After spending a week in Colombia with a group of Canadian exporters, I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the coming of age of this beautiful country.
Many of us are still glued to the notion that Colombia is a violent country run by drug cartels, with its other claim to fame in a coffee farmer named Juan Valdez. But fast forward to 2014, where Medellin is a modern, clean and safe city, and where the drug wars are mostly in the past. Colombians have also taken advantage of the Juan Valdez name and created a chain of coffee shops that rival anything in North America.
I attended the Congreso Andesco conference, Colombia’s utilities conference, where the keynote speaker, Moises Naim, a Senior Associate in the International Economics Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, former Venezuelan Minister for Development and named by the UK’s Prospect magazine and one of the world’s leading thinkers. Naim used the World Cup results to date as a metaphor for changing economic times, with European teams like England, Italy and Spain out early, while teams from Colombia, Chile and Costa Rica moved forward in the tournament.
He talked also spoke of three trends that were profoundly changing societies; mobility, the cult of “more,”” and changing expectations. His view is that with people wanting more of everything and with the ability to be connected at all times, their expectations for themselves and their communities have increased. They are demanding education, healthcare, better roads and better jobs–but not at the expense of the environment. In fact, speakers from across the Colombian spectrum repeated this theme; they want to provide more access to water, electricity, telecommunications and good jobs, but with a focus on sustainability.
As further testament to this, this past May Colombia passed a law that is intended to incentivize the development of renewable energy in the country. Right now, the sector is virtually non-existent outside of its hydro power facilities, with only one renewable wind project in the country. This offers opportunities for Canadian exporters of wind, solar, hybrid, hydro, energy storage, waste to energy smart grid, water solutions.
The experience in both Medellin and Cartagena also reminded me of the importance of establishing a presence in the country and having representation that, at minimum, speaks the language and understands the business culture. At EDC we say it over and over again, but one is reminded of it when in market.
As Colombia comes of age, the country will offer massive opportunities for Canadian exporters to support the country’s sustainable development objectives, providing jobs back home and economic opportunities for Canada.