The keys to South America

Written by Lee Oliver

Looking to export your goods, services or expertise into South America but aren’t quite ready for the super-charged, super-competitive Brazilian market? Then set your sites on Ecuador. With $6-billion in annual imports and membership in several free-trade agreements comprising both South American and Caribbean nations, it may be the perfect test market for your southerly ambitions.

The smallest of the Andean nations, Ecuador has bounced back from political instability and economic turmoil that culminated in a border war with Peru in the late 1990s and an armed uprising in 2001. The country has since logged steady economic growth of about 3% a year for the past three years and has re-earned the trust of the International Monetary Fund, which recently awarded it a US$200-million line of credit.

Among the hottest Ecuadorian prospects are three Canadian-led megaprojects: the construction and management of the Quito International Airport; the erection of a 512-km-long oil pipeline; and the overhaul of three oil refineries.

“There’s plenty of room for Canadians in this market,” explains Mark Richardson, Canadian trade commissioner to Ecuador. “We have a great reputation as providers of high-quality products, and Canadian businesses are frequently sought after by Ecuadorian companies as partners and suppliers.”

In addition to Ecuador’s primary industry, oil and gas exploration and production, the electricity, the telecommunications and the environmental sectors are red hot.

The country is moving to privatize its 17 state-owned electricity providers, opening the door for Canadian suppliers to prosper.

In the telecommunications sector, Ecuador relies entirely on imports to supply the domestic market. And recent regulatory reforms have allowed a third service provider into the market, spurring competition and opportunity.

“Sure,” you’re saying to yourself, “electricity, oil and gas, and telecommunications are great for big players. But what about the rest of us?” The answer lies in the environmental sector. There are myriad opportunities in water and solid-waste treatment, emission reduction, waste collection, environmental studies and services related to the oil and gas industry, and alternative sources of energy.

Of course it’s not all sweetness and light. Ecuador still has issues: there is a significant drug and crime problem along the Colombian border; the country has witnessed an alarming rise in kidnapping for quick profit; inflation is running at more than 12%; and there is endemic underemployment.

But economic growth and political stability have infused confidence in the nation, and it is most definitely open for business.

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