THE importance of diversity to a thriving Manitoba economy is no secret. However, as recently as a decade ago, Manitobans were just starting to reach out to neighbouring countries in order to form trade partnerships.
One obvious challenge is that, unlike Canada, some countries in South America restrict the flow of profits back and forth. So, although various markets for trade and exports do exist abroad, many Manitoba-based businesses lack the resources to properly navigate the bewildering and risky proposition of doing business in countries that have significant tariffs and trade barriers.
A potential solution to this problem lies in the large influx of immigrants to Manitoba. I came to Winnipeg from Argentina in 1998, as a result of Manitoba's conscious effort to attract entrepreneurs to come live in and invest in our province.
At the time, there were only a handful of South Americans here. But I discovered real opportunities for economic development through foreign markets. I saw a city much like my place of birth, Corrientes, with open pastures, cattle, grain and hydroelectricity.
I also noted a stable economy with a favourable exchange rate, and a lot of interest in better understanding emerging economies.
As a businessman from Argentina, I was also aware of the significant shortfalls in pursuing foreign markets. For example, failure to properly address trade barriers prior to entering into a market, and then attempting to repatriate funds into Canada are some of the most common mistakes. Even active exporters and medium-size corporations struggle to understand the dynamics at work in foreign markets.
My company works hand in hand with Manitoba companies to advance their sales and marketing efforts into the Americas, while building a payment strategy to accommodate export finance and expatriation of funds.
Companies that want to sell their goods or their services into South America can be tripped up by trade barriers, and need assistance with security planning and contingency. If a customized safety net and protection plan are not already in place, you are really creating more liabilities for your company and your personal safety than would be counteracted by the benefit of closing a transaction abroad.
Manitoba's aggressive immigration policy, more than a decade in place, was intended to boost the economy. In keeping with that, the experience of South American immigrants can help local businesses better know the risks, and plan to avoid the pitfalls of getting involved in an area where some countries are putting up impressive economic expansion numbers. And Brazil is the world's sixth-largest economy, something the Manitoba government has recognized with its new emphasis on trade relations.
Since the world has become so much more connected, trade and exports today are largely about negotiating supply networks to create a strategy for multiple markets. Manitoba benefits from building these bridges in other parts of the world -- as our companies start to identify and further strengthen their business activities, our communities start to grow through immigration.
The community of South Americans here is one way Manitobans are introduced to the idea of branching out with their business to South America. Further, the children of the immigrants, with their obvious ties to Latin America, may serve as links to that continent as trade expands.
Most important, both Manitoba and its foreign partners prosper from these relationships by incorporating best practices on education and health, as well as community development in order to improve the well-being of its citizens.
That being said, travelling around the world and promoting our clients and our province comes at a price. Too often I meet colleagues abroad who make reference to our small community and our winters.
Now, more than ever, Manitobans have so much more to be proud of, which is why I think it's so important to promote our province by not only exporting our products and services, but also our knowledge.
Let's work together to build a bigger Manitoba around the world.
Gustavo Zentner, president of InterPOC, specializes in trade and investment strategies in the Americas. He can be reached at www.interpoc.com .