Massachusetts to “get in on the ground floor” with an emerging Colombian economy

Posted on Feb 14 2013 - 9:18am by Editor

Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, plans to leave today (Friday) on a five-day trade mission to Colombia, the fourth international trip and the governor’s second visit to Latin America, according to an administration official.

Patrick plans to travel to Bogota, the Colombian capital, to meet with President Juan Manuel Santos Calderon. Patrick also plans to visit Cartagena and several lesser-developed cities with a contingent of state officials and others representing Massachusetts businesses and the state’s life sciences, technology and clean energy sectors.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for Massachusetts to compete for jobs on the global playing field,” Patrick said in a statement. “We cannot afford to sit idle as our competitors develop the partnerships and secure the investments that will create jobs in the innovation industries where we already have an advantage – life sciences, clean energy, and the digital technologies.”

Unlike Patrick’s past trade missions to more established foreign economic centers such as Israel, Great Britain, China, Brazil and Chile, the trip to Colombia has been designed to position Massachusetts to “get in on the ground floor” with an emerging South American economy, according to the administration official.

In October 2011, Congress approved a free trade agreement with Colombia that opened up a $1.1 billion market for United States exports. The agreement took effect in May 2012, and the Patrick administration hopes that by establishing relationships early it can position Bay State businesses to take advantage of the opportunities in the emerging Colombian marketplace.

In 2012, Massachusetts exported approximately $81.5 million in goods and services to Colombia, making it the state’s fifth largest trade partner in Latin America and 33rd largest overall. Bay State companies like Big Belly trash compactors, Mavel, a Boston-based hydro company and the New Bedford electric vehicle company Vetrix are already doing business in Colombia, contributing to a 12.5 percent growth in exports last year.

The trip will include stops in emerging economic hubs, compared by administration officials to the former industrial and manufacturing centers known as “Gateway Cities” in Massachusetts that Patrick has sought to revitalize with grants and urban development projects.

Colombia boasts Latin America’s fourth largest population and third largest economy, with a gross domestic product that has doubled over the past decade and a record of job creation that eclipsed that of Brazil last quarter. Like in Massachusetts, the medical device industry is major component of the country’s economy, and 24 percent of Colombian graduate students are pursuing a degree in the life sciences.

Patrick plans to be in Colombia through next Wednesday. First Lady Diane Patrick will accompany the governor on the trip – the first time she has joined an international trade mission – and will meet with the First Lady of Colombia. After leaving Colombia on Wednesday, the couple plan to spend a few days vacationing in Florida before returning to Massachusetts.

Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki will travel with the governor, along with Massport CEO Thomas Glynn, Massachusetts Life Sciences Center CEO Susan Windham Bannister, Massachusetts Technology Collaborative Executive Director Pamela Goldberg, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center President Alicia Barton McDevitt, Massachusetts Competitive Partnership President Dan O’Connell, and Kristen Rupert, executive director of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts International Business Council.

A handful of staff members from the governor’s office and other aides from the quasi-public agencies will also make the trip. The administration estimates the cost of the trade mission to be less than $180,000, with some of the expense shared with the private sector participants.

After visiting China during his first year in office, Patrick took several years off from official international travel before ramping up efforts after his reelection. In 2011, Patrick made two trade trips, the first to Great Britain and Israel, and the second to Brazil and Chile. The administration has counted new direct flights to Beijing, the expansion of British and Israeli companies in Massachusetts, and academic exchange and research partnerships with Brazil and Chile among the positive results of the trips.

The delegation also plans to meet with Colombian Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzon, Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs María Ángela Holguín Cuéllar, the Vice Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, the President of the Port Society of Cartagena Captain Alfonson Salas Trujillo, and two national research and innovation organizations.