A snapshot of policy trends and successes in the region.
In August, on his fourth official visit to Latin America, Prime Minister Stephen Harper set out to reboot Canada’s on-and-off-again relationship with the region. In the first stop on a four-country tour that took him to Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Honduras, Harper declared in São Paulo that “during too long a time we neglected relations[…]too much grass grows in the cracks on the road. It is time,” he added, “for increased ambition.”
Ambition is important. But so is perseverance.
Canadian efforts in the Americas are characterized by quixotic spasms of tango-like embrace: joining the Organization of American States (1990); negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, 1993–1994); and committing to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (1994)—all nearly 20 years ago. But this rush of engagement was followed by a long siesta until 2007, when the Harper government announced its Strategy of Engagement in the Americas, which emphasized democratic governance, prosperity and security. The plan is only now taking shape.
It does take two to tango, and Latin American governments share equal responsibility for failing to take advantage of Canadian interest and opportunities.
So what makes Harper’s newest effort different?
First, there is the economic malaise in the United States and the recognition that Canadians really do need options to the U.S. market. Agree or not with Standard & Poor’s’ reevaluation of American creditworthiness, there is no disagreement with its analysis that “the effectiveness, stability and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened.”
If economic forecasters are correct, boom years are ahead for Colombia. Private and official analysts predict the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) will grow by an average of 5 percent per year over the next decade. Much of the forecast, though, is based on the assumption that the country will experience an upsurge in mining and oil investment and revenue.
But the rapid expansion of mining concessions also directly threatens the territorial rights—and economic health—of the country’s Indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations, who make up 30.5 percent of Colombia’s population, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Future investment and expansion of mining will directly affect Colombia’s more vulnerable populations, since many of the sought-after concessions affect Indigenous lands—or resguardos—and other protected territories. Resguardos make up approximately 74 million acres (30 million hectares) of Colombian territory, while 17 million acres (7 million hectares) are Afro-Colombian lands. Under Colombia’s constitution, this territory belongs to the respective communities, although the state retains sub-soil rights for mining and oil exploitation.
Latin America has a new competitive edge: call centers. The growing Spanish-speaking population north of the Rio Grande, combined with increased English proficiency, has made the region a highly desirable near-shore customer care destination for U.S. and Canadian companies.
Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico are the industry’s top investment destinations. In each, business expansion is driven by a young, bilingual, educated, and articulate labor force; increasingly solid technological infrastructure; lower operating facility and labor costs; and time zones that allow access to a large market.
Latin American call centers—or contact centers, as some are termed—have represented a bright spot in the outsourcing business, which hit difficult times in 2008–2009 because of the global economic slowdown. Through 2012, the regional market is expected to grow, though at a slower pace than before the crisis.