emerging Latin America (NYSEArca: GML) could sure use the boost. Both Latin America ETFs are down about 6.5% in the last six months. Will Obama’s visit right them? Either way, the impact on both funds may be similar: both count Brazil and their largest holdings, but GML does come in with a slightly smaller large-cap allocation, giving it a small edge as a domestic economy play. Their expenses are 0.50% and 0.60%, respectively.

Tisha Guerrero contributed to this article.

The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are solely those of Tom Lydon, and may not actually come to pass. Information on this site should not be used or construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation for any product.