The Chilean Connection

How Chilean companies are now using Miami as a gateway

Twenty years into its free trade agreement with the U.S., Chilean companies are now using Miami as their U.S. gateway

By Yousra Benkirane

Diego Jerez, U.S. country manager at Option, joined the Chilean-based IT development and consulting firm last year when the company decided to expand into the U.S. through Miami. Option specializes in data management and has clients in a dozen countries, mostly in South and Central America, with 180 employees working globally. “We decided to come to the States because we have large clients in South America – one of the largest retail companies, one of the largest airline companies, mining companies… We were ready to go to the next step,” says Jerez. “Thre’s a very strong Chilean community in Miami. They talked to us and said, ‘You should come here because there are a lot of business opportunities.’”

Diego Jerez, U.S. country manager at Option

This year marks the 200th anniversary of U.S. -Chile diplomatic relations; this June also marked the 20th anniversary of the signing of the United States and Chile bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) in Miami. Since then, Miami has played an important role in maintaining a robust economic relationship with Chile, characterized by trade partnerships and direct investments.

The U.S. is seen as a strategic market for Chilean companies, which can export their goods and services to the largest economy in the world without paying import tariffs, thanks to the FTA. This has created an incentive for Chilean companies to expand into the U.S. market, often setting up operations in Miami. More recently, Chile’s thriving startup ecosystem and Miami’s growing reputation as a tech hub have led to Chilean tech and medical companies establishing their U.S. footholds in Miami.

Like other Chilean firms that have expanded into Miami, Option turned to ProChile – Chile’s nonprofit trade commission – for support and resources. Through ProChile’s GoGlobal program (see above), Pizarro participated in a soft landing where he was able to network and gain an understanding of the city’s business environment before officially starting work in the metropolis. ProChile also arranged for Option to have a booth at the eMerge Americas conference this year. “We were able to meet other entrepreneurs and potential customers,” says Jerez. “The environment that ProChile has built in Miami is very rich.” In the last two years, ProChile has assisted in bringing 34 tech companies to Florida.

Chilean-based Genosur, a medical device manufacturer, also participated in a soft landing as first-generation GoGlobal participants in 2019. Shortly after the pandemic broke out, Genosur began developing COVID-19 sample collection and transport kits to get results back in hours. Matias Gutierrez, founder of Genosur, worked closely with the Cambridge Innovation Center in Miami, where he was provided lab space. He brought scientists from Chile to Miami for research and development. They developed a technology called Nona AMP, which allows for a fast turnaround in PCR testing. With this tech in hand, the company set up a Miami lab for COVID testing in late 2020. Gutierrez, who has a PhD in biotechnology, was then engaged to analyze COVID variants for Miami-Dade County. Genosur gained even more credibility after the Chilean government ordered its first COVID sampling kits from them.

Gutierrez credits much of Genosur’s success to working with ProChile. “They helped us a lot,” he says. “Part of the reason that we were able to accomplish what we did was that we had the experience of coming to the U.S., being in Miami, and making the right associations. People make the connection: Miami first, then success.”

ProChile Trade Commissioner Claudia Serrer, who manages the Southeast U.S. market from Miami, emphasizes the synergy between the two regions, noting how Chile and Miami are both business-driven economies, with open environments for collaboration and innovation. Both have a growing startup ecosystem, both are emerging as tech and innovation hubs, and both have a large population of Spanish speakers. It’s a natural partnership that continues to grow. “We want to be talking about innovation. We want to talk about technology. And we have different industries and sectors that we can emphasize to develop our relationship and the business we can do together,” says Serrer. “We are here to be that connector between both markets… developing networks for Chilean companies coming to the market, but also U.S. companies that want to go to Chile.”

Serrer works in Brickell, Miami’s financial district, and finds it similar to the financial district in Chile’s capital Santiago. She says both Miamians and Chileans are very straightforward. “We believe in trust. When you do business with Chile, you know that it’s a country you can trust.”

The economic ties between Chile and Miami go back to the early 19th century when merchants from the U.S. began trading with Chilean ports. Chile remains a top trade partner for the Miami Customs District, with bilateral trade totaling $7.45B in 2022. Top exports to Chile included aircraft parts ($665M), computers ($388M), and telephones ($364M). The top imports from Chile were fish fillets ($1.82B), unspecified commodities (largely copper and copper ore, $340M), and fresh fish ($130M).

LATAM Airlines Group, and more specifically its cargo division, has been a major facilitator of trade between the two regions. LATAM Airlines initially began as a Chilean cargo carrier and has evolved into the largest airline group in South America. Historically, Miami has been the main point of entry into the U.S. market for air freight, which is why the airline’s cargo headquarters are in the city. “The geography is unbeatable. You can pretty much access the rest of the U.S.,” says Andres Bianchi, CEO of LATAM Cargo. “Miami is also the main export gateway from the U.S. into South America and Chile.”

Cargo from the Midwest usually gets trucked to Miami and then distributed to South America from Miami International Airport. In the opposite direction, LATAM uses its fleet of Boeing 767 freighters to carry perishables from Chile to North America, such as salmon and seasonal fruits. LATAM is the largest carrier of Chilean salmon coming to the U.S.

The preponderance of Miami’s current exports to Chile are high-tech products. That trend may see some shift, says Bianchi, as the production of high-tech goods relocates to the Americas following recent disruptions in the global supply chain, which has encouraged source diversification and nearshoring. “Products that are now manufactured in certain Asian countries may move to other countries, like Mexico,” he says. “And air freight has a higher share of the transportation of those products, so air freight may change to some extent.”

Regardless of shifting trade patterns, as Chile continues to position itself as a trade hub for Latin America, Miami will continue to play a vital role as its Gateway to the Americas. “We’re celebrating 20 years, so we look at what we’ve done in the last 20 years,” says ProChile’s Serrer. “But for me, it’s ‘What are we going to do in the next 20 years?’ We want Chile to keep being a strategic partner but also keep being part of the changes that are taking place in Miami.”

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