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Business in Vancouver

Vancouver’s burgeoning Latin American community means business

Trading bloc clearing the way for tech start-ups and entrepreneurs to dip toes into Vancouver market

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2016, 4:23pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2016, 4:23pm

By Tyler Orton

Between the plethora of non-stop flights to Asia and the millions of tonnes of cargo passing through the Port of Vancouver, there’s “no question” British Columbians prioritise trade with Asia over Latin America, according to Nicolas Lloreda.

Colombia’s ambassador to Canada believes, however, the Pacific Alliance – a trading bloc made up of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru – is shifting that focus from east to south.

“Those four countries have their own trade agreement, which pretty much makes them a common market,” Lloreda told Business in Vancouver, while visiting the city in mid-October.

“We are getting more and more Canadian companies that are starting to use Colombia as a hub. They like the facility to do business, and they like the business culture and they appreciate the geographic location, which makes it ideal for them.”

Canada, which has free trade agreements with each of the alliance members, became the first non-Latin American country in 2012 to observe the trading bloc.

By 2015, Canada’s trade with the Pacific Alliance totalled C$46.2 billion (US$34.5 billion), while direct investment abroad totalled C$42.4 billion (US$31.7 billion).

But aside from mostly mining interests from some BC firms, Lloreda acknowledged most of that investment is coming from Central and Atlantic Canada.

Measured by metric tonnes of cargo, Asian countries, including Japan, South Korea, India and Taiwan, accounted for six of the top 10 trading partners at the Port of Vancouver in 2015, according to the port authority’s annual financial report.

No. 1 ranked China accounted for more than 30 million tonnes of cargo unloaded at the port compared with No. 6 Chile (3.6 million tonnes) or No. 10 Mexico (1.8 million tonnes).

However, the federal government’s efforts to shift the economy toward the innovation sector should be a welcome change for Vancouver-Latin American business opportunities, according to Lloreda.

In September, Colombian tech start-up Biko launched its cycling-marketing service in Vancouver – its first foray into a North American city.

Biko’s app logs the kilometres cyclists travel, which it then converts into free or discounted goods and services from local companies.

CEO Enrique Cuellar told BIV the app is tracking about 60,000 users in Colombia, where approximately 500,000 cyclists hit the roads in capital city Bogota alone.

Vancouver, known for its separated bike lanes and growing cycling culture, makes for an ideal city to launch Biko, and Cuellar said local businesses have been receptive to the idea of drawing in cyclists through an app.

Red Truck Beer Co., the Nuba restaurant chain and the Vancouver Art Gallery are among the local groups to sign on.

Francisco Perello, president of the board of directors for the Latincouver non-profit organization, said that despite Biko’s entry into the market, Vancouver is still facing “missed opportunities” when building stronger economic links to Latin America.

Between 2001 and 2011, BC’s Latin American population grew 48 per cent to 35,465 from 23,885, according to Statistics Canada.

In September, Perello’s organization launched the Latin Innovation Hub in North Vancouver to provide support to the region’s growing Latin American population.

The facility holds 20 offices, where volunteers provide support to Latino entrepreneurs launching businesses in Metro Vancouver. The hub also advises local business owners interested in expanding into the Latin American market.

“Trying to do new business in any country is difficult,” Perello said. “If you had people [who shared] a common background, and can guide you, and help you and point you in the right direction, I think that makes life easier.”