Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Gringo Invasion Vs Colombian Innovation

Francisco Andres Buitrago rides an ergonomic bike he designed. 
Yesterday, U.S. Pres. Barack Obama signed a long-delayed Free Trade Agreement with Colombia.

El Tiempo newspaper recently reported it'll mean a flood of cheap cars and subsidized U.S. farm products. That'll be back for Colombia if it means more pollution and traffic jams and bankrupts peasant farmers, who might then become internal refugees or turn to planting drug crops.

BTA Capital makes shirts and other clothing
emblazoned with...Bogotá's name and symbols. 

Vegetariano designs shoes and boots made
out of renewable, non-animal materials.  
Unfortunately, huge differences in infrastructure, economies of scale, education and even culture of innovation will make it difficult for Colombia to sell the U.S. anything besides raw materials like lumber, coal and oil, and a few traditional exports such as flowers and coffee. Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer predicts that South Korea, which also sealed a FTA with the U.S., will export to the States because of Korea's high educational levels and entrepeneurial culture. In fact, last year Koreans registered 8,800 patents in the U.S., compared to 100 by Brazilians, 8 by Colombians and 2 by Panamanians, according to Oppenheimer. Colombia, by the way, is also close to signing an FTA with Korea.

Of course, Colombians have lots of ingenuity and creativity, which I saw at a crafts fair sponsored by the private Jorge Tadeo University. Young people there had created novel foods, clothing,
Diego Alejandro with tables he's 
designed using innovative structures. 
furniture and even bicycles. Original, innovative products, but it's a long way to the U.S., particularly when one's competing against China, where people work for very little under poor conditions and companies churn out shirts, chairs and bicycles by the millions.

A bag of Melate Chocolates
Melate Chocolates designs chocolates for special occasions, sometimes filling them with traditional Colombian fruits.

I test rode one of Francisco's bikes, and it was comfortable, altho the steering takes some getting used to.
Related entry: La Salle Invents!

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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