Interview: María Claudia Lacouture

Which export products will benefit most from a stronger trade relationship with Asia?

MARIA CLAUDIA LACOUTURE: In South Korea we see opportunities for metallurgy and coffee derivatives. Additionally, Colombia expects to enter this market with meats, dairy products, baked and flour-milling products, coffee derivatives, flowers, sugar, fruits, and vegetables. A preliminary analysis conducted by Proexport also suggested opportunities in apparels, including underwear and specialised post-surgery garments.

China is a potentially good market, especially for metallurgy and manufacturing, as well as coffee products, sugar, honey, chocolate and local confectionery, soft drinks and liquors (including the Colombian-specialty, Aguardiente). Fungicides and insecticides, pharmaceutical products, medical prosthetics, leather and swimsuits are also in high demand.

The Japanese market offers possibilities to export fresh flowers, coffee derivatives, shrimp, fruit, cocoa derivatives and confectionery products. In the manufacturing sector there are opportunities to export an array of products from the chemical industry, agrochemicals, rubber and wood, as well as apparel.

How much commercial potential is there in Colombia’s food and beverage sector?

LACOUTURE: In 2012, Proexport implemented a tourism promotion plan for epicurean products, mainly focused on the Latin American market and with targeted activities in European markets, including Spain. The strategy, now under way, was a joint effort between Proexport and the Vice-Ministry of Tourism, with trade results expected in the following years.

Colombian cuisine is renowned for being a blend of the three main ethnic groups that settled here: Natives, Spaniards and Africans. This has resulted in a wide array of dishes setting us apart from other countries like Mexico and Peru. The potential can be observed throughout the country, particularly in destinations like the islands of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, and the departments of Bolívar, Bogotá, Amazonas, Cauca and Valle del Cauca. We also have the potential to become wholesalers of culinary products, predominantly in Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Mexico.

What services can business process outsourcing companies offer to the US market?

LACOUTURE: We have identified positive prospects for Spanish-language voice and data services. There are also software development opportunities. Potential in this area stems from the availability of well-trained human resources, particularly in IT. More than 21,500 engineers graduated from electrical, electronic, industrial and computer science programmes between 2001 and 2011, according to the Employment Department of the Ministry of Education.

The country is aware of its strategic location and its cultural affinity with the US, and is therefore prepared to offer custom software development services, as well as customer relations and resource planning solutions for companies in search of custom-designed products.

Also, Colombia is ready to serve as a customer services base for all Hispanic markets through contact centres, while the country works on improving the language training amongst its youth, particularly in English.

What is behind the rise of Colombia as a destination for cruise ship operators?

LACOUTURE: The number of cruise tourists has increased from 51,447 to 256,075 in the past five years, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism.

We are promoting Colombia as a destination offering experiences which fit well with the cruise industry, as tourists boarding in Colombia have the chance to remain a few days before or after their cruise.

Cartagena is the cornerstone of the cruise industry, but Santa Marta and San Andrés are becoming more relevant. Cruises are also set to start docking into Solano Bay, on the Pacific, which should encourage tourism development in this region, particularly for ecotourism.