Donating the extra goods made the most sense, especially after customer Natasha Prakash suggested a place to send them: Guyana. She had just started a nonprofit, Helping U Guyana (HUG), to aid children in the South American country, and was seeking contributions.
“We had a lot of clothes for kids left over, and HUG seemed like a great cause,” said Alonso Zamora, one of four owners of B-thrifty.
Shortly after the clothes arrived in Guyana at the beginning of this month, Zamora learned that a local vendor was interested in selling the merchandise on a regular basis. Zamora was intrigued by the offer, and the possibility of another source of revenue.
Now, he and his partners are in negotiations with the vendor in Guyana to begin operations by this summer. “We know there is a market for what we sell, now it’s just a matter of working through the logistics,” Zamora said.
B-thrify is one of a growing number of locally based companies finding business opportunities in Latin America. Thriving regional economies are attracting area businesses eager for new markets to peddle their wares. At the same time, entrepreneurs in the D.C. area are using their ties to the region to import and distribute goods within Hispanic communities.
At least three of the top 25 countries receiving exports from, and importing to, D.C., Maryland and Virginia are located in Latin America, according to the Census Bureau. Combined exports to those countries rose 8.1 percent to $2.6 billion in 2011, thanks to a surge in trade to Brazil and Mexico. Imports from the region, meanwhile, shot up 39 percent to $6.1 billion last year.
Trade on either side of the coin comes with its share of challenges, from navigating bureaucracy to financing operations. Municipalities, however, are ramping up efforts to assist local companies, mainly in the process of exporting. The moves come as newly minted free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama stand to ease duties on products.
“Having the agreements coming into play will swing open these markets for U.S. interests to explore,” said Enrique Gomez-Pinzon, a partner at law firm Holland & Knight in Bogota. “Whatever you produce that’s competitive in the U.S will be competitive in places like Colombia because of the thriving middle class.”
A competitive advantage
At the recent Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Expo in D.C., April Redmon of the U.S. Export Assistance Center told attendees Mexico is a good entry point into exporting because of its participation in the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“Your products are going to be duty-free overnight ... it puts you at a competitive advantage over companies from other countries that do not have a free trade agreement with the market,” she said.