Biz Latin Hub was incredibly lucky to collaborate with Susan Chiriboga Allnutt, a consultant supporting developing relationships between Australia and Ecuadorian businesses and institutions. Previous to this role, Susan worked as Australia’s Deputy Head of Mission to Ecuador, between 2010-2018.
Susan shares with us some key insights into how the Australia-Ecuador bilateral relationship is unfolding, and offers advice to businesses looking to expand into the country.
How would you characterize the Australia-Ecuador relationship? What sorts of similarities or differences do you see between the two nations?
At a bilateral level the single most important aspect the Australia-Ecuador relationship is that Australia is a major investor in Ecuador’s mining sector and the engagement will continue to increase as Ecuador continues to develop the mining industry.
As per bilateral agreements, Australia and Ecuador have signed several Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) on:
- Work and Holiday (implementation pending)
- Mining Cooperation
- Air Services
- Political Consultations
- Several MoUs with Australian Universities.
Education and people-to-people links between Australia and Ecuador, including students and travelers, continue to increase. Ecuador and Australia also work at the multilateral level.
Differences are immense. Ecuador and Australia are very different countries with very different cultures, starting from their extension, to the size of their economies.
I would say the only similarities that both countries offer are amazing landscapes and both are amongst the ten most megadiverse countries in the world. Both countries have UNESCO natural heritage sites such as the Galapagos Islands and The Great Barrier Reef, which represent conservation challenges for both countries.
What sorts of trends are you seeing in Australian-Ecuadorian business activity and connectivity?
The relationship between Australia and Ecuador has been growing especially after the country emerged as a mining and hydrocarbons destination.
Mining companies have led Australian business engagement with Ecuador. Promising exploration results, along with significant investor certainty makes Ecuador an increasingly appealing destination for Australian companies and Australian operations to establish themselves in Ecuador.
The Ecuadorian government forecasts mining investments to increase significantly over the next four years.
Ecuador mainly exports cacao, shrimp, preserved fruits and cut flowers to Australia. Opportunities for expansion and partnerships remain to be further explored in this area.
People to people connections, partnerships and joint ventures have also started to emerge. Somos21, for example, is an organization that received an Australian Government grant to launch an online platform and digital application to enable direct engagement, connection and collaboration between people and institutions across Australia and Latin America.
Connectivity, although it has improved in recent years, it is still an issue. More direct flights and international air services are crucial in supporting business, tourism flow, investment, as well as facilitating trade and a larger number of air cargo options.
What potential is there for Australia and Ecuador to engage with each other?
The potential for engagement is huge. Just within the mining sector, there will be demand for Mining Equipment, Technology and Services. This includes the need for capital, infrastructure, education and training, water management, community engagement, environmental monitoring and rehabilitation, soil conservation, mineral processing, waste management and safety issues, among other related areas.
There is also potential for Australian companies to invest and partner in areas of telecommunications services and equipment, information technology and the digital economy.
I would also say the education sector holds good potential. Australian educational institutions are well positioned to support training of mining workforces. There are opportunities for Australian vocational training providers to develop partnerships in Ecuador to respond to upskilling needs and plans to develop training systems, including tailored courses and onshore delivery.
Cooperation in agribusiness, the food industry, agricultural innovation and tourism and non-traditional exports/imports could also lead to further business opportunities.
Do you think the result of Australia’s federal election will affect the trajectory the two countries are currently on?
No, I don’t think it will affect it at all, nor do I think that it would have made any difference if Labor had won the elections.
The Liberal Coalition focus continues to be Economic Diplomacy, and is therefore committed to supporting Australian businesses overseas.
What are the priorities for Australia and Ecuador in strengthening bilateral cooperation?
The current priorities in strengthening bilateral cooperation are based in trade and investment and that is mainly in the mining industry.
In 2018, Australia and Peru signed a Free Trade Agreement (PAFTA) – do you think Ecuador might seek a similar arrangement?
Along with other already existing agreements, the Ecuadorian government has stated its intention to build new alliances and an open approach to embrace economic and political relations with the Asia-Pacific region. Therefore, and given the circumstances, it is possible that Ecuador might eventually seek a bilateral agreement with Australia.
So far Ecuador has expressed interest in joining the Pacific Alliance, but it’s unlikely that this will happen in the short term. The fact that Ecuador holds the American dollar as its currency is definitely an issue that the Government has to consider while negotiating FTAs.
Can you share with us a great achievement and a key challenge you faced during your time as Deputy Head of Mission between 2010-2018?
I am passionate about soft diplomacy, public relations and people to people engagement, which I believe is the best way to promote the understanding of cultures.
I think my greatest achievement was to be able to support the bilateral relations through public relations and academic and cultural events. I also promoted agreements between SENESCYT (National Secretariat for Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation) and Australian Universities, which allowed the inflow of Ecuadorian students to undertake studies in Australia. This led to Australia being the second destination of Ecuadorian scholarship recipients only after Spain.
I totally believe that education is probably one of the main aspects through which people-to-people connections are made and what will eventually lead to commercial, academic, and research partnerships, and of course, the flow of tourism between both countries.
As for challenges, I guess having very few resources and a limited budget to promote the country, I had to find creative ways to do so.
Now, as a consultant, what are some key projects or initiatives you are working on in support of strengthening the bilateral relationship?
As a consultant, my key objectives are based on public relations and links from people to people and organization to organization, which might lead to the strengthening of the reaction between both countries and in some cases with Latin America.
One of the projects I have been involved with is to support an Australian Education Provider to engage with Ecuador and support its engagement and expansion to other Latin American countries.
I am currently supporting the Australia-Ecuador Network that is a recent initiative aiming to facilitate multilevel public relations as well as strategic links with the government and the private sector.
Another project that is being explored is to facilitate networks and business to business matching, in order to promote and match the offer Australian METS in Ecuador.
In your view, what challenges do Australian businesses typically face when engaging with Ecuador?
Investment in Ecuador has several advantages for international businesses but also challenges such as cultural barriers, that might include indirect versus direct communication. The slower pace of the system versus agile systems and dealing with bureaucracy can also be frustrating. Paperwork can be more complex and take longer, especially if you come from a country where processes are performed in a timely manner.
What advice would you give to Australian businesses looking to engage with or expand to Ecuador?
I would advise them to seek the support of firms such as Biz Latin Hub or other organizations that can facilitate the expansion process. Also, seek the support of not only bilingual, but bi-cultural, multicultural people; people that have an understanding of both cultures and environments.
For most businesses, it would be a good idea to seek out partners or employees who have spent time either working or studying in Australia or overseas.
Looking to set up overseas? Talk to us
As Australia strengthens its connections to Latin America, different trade opportunities emerge in the region. A promising future lies ahead for Australia and its budding partnerships with LatAm countries such as Ecuador and Peru.
Biz Latin Hub offers a wealth of back-office services to help you with do business in Ecuador. Whether you’re from Australia or another part of the world, we can provide you with local know-how, guidance and support to ensure long-term success for your business. Contact us now to find out more.