BILATERAL FOR THE BETTER

Colombia 2018 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Patricia Tovar, Executive Director of Colombian British Chamber of Commerce (Britcham), on finding new strategies in trying times, supporting Colombians investing in the UK, and the rising importance of ecotourism.

Patricia Tovar
BIOGRAPHY
Patricia Tovar has been with the Colombian British Chamber of Commerce for 14 years. Previously, she was the two-term president of Eurocámaras.

What have been Britcham's main achievements over the past year?

In Colombia, business has changed for many companies, sectors, and entrepreneurs. In the past, we were focused on oil and gas as well as mining operations and service industries. The fall in prices caused a reduction of many affiliates. This demanded a new strategy and business plan from Britcham Colombia. From the start of the plan, we sought to chart a new course based on new sectors, especially when Colombia, as an emerging economy, was promoting an interesting offer in infrastructure, energy development, technology, innovation, manufacturing, environment, agribusiness, education, IT, and tourism, among many others. Colombia has improved investor confidence, sparked interest among new investors, and can be viewed as one of the most reliable countries in Latin America. The most important achievements were supporting UK companies investing in Colombia, organizing a number of training seminars, opening the government's doors in terms of certifications and services, and supporting Colombians investing in the UK. As a result of our new strategy, Britcham is supporting Colombians considering setting up business in the UK, a market where this has traditionally been difficult. We are committed to the success of those SMEs, large Colombian companies, and entrepreneurs being driven by UK authorities and associations in different sectors.

Which sectors are currently the most attractive for UK investors?

The ecotourism industry is certainly ready to be developed. For example, the UK has recently discovered bird watching biodiversity in Colombia, an opportunity that we have started to promote among travel consultants that cover three different regions. We have connected two potential companies that will result in a tourism corridor with social inclusion programs and indigenous families being trained as part of the agreement. This will result in new economic activity and income for impoverished communities.

What are the main challenges foreign companies face when setting up shop in Colombia?

With global coverage of the peace process, an increased security effort in different regions, and hundreds of new investors telling the story through the growth expectations achieved, the most attractive aspects of Colombia are its market of 47 million people and its educated and growing middle-class. Colombia also provides access to neighboring LATAM markets and distributors. Granted, the recent tax reform has resulted in certain issues for various industries, with some companies leaving the country while others have set up new long-term business goals. Colombia has faced difficult times; however, the expectations are always positive, and 2018 should result in a new long-term business view. Foreign investors see a promising economy.

How do you foresee bilateral investment relations evolving, especially in light of Brexit?

Brexit does not worry Colombian exporters or British investors. Talking to members of both governments, there are still excellent opportunities to be found. Both governments will move forward with signing a new bilateral agreement, gathering from the experience of the FTA with the EU and introducing better benefits for both countries. Furthermore, the Pacific Alliance will translate into greater market integration, which means connecting a larger economy in terms of people and opportunities. Colombia offers opportunities in various areas for the UK government, both politically and commercially, after the peace process. There are important resources coming from different funds that demonstrate the UK's commitment and confidence in the government. During the 2016 state visit, for example, both countries were represented by their finance ministers, who signed a double taxation treaty that will be ratified in 2018. This will encourage the business communities in both and result in increased trade. In 2017, there were more than 12 important UK government visits, incoming trade missions, and a trade envoy seeking to increase bilateral trade in Colombia. We expect even better results in 2018.