Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for development of small and medium-sized exporters in Latin America: Colombia
André Kublik Walter
With the advent of globalization and possible free trade agreements with the United States and the European Union, as well as other agreements at the regional and hemispheric levels, such as MERCOSUR and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which represent more than 90% of Colombian companies, need to adapt to a new type of competition. They must incorporate information and communication technologies (ICTs) in order to promote the country's export capabilities and prepare for the new challenges that lie ahead. In a very short period of time, ICTs have become one of the priorities of the Colombian Government and business community. They have made significant inroads in both the public and private sectors of Colombian society, which have begun to incorporate the new technologies into their activities. In the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) World Competitiveness Yearbook of 2004, Colombia is ranked at number 41 among 60 countries, and in the Global Competitiveness Report of 2003 of the World Economic Forum, it is ranked at number 51 among 102 countries. Colombia thus occupies an intermediate position in competitiveness rankings, indicating that progress has been made in the last few years. Significant improvements have been made in ICT-related legislation, Internet access and ICT promotion on the part of the Government and private actors. Government initiatives have been decisive in bringing about this process. Colombia has a programme known as the Connectivity Agenda (2000), which has progressed well beyond theory to a concrete plan of action. Different stages of the programme have been implemented in both the public and private sectors, though its focus hitherto on the public sector means that SMEs have yet to see clear benefits. However, within Latin America, Colombia is a latecomer in the area of ICTs, and unfortunately has not made up much ground in recent years. Colombia has the second largest population in South America, but accounts for only 4.5% (www.Emarketer.com.), of its Internet users.1 This can be attributed to economic, social and cultural causes, such as language barriers and lack of training programmes.