In recent years an already buoyant relationship between the governments of Colombia and the United Kingdom has gathered even more strength thanks, in part, to the close ties of the current head of state Juan Manuel Santos with the land of his Alma Mater, the London School of Economics; and from which, he earned a master’s degree in economics, economic development, and public administration.
But Santos is hardly alone with letters from such a prestigious establishment. According to Andrew Wright, current Director General of UK Colombia Trade some 500 business leaders working in Colombia hold LSE credentials, and meet regularly to share and talk about their years in the United Kingdom.
Inspiring others to embrace higher education in the United Kingdom, the alumni of LSE are just one segment of the Colombian populace which looks towards the island nation with admiration and respect. And after years of negotiations Colombian carrier Avianca announced it would start a direct service between Bogotá’s El Dorado and London’s Heathrow, July 4th.
Forming part of the European Free Trade zone, the United Kingdom is the second largest foreign direct investor in Colombia, amounting to $6-billion (U.S) during the last 8 years. To help consolidate the commercial ties and offer a gateway for U.K-based companies to explore opportunities in Colombia, UK Colombia Trade was set up in 2013.
Part of a global initiative by PM David Cameron to triplicate British exports to the sum of 1-trillion Pounds, Colombia was chosen to join 19 other countries which best offer incentives and opportunities for incoming British business.
While the official government’s UKTI (UK Trade and Investment) works to boost British exports around the world as well as help SME’s (Small and Medium enterprises) benefit commercially through exports, UK Colombia Trade works closely with UKTI on facilitating Colombia as a port of entry for businesses with services which are needed across the board; from mega projects in the oil and gas, to building infrastructure and managing clean energy transportation.
Last year to celebrate the World Games in Cali, The Wright Group – a leading coachbuilder from Northern Ireland – sent to Colombia a double-decker which showcased an iconic British bus. The Wright Group and Scottish bus builders Alexander Den- nis have been looking for business partners with expertise in the Colombian integrated transport market. “UKTI have set up a new team to attract foreign direct investment from Latin America to Britain. They want the big companies and early-stage multinationals such as Ecopetrol, Grupo Sura, Cementos Argos to think of London as a place to have their global headquarters,” states Wright.
In June the Colombian Stock Ex- change (BVC) will travel with representatives of 25 of Colombia’s top-listed companies to the U.K. to raise the profile of their businesses to investors and explore the option of listing on the London Stock Exchange. “London remains a major market to raise capital,” claims Wright.
Part of the mission of the British Embassy in Bogotá – and its commercial entities – is to raise awareness of the quality of British goods. “It’s not just about pouring concrete on a road. These mega projects involve design and project management. Doing things on time. This is extremely pertinent at this moment with the state of infrastructure,” highlights the CEO of UK Colombia Trade.
And emblematic symbols of British history and culture are increasingly placed in windows across Bogotá. From Union Jacks draping shops, to fans of Manchester United celebrating a Champion’s league match in red jerseys and at a local pub, UK Colombia Trade is working closely in opening up the retail sector to British-made goods and services. One of the world’s most innovative (and London-based) architecture firms Foster + Partners, are in the early stage of exploring projects for cultural spaces in Bogotá and sustainable mega builder Lord Rogers is working on a flagship project for renovating the capital’s center with plans involving the construction of one of the tallest buildings to grace a Latin American skyline.
British companies are increasingly adding value to already high-profile Colombian businesses looking to modernize their manufacturing base, implement greener energy policies and look at British design to make their brands more competitive.
In the retail cluster, luxury clothing houses Burberry and Hackett London have established a presence in Bogotá. As the second largest retail city in Latin America (after Sao Paulo) British companies are eyeing Colombian cities as an exciting market to step into. Despite some misconceptions overseas of the opportunities in Colombia, companies such as Land Rover and Mini Cooper have a proven track record in the country and demand for their cars continues to grow from increasingly brand-conscious, local consumers.
With centuries of history between the two nations, the Colombia UK relationship is growing and strengthening thanks to initiatives by entities such as UKTI and UK Colombia Trade. As Colombia’s economic engine advances towards an expanding horizon, don’t be surprised – if in the years to come – the trains of future overland travel are assembled with that ‘Britain is Great’ know how.