Misconceptions and a lack of knowledge of Colombia could be preventing firms from tapping into rich opportunities there
Why are there so few UK construction firms working in Colombia?
While there are UK firms in many other parts of Latin America - particularly Brazil and Chile - very few have venutred into Colombia.
Yet this is a country that boasts an annual growth rate of over 5%, a mining and oil boom and ambitious plans to quadruple infrastructure investment to £5.3bn by 2015.
Western firms based in the country - including Aecom and Deloitte - enthuse about the country’s dynamic, secure private sector, Colombia’s engine of growth.
Plus, the government there has just passed a new public-private partnership (PPP) law based on UK best practice and is urging UK firms with their extensive PPP experience to enter the market.
But apart from the intrepid Foster + Partners and Rogers Stirk Harbour - who I understand are both close to picking up prestigious jobs in the country - very few Brits have taken the country up on its offer.
Having spoken to UK-based global firms before and after my trip there, it seems the country’s old reputation for drug gang and guerrilla violence still lingers on - businesses are still concerned Colombia is not a safe place to do business. The other reason is undoubtedly lack of knowledge about the market.
It would be a lie to say Colombia has overcome all its security issues - it hasn’t. A quick glance at the Foreign Office’s travel advice for the country will provide you with a sizeable list of no-go areas where drug cartels and guerrillas still hold sway.
But this is not true of the vast majority of Colombia. I spent two weeks travelling around the country (for work and on holiday) and never once felt unsafe.
Aecom - which is predicting both a private and public sector building boom in Colombia and is considering expanding its operation there - said it had not had a single security issue in its five years working in the country, on the US government’s USAID programme.
Successive Colombian governments have made huge strides in improving the country’s security situation since the 1990s, when drug gang and guerrilla violence were risks of day-to-day life for most Colombians.
Today, far from being a place blighted by insecurity and fear, Colombia is a vibrant, welcoming and ambitious place.
For those UK firms that do venture into the market, Colombia offers a great quality of life. From the picturesque and lively colonial towns of its Caribbean coast to the bustling Andean metropolis of Bogotá, Colombia has a lot to offer.
For those interested in learning more about the opportunities in Colombia, look out for Building’s special feature on the country in the coming weeks.