McPherse Thompson, Assistant Editor - Business
The agency which promotes tourism and investment in Colombia has called on Jamaican businesses to look south as part of their expansionist strategy and take advantage of the large markets to which they can avail themselves if they set up shop in the Latin American country.
Carlos Gonzalez, Proexport Colombia executive director for the Caribbean has also called for a partnership between that entity and Jamaica to promote both countries as destinations of choice.
"We would like to see more products being part of the manufacturing process that exists in Jamaica, and also to offer Colombia," with 46 million consumers, "as a destination for your products," said Gonzalez making a pitch for Jamaica's businesses to take advantage of Colombia's goods and services.
Gonzalez arrived in Jamaica on Thursday for an investment and tourism seminar that was cancelled due to the passage of Hurricane Sandy.
In an interview with Sunday Business shortly after his arrival, he said the seminar would have been targeted to about 100 business people and government representatives from the import and export sectors, potential investors and the tourism industry.
Proexport is an economic entity that promotes tourism and investment into Colombia and the export of goods and services, and hence the seminar was expected to address the opportunities provided by Colombia in those areas to the Jamaican business community.
Gonzalez said his visit is an attempt to stimulate businesses and to better inform them of the prospects, given that Jamaica's participation in specialised trade shows in Colombia has declined despite invitations over the last nine years.
His intention is to better illustrate why Jamaica should look south, noting, for example, that Colombia has good offers that can compete on better terms "than imports from the Far East because we are closer, production is very flexible, meaning that imports of goods ... doesn't have to be in large orders, and because of the proximity, we can deliver in a week."
Gonzalez said businesses importing from the Far East not only have to place large orders, but have to wait 45 to 60 days for the goods to be delivered. He said there was also a big difference in the quality of goods when compared with those from Colombia.
"Logistically speaking, we have direct routes from Colombian ports to Jamaican ports," he said, noting that 21 shipping routes are navigated weekly - 11 of them direct and 10 transit passages to other parts of the Caribbean.
Gonzalez said that in 2011, Colombia exports to the region amounted to US$684 million in manufactured goods and services, of which US$57 million came to Jamaica mainly for the agro-business sector as well as sugar, confectionery, baked products, glass bottles and other containers for the food industry as well as construction material.
He said Jamaica buys eight per cent of Colombia's exports to the Caribbean, making it the fifth largest commercial partner in the region after the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Haiti and Curaçao.
"We wanted to inform the business community here that we can offer raw material, semi-finished and finished products that are used and incorporated in the production chain mainly in the food industry," said the Proexport executive director.
"We can provide preservatives, bottles, plastic, glass, flexible packaging," he said, adding that "the packaging industry in Colombia is very well developed, competitive and innovative."
He also touted the design and high quality of construction products, saying that with the United States as its main trading partner, Colombian manufacturers have to meet the stringent requirements of that very demanding market.
Regarding opportunities for the tourism industry, Gonzalez said that although about 100,000 Colombians choose the Caribbean as a vacation destination, only 11 per cent of
Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer
Carlos Gonzalez, executive director Caribbean, Proexport, Colombia speaks during an interview at The Gleaner's North Street, Kingston offices on Thursday, October 25.
them come to Jamaica despite knowledge of the destination and what he described as the excellent hotel and tourism infrastructure.
"I want to take this opportunity to call on the Jamaican (tourism) industry to look more to Colombia and promote Jamaica, this beautiful island, in Colombia," he said.
Since Colombians no longer need a visa to visit Jamaica, he said, it is an opportune time for the Jamaican industry to join with Proexport to promote both destinations.
"We would like to receive more Jamaicans because only 580 ... visited Colombia last year," he said.
But there are also opportunities for investors in the hotel and tourism sector, he adds. As a draw to businesses, Colombia is offering exemption from income tax for 30 years for persons investing up to year 2018.
Tax breaks are also offered to investors who hire persons under age 18 or women over 40 who are heads of families.
"We are becoming relevant in the tourism industry because we have been growing at a faster rate than the world average," said the export promoter.
Quoting statistics for the years 2001-2011, Gonzalez said visitor arrivals to Colombia grew by an average 10.3 per cent while the rest of the world grew on average by 3.4 per cent. Last year Colombia had close to two million visitors, he said.
Colombia is also positioned as a world class healthcare destination, said Gonzalez, stating that 16 of the top 30 hospitals in Latin America are located in that country.
He suggested that Jamaicans who go abroad for medical treatment should consider choosing Colombia where procedures are high tech, but are less expensive than the United States.
"In terms of investment, I encourage companies to look to Colombia as part of their expansionist strategy because once established in Colombia they can reach not only the 46 million consumers there, but consumers from neighbouring countries because Colombia has signed free trade agreements with Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and the United States," he said.
According to Gonzalez, "one of the things that make Colombia very attractive for investors in hotels and tourism infrastructure is because (businesses) investing in that sector up to the year 2018 are income tax exempt for 30 years."