(Editor’s note – Kristen Rupert, Executive Director of the AIM International Business Council, was among eight business and government leaders to accompany Governor Deval Patrick on a trade mission to Colombia earlier this week.)
This week’s four-day Massachusetts trade mission to Colombia yielded numerous opportunities for business collaboration and educational partnerships.
With a growing middle class, a culture of innovation, a tradition of education, and government focus on "prosperidad para todos," (prosperity for all), Colombia is poised for success on the global stage.
As stated by U.S. Ambassador to Colombia P. Michael McKinley in a briefing meeting on Monday, Colombia has a new sense of optimism and confidence. The country has struggled for three decades with drug wars, political change, and security issues, but with these challenges well on their way to being resolved, the central government is now focused on investing in infrastructure, health care, agricultural reform and education.
Strong fiscal and economic management has kept inflation low. Colombia's credit rating is solid. Foreign direct investment has increased by 50 percent since 2010, and Colombia is now the fourth largest economy in Latin America.
Recent radical tax reforms mandated that 10 percent of royalties from oil and gas extraction be returned by landowners to the central government for investment in science and technology. This transformative legislation will enable all regions of the country to invest in private industry, entrepreneurship and education. Colombians already have a high level of technological expertise, and nearly 8 out of 10 citizens are connected to the Internet. Broadband expansion is a critical component of the country's economic agenda.
The U.S. is Colombia's largest trading partner and the May 2012 U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is expected to increase trade between the two countries. More than 250 U.S. companies have a presence in Colombia, with energy and mining the primary business sectors for US investment.
Massachusetts companies doing significant business in Colombia include Dunkin Donuts, Boston Scientific, Liberty Mutual, Raytheon and International Forest Products. Colombian officials are eager to grow the number of Massachusetts small businesses trading with Colombia.
This week's meetings between Massachusetts government and business leaders and their Colombian counterparts focused on identifying particular industries and infrastructure/development projects ripe for Massachusetts-Colombia collaboration. Sectors of interest to Massachusetts businesses include security/safety, technology, life sciences/biomedical, energy, water treatment and transportation/infrastructure. Government contracts also offer good potential. Massachusetts companies interested in doing business in Colombia need to find the right local partners and understand the local rules and regulations.
Many Colombian business and government leaders received at least one year of university education in the U.S. Colombia is eager to send additional students to the U.S. for both undergraduate and graduate study, which represents great potential for Massachusetts given the high number of post-secondary educational institutions in the Commonwealth. Bilingual education is a national priority for Colombia, and the government hopes to double the number of public school English teachers (now at 5000) that it trains. The expected increase in English literacy is anticipated to further connect the U.S. and Colombia.
At least a half-dozen visits by Colombian business leaders to Massachusetts are planned for the next six months. Massachusetts companies interested in pursuing business in Colombia are encouraged to meet with these leaders. For information on these visits and other Colombia-Massachusetts collaboration opportunities, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.