In 2016, the Colombia government and Farc (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) signed a definitive ceasefire and disarmament agreement that formally brought an end to 52 years of armed conflict. The scope of this agreement strengthened economic growth and significantly improved social conditions in the country, allowing Colombia to harness its strategic location with ports in both the Pacific and Carribbean.
SeaLand, a shipping company that operates in 43 countries in the Americas, recently documented that “at the end of 2017, total containerised trade between Colombia and the American countries had a relative growth of 4 per cent.” In 2016, 45 percent of Colombian exports of agricultural products to the world went to the European Union.
At this year's London Produce Show and Conference, ProColombia, the government agency charged with promoting non-traditional Colombian exports and handling foreign investment, exhibited some fascinating products. Numbering 28 foreign offices in North, Central, and South America, Europe and Asia, ProColombia maintains a strong foreign presence, promoting Colombia as a brand.
We sat down with Felipe Jaramillo, president of ProColombia, to learn more about the branch’s services and offerings.
Could you start by giving a little history about the company. How did it all come about?
ProColombia was created in 1991. Its main responsibilities are the promotion of non-mining energy goods and services exports in key markets, the internationalization of Colombian companies, the attraction of foreign direct investment to Colombia, the positioning of the country as a tourist destination for vacations and meetings, and the promotion of the country's brand.
As we are talking produce, tell us a little about what you specifically export in this segment. Which are your highest-selling products? Which are the most challenging?
Colombia is a country rich in natural resources, thermal floors and biodiversity. This allows diversity in its agricultural exports basket. The main exported products in the country are coffee, flowers and bananas, followed by fresh fruits like avocados, purple passion fruit, golden berries and pineapples. In 2017, Colombian agricultural exports reached about US $3.714 million, and floral exports were US $3.714 million.
The country has great extensions of land for agriculture. The challenge lies in cultivating internationally high-demand products. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Colombia has been appointed as one of the world’s food dispense countries by 2050, and given its potential, the previously mentioned products can be grown, along with others, such as cacao and acai.
What are some of the services that you offer investors?
To attract foreign direct investment, ProColombia has undertaken a proactive strategy that aims to show the world the advantages of investing in Colombia. This strategy includes special services to the investors such as tailor-made information regarding business opportunities in different sectors and industries, as well as coordinating agendas for potential investors and facilitating the flow of information by means of contacts within the public and private sectors. ProColombia offers its services to the companies at no cost. All information is treated in a confidential manner.
ProColombia also organizes seminars and international events for both new and well-established investors. In addition to working together with regional entities during the decision-making process, we assist foreign entrepreneurs in getting settled in different cities around Colombia. We provide step-by-step assistance for the companies throughout the process to ensure they have all they need to establish a successful business.
Could you tell us about Marca Colombia. How did it come about? How has it evolved over the years?
Marca Colombia is a competitive strategy created by the Colombian government about 15 years ago, and its main goal is to bridge the gap between the perception and the reality of our country. Marca País takes part in all the campaigns from ProColombia’s areas: exports, tourism and foreign investments. It has evolved given the positive transformation of the country in the past few years. In every way, Colombia is a better country now than 15 years ago. Today, we can proudly state that Colombia is a country on par with other dynamic and innovative countries all around the world.
Your company places a strong emphasis on transparency. How is this translated in the various services you provide?
Being a Colombian government entity, we offer information and educational services to local enterprises. Most of our services are free and aim to help entrepreneurs by providing accurate and prompt information to successfully reach international markets or to invest in Colombia and reduce barriers that may appear due to the lack of information.
In terms of the UK market, are you looking to create partnerships with the UK in particular? Or Europe in general?
At large, Europe is a great Colombian ally. The country has a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union, which facilitates commercial and investor relations. The main possible alliances for the agricultural industry are focused on making Colombia visible as an agricultural dispense area and as a strategic investment destination for big European importer enterprises in the food industry. We also want to make Colombia visible, a strategic investment hub.
The goal is to export Colombian-produced food to Europe and other markets. Our country is known for its biodiversity, human and natural resources, as well as legal stability. These alliances are already happening. For example, Cartama is a Colombian Hass avocado company that has a joint venture with one of the biggest fresh-food producers in United Kingdom called Fresca Group. The alliance was made to generate more exports and supply the demand in UK.
What are the main challenges you face in the marketplace? What has challenged and equally advanced your services?
The main challenge lies in having more detailed information about the buyers in these shows in order to lay out better offers. We endeavor to identify and develop business opportunities with the best international clients and generate exports from enterprises that generate local economy movement. ProColombia aims to make entrepreneurs gain strength in these markets as trusty providers with great-quality food.
Finally, let’s talk about the London Produce Show. Was this your first time presenting there? What were your expectations before heading to the show?
This was the second time Colombia we attended the London Produce Show. We displayed high-potential products like Hass avocado and pineapple. We participated by supporting two producer enterprises, with the United Kingdom as the main target.
Also, this year, Colombia launched its international food campaign Colombian Food, As Exciting As Its Origin that highlights the most representative characteristics of the country’s natural resources: biodiversity, the Colombian countryside and its farmers. Our campaign aims to promote Colombian foods with export potential. Some products highlighted by the campaign are horticultural, cacao and their derivate products, bovine meat, aquiculture, and palm and its derivates.