The ProColombia team in Toronto has been focused on building strong trading connections in digital technology services sectors between Colombia and Canada for the past few years. In May 2018, a delegation of Colombian tech services firms participated in a successful business-to-business mission to Ontario, and which led to Canadian firms visiting Colombia for meetings the following month – some for the first time.
In this exclusive interview for Nearshore Americas, Álvaro Concha, Colombia’s trade commissioner at ProColombia’s Toronto office, shares his thoughts on recent north-south IT services market development, where he sees a Colombia-Canada collaboration benefiting firms in both markets.
Theo Ward: How has the Colombia connection evolved since that 2018 business mission, and what has been your market connection focus?
Álvaro Concha: Canada and Colombia enjoy an increasingly diversified bilateral commercial relationship that is growing. Canada offers high-value opportunities for Colombian companies in Creative Industries and Information Technology sectors. We are focused on intensifying and building upon these relationships to create new bilateral opportunities.
Colombia is positioning itself as a digital technology gateway in Latin America. Medellin was recently recognized by the World Economic Forum as the first Spanish-speaking city to host a WEF Fourth Industrial Revolution Network affiliate center. This is a factor in building Colombia’s economic and cultural global benchmarks.
Regarding Canada specifically, the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and Colombia, signed in 2008, has created a very positive environment — the two governments are working to find opportunities that support the growth of digital industries in each market. Our goal is to keep strengthening this relationship.
Theo Ward: The services trade is very relationship-based, particularly in IT services, where trust factors play a heightened role in business development. But it also presents potential opportunities beyond the typical buyer-seller model. Aside from Colombia’s competitive value in its digital services sectors, what do you think defines the win-win potential for collaboration between Canada and Colombia?
Álvaro Concha: The Gateway to Trade program that we conducted in 2018 was a key factor in defining the win-win potential for collaboration between Canada and Colombia. This was a program developed and delivered by Global Links Network that Trade Facilitation Office Canada brought to ProColombia, with support from Global Affairs Canada. It consisted of a series of activities, commercial missions and customized workshops to adapt the exportable supply of IT and digital creative services from Colombia to Canada, and to enable Colombian firms to effectively develop individual market value propositions.
Within the framework of this project, two commercial missions were carried out: a mission of 14 Colombian exporters, from cities such as Cali, Bogotá, Medellín, and Barranquilla, to Canada in early 2018, followed by a mission of eight Canadian buyer firms to Medellín during the Lab4+ Pacific Alliance Conference in July 2018 — activities that achieved business worth more than US$3 million during 2018.
Theo Ward: What do you consider are important activities in your role of developing a successful business environment that Colombian tech firms can leverage in the Canadian market?
Álvaro Concha: I believe that services trade is a two-way opportunity. Colombian firms have enormous value to provide Canada, and Canadian companies can find new Latin American opportunities through relationships with Colombia. This is why we need to connect our relevant industry partners.
The ProColombia office in Toronto, in alliance with important ecosystem partners such as Interactive Ontario, has been focused not only on finding a buyer market, but also on developing relationships that make sense for Colombia and for Ontario. Services trade lends itself to these types of relationships.
Our 2018 “soft-landing in Canada program” is an example of this type of cross-border collaboration. Eight Colombian companies in software and digital creative services established in Toronto for about five weeks on average, looking to consolidate a commercial presence or venture into the Canadian market.
The Colombian firms found commercial allies, expanded their network of contacts, and managed to generate collaborative opportunities for their services. They were hosted by Canadian companies during their stay, and also participated in iVentures: the most important event of the year for the interactive digital media industry in Ontario.
Watch a video here on how Canada and Colombia are teaming up digitally
Theo Ward: One of Colombia’s technology strengths is in digital creative sub-sectors – animation, gaming, and VR/AR are a few examples. Colombia’s president was instrumental in developing the concept of the Orange Economy during his time working with the Inter-American Development Bank, by describing the future of creative services in global trade, many of which are increasingly tech-enabled. How does the Orange Economy play a key role in Colombia’s competitive advantage?
Álvaro Concha: Colombia is positioning itself internationally as a benchmark for creative and cultural industries, or the Orange Economy. It already accounts for 3.4% of the country’s GDP, which means that it is almost 2.5 times larger than the contribution to the GDP of the coffee sector and almost 3.3 times more than the GDP contribution of the mining sector. Colombia’s Orange Economy employs more than 600,000 people directly and indirectly, making it an enormously important job sector and potential export generator.
Theo Ward: The Collision Tech Conference is being held in Toronto May 20-23, 2019, and you are hosting a Colombian delegation of tech firms. It’s a major show, often referred to as North America’s fastest-growing tech conference. What will make Colombian tech firms stand out?
Álvaro Concha: Colombia is promoting its Orange Economy through increased talent development in the private sector, backed by government and educational institutions. Collision in Toronto is the perfect opportunity to showcase these advancements in Colombian tech sectors. Attendees of the conference will get a taste of Colombia’s innovative thinking, creativity and its tireless commitment to making the world a better place to live in.
Meet with Alvaro Concha and select Colombian IT firms in Toronto at the Collision Tech Conference during May 20 to 23, 2019. For more information, contact the Toronto PROCOLOMBIA office at +1 (416) 363-9225 or email Luis Filipe Avellandeda at [email protected]