Colombian trade promotion leads to services export boom
Services entrepreneurs from 253 Colombian and 122 international companies participated during the 50th Business Matchmaking Forum organized by ProExport. © Proexport Colombia
A testimonial provided by David Bergantino, former vice president of premium games production at broadcaster Nickelodeon in the United States of America, shows Colombia’s position as an emerging global service provider. ‘There is talent and enthusiasm as well as a great ability to deliver at a high level of quality and at a competitive cost,’ he said last year at a seminar in Bogotá.
Bergantino’s perception of Colombia's services sector, shared by many, was shaped by the coordinated efforts of the Colombian government and business community and the results that cooperation has generated.
Synergy has been key. Proexport Colombia, the entity in charge of promoting non-traditional national exports, began working with the services sector in 2009. Three years later the Ministry of Information Technologies and Communication (MITC) joined Proexport in its quest to increase services exports.
Thanks to close cooperation with the business community, we have been able to identify strategies to reach different niche markets, such as participation in international events, training seminars, sourcing programmes, business conferences, and exploratory visits to strategic markets.
Through these efforts, we are creating contacts with companies in different markets to facilitate business opportunities and this has paid off. Nickelodeon and entertainment provider Walt Disney Co., for example, have identified Colombian companies to develop 360-degree campaigns and video games.
Having a presence at international events generates business opportunities for Colombian entrepreneurs as they learn at first hand of industry trends, a knowledge that has further facilitated efforts to enhance their supply of services offerings.
That is why we assisted 150 Colombian companies in 2012. By 2013 that figure rose to 328 firms in events such as the Game Developers Congress in San Francisco, the Cannes Film Festival, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and the World BPO Forum in New York, among others.
Our support also consists of inviting international buyers to sector-specific fairs in Colombia. In addition, we hold an annual business matchmaking forum in Silicon Valley so Colombian companies can explore the United States market and find new opportunities.
The participation of services entrepreneurs in our multi-sector business matchmaking forums is also significant. During the 50th Business Matchmaking Forum held last February in Bogotá, the largest to date, there were 253 Colombian and 122 international companies. We’ve had similar events in Toronto, Chicago, Miami and Brazil.
In addition, we are creating an IT brand for Colombia in a joint effort with MITC to promote the sector abroad. Building SME skills
Proexport has a dedicated programme for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to help them improve their offerings and to obtain international certifications, which gives confidence to buyers and investors.
We developed the medical tourism brand ‘Choose Colombia’ to position ourselves as the top treatment destination in Latin America and one of the best in the world. This campaign is complemented by tours of insurance companies and medical facilities and facilitators to help prospective patients understand what Colombia has to offer in this segment.
Concerning regulation, Proexport coordinates the Facilitation System to Attract Investment, a public-private system where information regarding opportunities for improvement of the investment climate is gathered. It is then made available to a high-level technical committee created within the framework of the National Competitiveness System to adopt relevant measures.
This system identifies and centralizes information regarding opportunities for improvement of the investment climate and establishes an institutional memory of the circumstances that may hinder investment in Colombia. Some of the recent achievements in the services sector include regulation of the value-added tax exemption for services export, elimination of double taxation for logistics operations, and modification of the immigration regime.
The Colombian services sector offers a winning blend of creativity, technical quality and cost-effectiveness. It also features proximity to some of the world’s largest importers. In addition, it excels in software development, video games and mobile applications, filming locations, digital animation and publishing services.
This has sparked the interest of foreign companies. Already there are 140 multinational business process outsourcing and IT companies installed in some of the software development hubs of Colombia such as the Atlantic, Valle del Cauca, Cundinamarca, Antioquia, Bolívar and Santander.
Shared service centres to harmonize the operations of foreign companies’ subsidiaries in the region; finance management; account- ing; human resources; purchasing; billing; and customer service are just some of the interests.
The training of professionals and the strengthening of specialized areas are placing Colombia not only as an exporter and service provider, but as a hub for the global service industry.