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Tuesday 10 December 2019
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Colombia woos TT business

COLOMBIA, with a population of more than 48 million people, is being pitched as the ideal place for expansion by Trinidad and Tobago (TT) businesses, be it on their own or in joint-venture projects with counterparts in the South American nation.

This is the pitch made to local businesses by ProColombia’s executive director, Caribbean Region, Carlos F Gonzalez, during his recent visit to Trinidad.

During an interview with Business Day last Wednesday (December 10), Gonzalez spoke of how falling oil prices, and those of other commodities; namely mining and energy exports, have prompted Colombia to take proactive steps to maintain its current “vibrant economy.”

“We are facing the challenge that the value of commodities, in the short term, are decreasing, which means the foreign currency coming into Colombia from commodity exports has dropped. Colombia earns 75 percent of its income from commodities while 20 percent comes from value- added products, so we need to compensate.”

ProColombia, in conjunction with the Colombian government, has outlined a four-year plan (2014 - 2018) to compensate for this “forecast drop in earnings from commodities.”

The need to promote Colombia on a wider scale than just exports was the main reason behind the agency’s name change earlier this year from ProExport Colombia to ProColombia, complete with the new tagline “Exports, Tourism, Investment, Country Brand.”

“We changed our name because ProColombia better reflects what we are doing, what we have been doing for the last ten years,” Gonzalez explained.

“We went from just promoting export services to promoting Colombia as a destination for tourism, FDI, the internationalisation of Colombian companies and the overall country brand of Colombia. Changing our name allows us to have that impact, not only on the business sector, but on the end users of Colombia’s products; consumers.”

He also told Business Day that the agency “needed to bring the right foreign direct investors to Colombia, persons/companies who would help boost the economic performance of companies in the 20 strategic sectors that form the PTP; a Spanish acronym for Competitive Transformation Programme.”

“ProColombia also has the goal,” Gonzalez added, “of identifying investment opportunities in other markets, such as TT, for Colombian companies in the Global Value Chains (GVC). Joining the GVC means more Colombian companies have the ability to transform their businesses into international operations, (thus) bringing more opportunities to entrepreneurs in Colombia.”

The services section of the PTP chart includes three types of tourism — health, nature and wellness, which ProColombia plans to promote in order to increase revenue from tourism by 50 percent over the next four years.

“Colombia currently earns US $4 billion from tourism but we want to boost that to $6 billion by 2018. This means we need to see an uptake in visitor numbers from the current 2 million-plus a year to 4 million a year.”

Gonzalez said to achieve this, ProColombia’s tourism events and marketing campaigns; such as “Colombia’s Magical Realism” with its ‘36 unique experiences,” are being pitched toward travellers who have “higher disposable incomes.”

While the South American nation is looking to increase its visitor numbers, Gonzalez also sees opportunities for TT to promote itself as a destination to the estimated 140,000 Colombians who vacationed in the Caribbean in 2013.

Barely more than one percent of those persons; 1,536, chose to visit TT that year, which is why ProColombia’s executive director, Caribbean Region, identified tourism as one of the areas in which TT can look to Colombia to boost our revenue.

The agency is not only looking for new markets/opportunities for Colombian companies in TT in the financial, insurance and manufacturing sectors; of which food products account for a large percentage of exports, ProColombia has also identified TT companies that are already well-established in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) who now need to go extra-regional “if they are to meet their higher growth goals.”

Hence ProColombia’s on-going presentations to members of the local business community about “opportunities to grow in Colombia, to take advantage of our vibrant economy.”

Gonzalez said his country can also be considered an “export platform” because of its free trade agreements with other countries in the region.

“So by producing your goods in Colombia, companies have easier access to almost 1.5 billion consumers around the world.”

Earlier this year Colombia positioned itself as the “Information Technology (IT) leader in Latin America.”

Gonzalez said this provides yet another opportunity for joint-ventures between IT companies in TT and Colombia “to take advantage of each other’s languages; English and Spanish, to further expand their businesses in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Colombia’s agri-business sector; one of its more dynamic non-commodity revenue earners from exports, recorded an increased in exports to TT of 41.9 percent for the period January - August 2014, when compared to the same period in 2013.

This represents an increase from US $10 million worth of exports in 2013 to more than $14 million in 2014.

“Therefore,” Gonzalez told Business Day, “the TT market has been very good for our agri-business products — mainly biscuits, confectionary products, coffee, corn meal, canned vegetables, sugar, processed fruits such as passion fruit and for TT manufacturers and institutions, we sell a lot of palm oil and soya oil.”

Overall, Colombia saw a 17.7 percent increase this year in its exports to TT; that’s up from US $22.4 million in 2013 to $28.4 million in 2014.

Looking ahead to 2015, ProColombia will be putting together international missions for TT buyers to visit Colombia and vice versa.

The list of activities also includes getting 100 Caribbean buyers to attend our famous business match-making forum in Bogota from February 19 - 20, 2015, where 1,000 buyers from around the world are expected to hold pre-arranged meetings with Colombian businesses from a wide variety of sectors.

This event is well-known among the CARICOM business community and we expect at least 12 TT buyers to attend next year.

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