Business

Colombia turning brain drain to gain

Emigration of Jamaica’s tertiary graduates is second highest in the world

By Julian Richardson Assistant Business Co-ordinator richardsonj@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, May 22, 2013    

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Slowing migration and increased re-settlement through renewed public confidence has helped to drive the Colombian economy, says the country's investment promotion agency.

Proexport Colombia last week hosted an economic conference in Miami that showcased the South American country as a vibrant emerging market with exports and foreign direct investments (FDI) growing at rapid pace.

It's a far cry from the days when Colombia was viewed as a crime haven, arguably more known for its drug lords than its high-quality Andean coffee. Foreigners, investments and even the country's own people stood far away.

Juan Carlos Gonzalez, Proexport's foreign investment vice-president, said that Colombia made a concerted effort at the turn of the milennium to tackle crime and improve its business environment, the pillars from which the country has grown significantly the last 10 years and largely rid itself of its dangerous image.

"You change perception by changing reality," Gonzalez told the Business Observer at the economic conference held at the Loews Hotel in Miami Beach.

"The main thing to show are the numbers because that's very objective," he said.

Colombia now ranks among the top 30 economies in the world and, since 2008, has moved up 30 places to rank as the 45th most friendly country towards businesses on the World Bank's Doing Busines report. From only two free trade agreements (FTAs) in 2002, Colombia expects to have FTAs with 50 countries by 2014. The country attracted a record US$15.8 billion in FDI in 2012, eight times the level in 2002; exports increased six-fold to US$60 billion over the period while the country has more than tripled visitor numbers to two million.

But most importantly, Gonzalez said, the country is losing less of its brain power to the likes of the US and Spain than it did in the past.

From the 1980s to the early 2000s, highly-skilled Colombians were leaving the country in droves to pursue better opportunities elsewhere. The Colombian central bank in 2010 reportedly painted a daunting picture: 37 per cent of Colombian immigrants in the US (the leading destination for migrants) had a university degree compared to less than 14 per cent for residents.

"Ten years ago, Colombians were pessimistic and looking for opportunities outside of the country — the dream was to go to the US, to Spain etc," Gonzalez said.

But he noted that "The mentality has changed," with more demand for qualified Colombians in their home country. The Proexport Colombia executive said the retention of talent has helped to fuel the economy. In Jamaica, the issue of 'brain drain' has dominated the news recently, following the resignation of senate president Rev Stanley Redwood due to his decision to move to Canada with his family.

"No other Jamaican should be forced, or feel forced to make the choice I have to make this month," Redwood said in his last address to his colleague senators.

"I feel strongly that after 50 years of Independence, Jamaica should have been further along on the pathway to be able to sustain more of the hopes and the dreams of more of its citizens," he continued. "I voice this regret so that, as committed and patriotic Jamaicans, you might be challenged to redouble your efforts to put Jamaica first. And to put the people first."

According to a World Bank study in 2010, more than 85 per cent of Jamaica's tertiary graduates emigrate, representing the second highest in the world. The only country with higher rate worldwide was Guyana at 89 per cent.

Top destination countries for Jamaicans include the US, the UK, Canada, Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, Antigua & Barbuda, Germany, Netherlands Antilles, Australia and Barbados.

Proexport Colombia is the government entity in charge of promoting international tourism, foreign direct investment, and exports from the country. Its economic conference last week included the unvieling of the country's new "Magical Realism" tourism campaign and a Business Matchmaking Forum where 574 Colombian exporters met with hundreds of exporters from North America, Latina America and the Caribbean.

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