A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH

Costa Rica 2018 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Pedro Beirute Prada, CEO of Procomer, on the agency's impact on the local economy and society, its strategy of export diversification, and the importance of partnership.

 Pedro Beirute Prada
BIOGRAPHY
Pedro Beirute Prada has been the CEO of the Export Promotion Agency of Costa Rica (Procomer) since January 2015, when he returned to Costa Rica after 14 years of occupying corporate positions in Europe, Latin America, and the US. Prada has a law degree from Universidad de Costa Rica and a degree in business administration from the Universidad Internacional de las Americas. He completed his MBA at the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid, Spain.

What is behind Procomer's success as one of the best trade agencies in the world?

For three years in a row, Procomer has been ranked the number-one promotion agency in the world. This is a ranking carried out by International Trade Center (ITC), an extension of the World Trade Organization (WTO). What they assess is the impact the agency has on the local economy and society, as well as how it is managed, the business practices, corporate governance, the work environment, the technology that is being used, and succession planning. One of our strengths is being modeled similarly to a PPP: we are governed by a board of directors and a private majority that represent different export sectors of the economy. It is not an agency governed by politics; it is an agency driven by technical decisions. We have long-term strategic planning and work as if we were a private corporation. Our challenge is to open the path for Costa Rica's future trade strategy. Of course, we have short-term tactics, goals, and deliverables; however, we also have long-term vision. As part of these challenges, we have to keep developing the service economy. We expect that in a couple of years, exports of services will surpass that of goods, and we need to be building the right platforms, tools, and resources for that service economy to continue to expand. Services include everything from IT and corporate services to film, fashion, and green services and design.

What sectors export the most?

We export over 4,000 different products to over 150 countries around the world. Agriculture and industry are important, but we do not depend on either. Mining and oil are non-existent. We are properly diversified. Therefore, we do not have one particular target country for 2017 and 2018. Our strength is to focus on many.

What is Procomer doing to increase the diversification of Costa Rican products?

Bananas are our chief product, accounting for 9% of goods and services exported. Additionally, services account for about 5%, which is not bad in terms of risk management. Our priority is to keep developing other products in the food industry as well as services. We have several programs and have increased participation in international fairs; we are also opening a distribution center in Miami to support the food industry. We are developing certification processes for agricultural and non-traditional companies. We are also betting on e-commerce, as we have agreements with Alibaba and Amazon, and are promoting incubation and acceleration programs. We have programs to identify new exporters around the country, since most of our programs are intended to help SMEs.

What other projects or alliances are relevant to the success of Procomer?

Costa Rica exported about USD20 billion worth of goods and services in 2017. The paths, channels, and sources of that wealth cover many areas in our productive ecosystem. Therefore, we are forced to have strong relations with everyone. Two strong allies are the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Industries; with both of them, we have a strategic alliance program in which we sit and agree on the deliverables each year; things that we are going to do in common, things we are going to do on our own, and things we may work on separately but in a parallel fashion to support the sectors they represent. We support all of the exporters. Some need support for the free trade scheme, some need support in country branding, others in market intelligence. We also have a clusters strategy. Clusters intend to join forces and work as a team and share a strategy with convened milestones, objectives, targets, priorities, and so on. This has been effective as we have been able to support a group of companies, instead of just one or two individually. They then share knowledge and customers and collaborate rather than compete. We have aerospace, flowers, plants, food, agriculture, animation, and fashion clusters.