TORONTO – The packed crowd at the third Global Growth Series showed us all that Canadian business leaders are increasingly looking toward South America for significant growth opportunities. 

“The fact that we're a Canadian company brings a very good reputation and trust to Latin American customers,” said panelist Daniel Galeano, Director of Customer Experience at Sera4.  

The four-part Global Growth Series – hosted by Communitech Outposts, World Trade Centre Toronto and MaRS Discovery – is designed to help companies establish teams in new geographic markets.

As Cinthya Ortiz of the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade (MEDJCT) noted, relationships are important for doing business in South America. 

“The smile always sells,” she said. "Don't expect things to be fast. South Americans are trying to cultivate a relationship before doing business with you." 

Building trust over time and through social interactions is an integral part of the business culture. 

"Don't be afraid to have a drink in a meeting, because that's the way they feel they’ll get to know you as a person,” Ortiz said.  

"You need to be there, not here," emphasized Peter Hawkins, co-owner of MELLOHAWK Logistics, advocating for active, on-the-ground connections. “You need someone who has current active leads, current active contacts.”  

Vanessa Demello of Communitech Outposts reinforced this, citing her organization's swift operational support as an employer of record for Canadian founders, guaranteeing on-the-ground presence in 150 countries within weeks.  

The panel agreed on the need for strong local partnerships. 

"A partner is everything in Latin America – no partner, no business," noted Galeano.

Jason George of Auvik Networks added that building these connections takes time and effort, reflecting South America's relationship-focused business culture. 

"The Trade Commission or Chambers of Commerce are a fantastic way to get introductions... but you have to do the work,” he advised “After that, you have to keep going. Prepare to dig, and it's going to take a while, but don't stop." 

When asked which country to target first for success, George said companies must pick a country and go there.

“Don't confuse Latin America with the countries in Latin America," he said. “Each nation on the continent possesses its unique business etiquette and social norms, which must be navigated with care and respect.”

The panelists highlighted three countries: Mexico for its openness to new Canadian technology; Panama (with its links to Miami) as a remarkable trading hub; and Chile for its North American business style and stability, noting strong existing trade agreements with Canada. 

Free Trade Agreements (FTA) can sometimes be misunderstood, as Hawkins insightfully pointed out.

"Do you all know what a Free Trade Agreement is? Does everybody know what it actually means when you have one?" Hawkins asked. 

The reality is that while FTAs can open doors to international trade, they don't completely erase fiscal responsibilities. 

"It doesn't mean that there are no taxes,” Hawkins said. “It just means that there's a favorable duty – so it could be no duty, or it could be a favorable duty."  

Canada's supportive trade partnerships span extensively across South America. 

"We have Chile, Colombia, Peru, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras (and) CARICOM (Caribbean Community)," Ortiz said. 

These agreements pave the way for Canadian businesses to venture south with a safety net of structured trade regulations. With negotiations in the works for entry into MERCOSUR (Southern Common Market) – home to such economic heavyweights as Argentina and Brazil – the potential for Canadian businesses is poised to expand even further.

Stepping into South America's dynamic markets offers exciting prospects. It requires assembling a skilled team, building strong partnerships, grasping Free Trade Agreements and harnessing the support of local Canadian networks. 

With the guidance of the Global Growth Series hosts – Communitech Outposts, World Trade Centre Toronto, MaRs Discovery – and the Canadian Trade Commissioners Service, as well as the Brazilian Canadian Chamber of Commerce, ACATA, BDC, and EDC, Canadian business leaders are well-equipped with help to thrive in these flourishing markets. 

Come to our final panel discussion where we will unpack the Asia/Pacific region.  Click below to register:  

Global Expansion: Asia/Pac - Nov. 2, 2023

Agenda for each:

  • 3:00 p.m. - Networking
  • 3:30 p.m. - Panel and Q&A
  • 4:30 p.m. - Networking

For more information, email us at

Written by: Azhar Janjua