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Latin American Stocks Q&A: An Exclusive Interview with Colombia's Trade Commissioner, Alvaro Concha

Alvaro Concha, Colombia's Trade Commissioner in Canada since 2011 Discusses the Past Three Years Following Anniversary of the Colombia-Canada FTA and Prospects for the Future

NEW YORK and POINT ROBERTS, Wash., Aug. 22, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Investorideas.com, (www.investorideas.com) a global news source covering leading sectors including Latin American stocks, issues an exclusive Q&A with Alvaro Concha, Proexport Colombia Trade Commissioner in Canada since 2011.

Mr. Concha discusses recent news and events, including an IT forum held in New York in late July, and shares insights into the significance of the anniversary of the Colombia - Canada Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Since the FTA came into effect (August 15, 2011), 434 Colombian companies have exported to Canada for the first time, with the majority coming from manufacturing (41.5 percent), agribusiness (34.8 percent) and apparel (22.8 percent).

According to the government's statistics agency, DANE, Proexport Colombia reported record growth in the two countries' trade relationship, with Colombian exports to Canada increasing by 10.6 percent to reach more than US$107 million for non-mining and non-coffee products.

Alvaro shares first-hand insight and perspective on the success of the past three years and the promising future ahead. 

Interview

Q: Investorideas.com  
Colombia's IT sector is the third largest in Latin America, with technology showing 33 percent growth over the past five years. According to International Data Corporation (IDC), total sales in 2013 for the software and IT sector in Colombia exceeded US$3 billion and it is expected that this figure will double by 2018. Can you break down some of that growth and share some of the contributing factors?  

A: Alvaro Concha, Colombia's Trade Commissioner
Colombia has a very strong and growing IT market. In terms of the launch of the new campaign, "Colombia Bring IT On", led by Proexport Colombia, it showcases the IT industry in Colombia, how well-developed the infrastructure of the IT industry is, the growth of the industry and what Colombia has to offer - not only as a sourcing market - but also an opportunity for joint ventures.  The campaign also showcases the human capital and the qualified workforce that we have. It also gives a better understanding of all of the creative and innovative industries that we have. I think that all of the basics are already established, and it's now time for the companies to come over and start actually building businesses.  IT is a growing industry.  We have over 2500 companies and different technological partners around the country, and the Government, through the Ministry of IT, has a very strong strategy to keep on growing the sector and to put Colombia on the map as one of the key players.

Q: Investorideas.com  
You recently hosted a two-day business matching forum, focused on the technology sector, in New York City on July 23 and 24th. Can you give us a breakdown of the companies participating from North America and Colombia and was there any particular area of technology that seemed to be a dominant theme in the event?

A: Alvaro Concha, Colombia's Trade Commissioner
Let me start by saying the event in New York was a very successful one.  Twenty-two Canadian companies attended the event. They had the opportunity to meet with over 70 Colombian companies, and some of the sectors included software development, tailor-made software, animation, digital animation, web-app developers and some gaming companies. 

Q: Investorideas.com  
You have hosted matchmaking events in the past, typically what kind of results and business dealings do you see materialize from these events?

A: Alvaro Concha, Colombia's Trade Commissioner
The overall comments from not only Colombian companies but also the Canadian and United States companies in attendance were very positive.  They were very happy with the match-making and the quality of the companies that Colombia showcased there.  The feedback from the Colombian companies was also very positive in terms of the quality of the Canadian companies attending the event.   What we guaranteed was the presence from Canadian companies across the country, from different provinces and locations, giving full access to Canada's markets.  We are, as we speak, doing the follow-up on all of the opportunities and businesses ventures that were identified.

Q: Investorideas.com  
Can you give us an idea of some of the big-name tech companies that are setting up in Colombia?

A: Alvaro Concha, Colombia's Trade Commissioner
One of the companies that has established in Colombia in the past year is Pipeline Studios.  Also Atomic Entertainment from Ontario is working and establishing their company in Colombia.

Q: Investorideas.com
Are they using Colombia more as a base for expanding into Latin America?

A: Alvaro Concha, Colombia's Trade Commissioner
The main purpose initially is to actually establish a presence in the country. But once you are in Colombia, and this applies not only to the IT companies, but also to any other company, Colombia is a good export platform for the rest of region. You will be able to take advantage of all the different trade agreements and the possibilities to do trade with the rest of the countries of the region.  Colombia has big trade zones, very competitive ones, and has access and communication with all of the countries of the region.  Being the third-largest economy in Latin America helps and enables Colombia to have a very active role in terms of trade with the  whole region.  So, establishing yourself in Colombia in terms of business, initially as a sourcing product to come back to Canada; that might be the first step.  But obviously, the second and third step is to link with Colombia and reach out from Colombia to the rest of the region. 

Q: Investorideas.com  
Shifting to the anniversary of the Colombia-Canada Free Trade Agreement on Friday, August 15th, it's now three years since the agreement was signed. Can you break down some of the measurable results? What are the sectors driving that growth currently and can you give us some of the highlights within those sectors and do you see that changing in the future?

A: Alvaro Concha, Colombia's Trade Commissioner
Colombian non-mining exports have experienced a positive compounded growth of 6.6 percent between 2010 and 2013.  We have over 425 new companies exporting for the first time in Canada since the FTA came into effect.  We have grown and diversified our portfolio of products. We have experienced some interesting growth. In agri-business, not only concentrating in the exporting of flowers, bananas and fruits but trying to go to different products in the industry. We have also experienced good growths in apparel, manufacturing goods, and also service. The growth for example in apparel, is 48% from August 2011 to June 2014. Leather goods for example, have increased more than 100%. In terms of numbers, it's still low, in terms of amounts of million dollars. But the great thing to see are the percentages and how new products are arriving into the Canadian markets.

Q: Investorideas.com
Where do you see the biggest growth opportunity over the next three years?

A: Alvaro Concha, Colombia's Trade Commissioner
Absolutely, services and IT industry is something that has to be worked more to create more awareness of what Colombia has to offer for Canadian companies. So I see a good growth in those specific sectors.  I also see bilateral trade improvement in cosmetics for example; in auto parts, in pharmaceuticals.  In the manufacturing industry, there's a lot of space for growth.  There's a lot of other products in industries, a lot of other sub-sectors that Colombia can present.  In the world of apparel for example, growth will come specifically in safety-wear and uniforms, not only in lingerie, swimwear and in active wear.

Q: Investorideas.com  
The first quarter of 2014 shows exports from Colombia to Canada have continued to grow, increasing by 158% and in a previous interview you talked about the first quarter GDP for Colombia being second to China in the world . What do you think is attributing to this kind of growth both with Canada and your whole economy?

A: Alvaro Concha, Colombia's Trade Commissioner
The growth in the overall trade is mainly driven by commodities.  Canada, for example, has again been buying green coffee and mineral goods from Colombia.  The growth is also driven by the quality of the products Colombia has, the awareness that Canadians have today of the Colombian companies.  For example, I just returned from a fashion show in Medellin two weeks ago, where prior to the FTA, we would never have had such a vast presence of foreign companies. Two weeks ago, I took 30 companies to Medellin; so it's growing in terms of curiosity in the market of what Colombia has to offer. That has caused Canadian companies to consider travelling to our country and understanding first-hand what we are capable of. 

Q: Investorideas.com  
Do you think your free trade agreement paved the path for other countries to enter free trade agreements with Colombia and what makes the Canadian - Colombia agreement so workable for both countries?

A: Alvaro Concha, Colombia's Trade Commissioner
Colombia has put together a strategy a couple of years ago to have better and more preferential access to the potential markets.  This is a strategy Colombia has been expediting for quite a while now.  The FTA with Canada was significant as the first country as a G8 member to sign an FTA with Colombia. That helped not only to improve our competitiveness, but also, after the Canadian FTA was put in effect, it helped push the United States to also sign the FTA with Colombia. I think that Colombia has inserted itself in the international markets very well.  At the beginning of 2000, Colombia had preferential access to not even 500 million consumers; now we have over 1.5 billion consumers with preferential access.  Thanks to the FTA strategy, the Government is considering and studying other FTA's with Asian markets.

Q: Investorideas.com  
There was talk at one time about Canada opening a discussion about joining the Pacific Alliance. Is there any update on that and can you tell our readers the current members and what other countries are looking at joining?

A: Alvaro Concha, Colombia's Trade Commissioner
Canada has not stated it has considered joining as an active member but is an observer.  There are more than 20 countries that are actually observers.  Costa Rica and Panama are very close to becoming full members of the Pacific Alliance. We are going to host seminars this fall to talk about the Pacific Alliance in Montreal and in Vancouver.  We are going to have the four ambassadors of the main members; Mexico, Peru, Chile and Colombia. The four ambassadors will be talking with the companies and the community in October and November.

Q: Investorideas.com  
Free trade; freedom of movement of goods and people is also a key element of the Pacific Alliance. How much of a role were Free Trade Agreements with the various countries to your overall growth in the past years?

A: Alvaro Concha, Colombia's Trade Commissioner
The Free Trade Agreement not only increased our competitiveness but it's the best way to have  preferential access to potential markets.  We are looking every single day in all the markets that we have an FTA with, as to how we should be increasing our trade, the other potential markets or sectors or products we could be increasing our trade with. I do believe that FTA's have helped our trade to grow, and the numbers are showing that.  The overall exports, the overall trade in Colombia is growing at a good pace. 

Q: Investorideas.com  
In closing, you have been Colombia's Trade Commissioner in Canada since 2011. So, from your perspective, what do you think is the most significant milestone and achievement over the past three years with the Colombia-Canada Free Trade Agreement? 

A: Alvaro Concha, Colombia's Trade Commissioner
I think that services is one.  Second is letting people understand that Colombia has more than agri-business; that we're more than flowers. We take international commitments very seriously and Colombia is a very strong and key player in the region.  We want to do things not only in a very responsible way to our community, but also in terms of environmental issues.

We have been creating more and more awareness, not only in Toronto but in all of Canada.  That's why we have a base in Montreal and Vancouver, so we can spread out our opportunities. 

And the third notable achievement is tourism.  When Colombia presented itself to Canada and the world a couple of years ago; nobody wanted to know anything about our country. Nobody wanted to get close to Colombia and now that Colombia has marketed and changed the perception, there are a lot of people wanting to see what is going on here. There are a lot of visitors wanting to see this country and when they are here they understand that Colombia is now a safe country. And business visitors see that Colombia is a very key player in the terms of economy and a key partner for Canada.

ALVARO CONCHA
Alvaro Concha, Colombia's Trade Commissioner in Canada since 2011, is an experienced professional with over 15 years' experience in global business and market-development strategies. As head of the Canadian offices of Proexport Colombia - the country's investment, tourism and export promotion agency - Mr. Concha has worked tirelessly to strengthen Colombia's trade relationship with Canada. Mr. Concha's leadership has resulted in a significant increase in Colombian exports to Canada, the securing of a new roster of important Canadian investors in Colombia, and a surge in the number of Canadian tourists visiting Colombia.

Before being appointed to Canada, Mr. Concha worked as Colombia's trade commissioner in Italy and headed the joint Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador office headquartered in Guatemala City. Throughout his career in Proexport Colombia, his goal has remained the same: to bring prosperity to all Colombians by bringing the best of Colombia to the rest of the world.

Mr. Concha holds a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from EAFIT University in Medellin, Colombia, and an MBA from the EEN - Escuela Europea de Negocios in Madrid, Spain.

About Proexport Colombia  http://www.proexport.com.co/en
Proexport provides business opportunities, clear information on requirements, strategies for expanding services and goods at an international level, participation in business fairs and assistance by experts for investors, exporters, and professionals that wish to come closer to their dreams.

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