2014 is kind of just starting here in South America. I mean, it’s summer, you know, kids are just going back to school (10th March here in Uruguay, and counting) and we kind of have to all pull it off in March. I work with British companies, so I don’t have that luxury, but I can tell you that researching trade shows to visit this year across the continent, it sounds like many business people are still in their Havaianas rather than in their Austin Reeds…

logoI enjoy visiting trade shows for many reasons. First of all, I get to do some pretty unique and focused market research. But I also get a broader feel for what’s going on in a specific sector. And I start building those key relationships that can then help my clients. I love the buzz, despite the exhaustion, and I am now making plans for which shows to visit this year. I know that some British companies will happily hire me to survey the shows, to tell them what I see and who I see, to make contacts, to evaluate for them whether or not a show is worth exhibiting at. It saves them a lot of time and money, they can have someone at the show without the air miles or the passport controls. So I decided to check the UKTI Tradeshow Access Programme, which gives qualifying British companies some much-needed financial support to exhibit overseas.

And this is what I found:

–          In 2013/14, out of the 430 trade shows funded, 22 were in Latin America. 21 in Brazil and 1 in Mexico.

–          In 2014/15, out of the 402 trade shows funded, 20 were in Latin America. 16 in Brazil, 3 in Mexico and 1 in Chile.

Reach your own conclusions – and please share them on the comments box below! – here are mine:

–          If Latin America is really a key strategic export destination for the UK, as Clegg highlighted on his visit to Colombia and Mexico last week, the number of shows funded for Latin America is pathetic.

–          Brazil hugely dominates the funding. I can see why Brazil is of interest, of course, but I’m worried that companies are only seeing the potential and not the huge obstacles that Brazil comes with. I know of a British company whose MD has been to Brazil three times in 2 years, including at a UKTI trade mission, and he still can’t get his head round it. It takes much more than a partially-funded trade show. And that is in the case you can actually get your publicity materials and samples in – I blogged about what happened to the UK Pavillion at SIAL Brazil last year here

–          There’s hope: Mexico has increased from 1 to 3. That’s fantastic given the potential of the M of the MINTs, but those who know Mexico will surely think this is just not enough. Also, Mexico comes with its own set of challenges.

–          There’s more hope: Chile! Finally on the map. One of the most open and most transparent economies in the world, not just in Latin America, now makes it to the list. With one show only, but it’s a start.

–          Where’s Colombia? Peru? Panama? These three countries have grown considerably more than Mexico or Brazil and are much easier to do business with. I was at a trade show in Peru last year and the presence of Dutch, German, Spanish, French, Japanese, American and other nations was so powerful. No UK pavilion, again. Are we missing out?

I have to say that British exporters I have discussed this with recognise that they can’t move at the pace of a government office 5836fec23578bbd4728cc24c91fb38a2(UKTI), they need to be ahead of it, and ahead of their (British and foreign) competition. They won’t wait for a few hundred pounds in funding if they spot the opportunity to move first. A lot of companies perceive this focus on Brazil as the government’s agenda, not theirs. But it is a powerful and influential agenda. My worry is that British companies are not looking beyond Brazil enough. And this is not helping to get them started.


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