Colombia: from failed condition to Latin American powerhouse

In the shadow of a violent and drug-fuelled previous, business self-assurance is expanding in Colombia, a region that has been reworked in excess of the earlier decade

  Photograph: Alamy

There’s 1 factor everyone wants to know about undertaking organization in Bogotá. When it arrives to conferences: you will find currently being on time, and then there’s becoming on Colombian time.

Business offers in Latin America’s 3rd largest economy are more about constructing relationships than closing discounts. Conferences frequently overrun. People shed track of time. The following conference commences late.

This laissez-faire mindset would annoy most Us citizens. The Japanese would be mortified. But it has turn into one particular of the attributes of undertaking business in Colombia’s burgeoning economic climate.

However Colombians know how to do company just as considerably as they know how to enjoy daily life.

In the Americas, Colombia’s popularity as a gateway to the South and launch pad to the North is turning out to be cemented in a nation that has long lived in the shadow of the medication lord Pablo Escobar.

Much more than two a long time soon after Escobar was shot lifeless by law enforcement on a Medellín rooftop, the stereotype of a nation ridden by medication, cartels, kidnapping and violence is ultimately starting to fade.

Pablo Escobar lies lifeless after currently being shot in Medallin by Colombian national law enforcement in 1993 (Photo: AP)

In 2008, Pay a visit to Colombia released a marketing campaign titled: Colombia, el riesgo es que te quieras quedar – “Colombia, the only chance is wanting to keep”, referring to the perception that going to the nation was nonetheless hazardous.

“We wished to handle the elephant in the room,” states Sandra Howard Taylor, Colombia’s deputy minister for tourism. “We decided to tackle the difficulty right and work on it.”

Diplomacy, tough operate and compromise has helped to transform the nation in excess of the final 10 years. The iron fist of previous president Álvaro Uribe that helped to ruin a lot of rebel strongholds in 2002 has been place again inside the velvet glove held by the existing president, Juan Manuel Santos.

The previous defence minister is edging closer to signing a historic peace deal with the Farc rebels, even though the toughest portion of the negotiation – amnesty and reparations – has nevertheless to be agreed.

Meanwhile, Colombia’s center class is on the increase, climbing from 16pc of the population in 2002 to 27pc in 2011. In the streets of Bogotá, Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Armani line up next to large road names Zara and Mango.

The poverty charge – described by the Globe Bank as any individual residing on much less than $ 1.twenty five (81p) a working day – has fallen from practically 50pc to 34pc above the very same time period. While policymakers have more to do, Colombians are lifting themselves out of poverty.

Entrepreneurial spirit implies many pick to sell goods in minor stalls or on the streets. Old jeans and employed footwear are marketed alongside trinkets and meals. In the centre of Bogotá, one particular seller has around a hundred dolls piled up on a tarpaulin.

An strengthening economy signifies the advertising and marketing slogans are really diverse now. “Colombia, magical realism”, is a homage to the country’s most well-known writer, Gabriel García Márquez, who died final calendar year.

But even though the straplines of the marketing and advertising strategies are distinct, Mauricio Cárdenas, Colombia’s finance minister, is keen to remind everyone that the components for a thriving economic climate have constantly been there. “Ten or 20 many years ago Colombia had many strengths – a properly-educated labour power, a robust company course – but they were not visible, since of the veil of terrorism and violence.”

The statistics assistance the rhetoric. Colombia’s economic climate grew by 4.8pc previous calendar year, and is predicted to expand earlier mentioned 4pc this year, even with a around 50pc fall in the oil cost.

Even though stagflation has remaining prices growing at between 6pc and 7pc a yr in Brazil and hyperinflation of virtually 70pc in neighbouring Venezuela has induced the expense of dwelling to skyrocket, Colombia’s central lender has held inflation – which at present stands at 3.8pc – close to its concentrate on of 3pc for far more than fifty percent a ten years.

This steadiness and certainty have served to thrust Colombia up to 34th place in the Globe Bank’s “Carrying out Enterprise” index very last year, from 53rd spot in 2013. This is over larger economies this sort of as Brazil and Mexico – and even above Belgium and Italy.

Free of charge trade agreements have been pursued aggressively. The country has secured a dozen offers around the world, like with the United kingdom by means of the EU, The usa and Switzerland.

Overseas brand names have thrived below. Kia and Hyundai taxis from Korea zip by means of the streets of the money. The small automobiles are perfect for navigating through roadways the place the notion of driving in lanes doesn’t exist.

Trade mission

Two decades after his very first pay a visit to to Colombia, Ken Clarke is back – and on a mission. The former Chancellor and justice minister led a trade delegation to the place last 7 days with the London Chamber of Commerce. He is eager to guarantee that Britain will not miss out on essential options in a country he thinks is quite considerably open up for company.

“The British actually have to boost their export efficiency to a level that is going to be necessary to maintain us in a globalised economic system for the following technology. We are a extended way away from that at the second,” states Clarke.

“1 of the approaches we can do this is by opening up these emerging markets which the British neglect, 1 of which one particular has always been Colombia. It’s a industry that actually justifies this type of effort.”

Prince Charles and the Dutchess of Cornwall on their formal visit to Colombia in Oct 2014 (Picture: Rex)

Clarke, who previous frequented in the country in 1992, recognises that Colombia has not usually been like this.

“When I advised men and women I was heading to Colombia, men and women assumed that there would be bullets whistling close to. When I was here 23 a long time back, it was a rather violent location. The government was not in handle of most of its territory. It has transformed a great deal because then, and mostly for the much better.”

It truly is a planet that Carlos Giraldo, the main govt of the retail giant Exito, understands all too properly.

When Giraldo acquired married two many years in the past in Escobar’s hometown of Medellín, he held the ceremony at 11am due to the fact he thought friends would not flip up if it was also late.

Nowadays, the streets are bustling with bars and golf equipment and Medellín property to some of greatest companies in Colombia, which includes Exito, Bancolombia and the utilities firm EPM.

Nick Pickthall is main running officer of CPL Aromas, which supplies fragrances for makes this sort of as Jo Malone and Austin Reed. He describes Colombia as the best gateway to other marketplaces.

The perfumier opened up a revenue workplace in Colombia twenty a long time ago, but has given that invested in a multi-million pound manufacturing unit and imaginative centre to be closer to the market it serves.

“We imagined of Colombia due to the fact it’s been a secure economic system for a quantity of many years now. Of training course Brazil was the largest in the marketplace, but Colombia for us was a huge stepping stone for the relaxation of The us,” he says.

It is also the reason why Britain’s busiest airport desires to hand a lot more of its cherished get-off and landing slots to Avianca, Colombia’s countrywide airline. Six months ago the organization released a direct flight among Heathrow and Bogotá . Its accomplishment means the airline plans to transfer to a daily flight this 12 months.

But although Colombia’s transformation has produced it a significantly safer location, it has also uncovered some of the country’s vulnerabilities. “Transportation is a enormous obstacle,” states Prosperous Coffin, infrastructure leader at Arup, which hopes to aid deal with this problem.

Pickthall agrees. “The most significant concern in Colombia is not security, it really is underdevelopment in infrastructure. The roadways are there, they’re just not motorways or duel carriageways.

“As a result, it charges us significantly less to get one of our 40 foot containers from Felixstowe to Cartagena than it does to get it from Cartagena to Bogotá. That should be enhanced,” he states.

Bogotá is a traditional instance. The metropolis has 8 million folks however no underground train method to transportation them close to. As a end result, it has turn out to be infamous for its traffic jams. Though this provides folks an excuse when they flip up late for conferences, it also wastes time, and time is funds.

A TransMilenio bus functions its way through the Colombian funds Bogotá (Picture: AFP)

Policymakers found a temporary remedy in 2000, when Bogotá’s a lot of more compact buses were replaced by a fleet of articulated TransMilenio autos that seem like London flexible buses on steroids. This eased the site visitors stress, but a lot of think it truly is even now not enough.

With the public purse already stretched, the response could lie in public personal partnerships (PPP), a brainchild of Clarke’s championed by the previous primary minister Gordon Brown. Colombia is looking to the United kingdom to train it how to master successful partnerships in between the non-public and general public sector.

Specialist McBains Cooper thinks it can move its British skills on to Colombian clients. “The Colombian authorities demands a great long-term strategy for infrastructure to see which initiatives have to be developed on the PPP design or by public investment decision. This is a large barrier to acquiring factors accomplished, but it is also our huge toughness, due to the fact we are transferring information about our experience,” suggests Juan Pablo Hoyos, a director at the organization.

Information and providers are rapidly turning out to be as crucial for United kingdom trade as items this kind of as engines and motors. PwC and EY, two of the “huge four” consultancy corporations, have set up places of work in Bogotá. Fifty percent of Britain’s trade with Medellín is in solutions, and the market place is expanding.

Customers of the Uk trade delegation have also discovered classes from Britain’s most recent mission.

Steven Hale, chief govt of the consulting engineers Crofton Design and style, discovered himself adapting his original perception. “I imagined we’d occur here and offer the Colombians engineering design and style. It truly is apparent they have great style here presently, but there are gaps in their knowledge, notably in procurement in PPP, and that we have some knowledge to fill these gaps, and that’s what we want to investigate.

Regardless of its progress, Colombia is not without its flaws. Poverty is as well high, education and learning specifications too reduced. Bribery in the community sector has been decreased, but not eliminated.

Three years back, the director of a British-dependent company was questioned to fly above to Colombia with the assure of a offer. When he arrived, he was informed the agreement was his – on situation of a “brown-envelope” payment. “I said I’d feel about it, but I never ever came back again. Thankfully doing business is not way too a lot like this any much more.”

For Jose Antonio Bonache, corporate director of the Colombian and Venezuelan organizations of beverages large Diageo, getting effective in Colombia comes back to romantic relationship constructing.

“The folks are the greatest thing about undertaking company in Colombia,” he beams. “The change and course this place is relocating in and the adjust that this nation is searching for is a great chance for every person. The problems for United kingdom businesses coming here is to comprehend the cultural distinctions, boundaries and paperwork. After you have done that, you can do business below simply.”

For Cárdenas, the important to unlocking quicker development lies in two factors: infrastructure and peace, he states. “Every single a single by yourself will boost economic development from among 4pc and 5pc to 6pc. If you combine both, then this nation could be expanding at 7pc.”

But soon after five decades of conflict, is this sort of a projection realistic? Cárdenas is hopeful. “If we continue on this route, [strengthening] equally peace and infrastructure, we could start off observing the dividend within the phrase, which ends in 2018.

“It is really probably,” he says, pensively. “I consider it’s very very likely.”

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