Peering down toward his boots through the glass window below, a crane operator lowers the boom to snatch one of hundreds of container boxes that zoom through Colombia’s port city, Cartagena, where an expected $50bn over the next 5 years in fresh flowers, cotton textiles, and a torrent of other products now come and go cheaper than before under a free trade agreement recently signed by the US and Colombia earlier this year.
Colombia is generally optimistic about the new relationship, expecting 4.8% GDP growth in 2013, according to Reuters’ reporting. Even though its 2013 projection slouches slightly next to last year’s 5.9%, President Santos’ administration requested 185.5 trillion pesos (USD$103bn) in spending, a 12.2% nudge in investment up from 2012, a government official told Reuters.
The Free Trade Agreement will dismantle hefty duties and tariffs for commodities like coffee, oil, and precious metals. But it should also attract American companies and local entrepreneurs to set up in its Andean capital city, Bogotá, where increased security in recent years coupled with Colombia’s investment optimism make for a magnetic arena for doing business.
Some companies have already bitten the bullet and have decided to race to Bogotá for new opportunities.
Cincinatti-based Convergys, a company that specializes in customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, has already begun to tap into Bogotá’s thriving bilingual talent base. Convergys, whose global presence employs about 70,000 across 5 continents, chose Bogotá to set up a state-of-the-art call center. Known as “the Athens of South America,” Colombia’s capital attracted Convergys because of “the number of top-notch colleges and universities located in the city… and advanced telecommunications and transportation infrastructure,” according to a press release.
Richard Strub, director of operations for Convergys in Colombia, told The City Paper, a Bogotá local English-language newspaper, that “government incentives, a central location just hours from from North America and South America, and a motivated, highly educated workforce have played key roles in drawing business to Colombia, and to Bogotá.”
Not everyone can claim the same optimism as companies like Convergys though. Some, like Buenaventura’s port city, where roughly 80% live in poverty, could be wary of strong promises about more wealth and bounty for all. According to the Washington Office on Latin America a long history of abuse toward labor groups, who have historically occupied the violent margins of Colombia’s industrial thrusts, are still tender. Colombia Reports says that the FTA’s labor-related promises come with a rickety plan, which might not be enough to wipe clean workers’ harsh skepticism toward Colombia’s new commitment.
A sure group definitely falls in line to benefit from Colombia’s free trade kick. To educated Bogotanos the FTA means new opportunities. People like Strub and the optimism he carries should serve as signals to the rest of the world that Colombia is trying to change its image, that it is eagerly opening up for business and trade, and that the country is desperate to show off its nearing successes, not its appalling past.