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The TCS Family: Opening doors in Mexico

A summer internship in 1995 in the trade office of the recently opened Consulate of Canada in Monterrey, Mexico, was an ideal opportunity for David Valle.

David Valle
David Valle, trade commissioner in Monterrey, Mexico

Having just graduated from university with a degree in international relations and trade, he had hoped to find a job in an international field. “Working for a foreign government was the perfect fit,” says Valle, 47, who remains a locally engaged trade commissioner at the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) there today.

Valle was born and raised in Monterrey, a mountainous city near the Texas border in northeastern Mexico that is considered the country’s industrial capital. The region has an entrepreneurial nature, he says, and important economic strengths in the automotive, aerospace, agri‑food, appliances, information and communications technologies (ICT), energy, nanotech, and biotech sectors.

One of six staff of the TCS in Monterrey today, he is responsible for the automotive, advanced‑manufacturing, and ICT sectors.

He recalls early days when paper directories, catalogues, and brochures of exporters were the norm. There was also not much knowledge among Canadians about doing business in Mexico, although with the introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, the country was “on the radar of Canada, so we would receive a lot of inquiries asking about  opportunities.”

As the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) celebrates its 125th anniversary, the dedication of its staff throughout the years and around the world continues to be its greatest strength. This article is part of a series profiling some of the 1,000 members of today’s TCS Family.

Today the New NAFTA promises more opportunities for Canadian companies, and the way we work has also changed. “We now have computers, smart phones and tablets, but back in those days the fax was king,” Valle recalls, with most trade inquiries received that way. “We used to have big filing cabinets where we would store all those inquiries. Then we got the first computer—one for the whole office.”

Today’s modern telecommunications “allow us to be more present and more active than ever before,” he says, with trade commissioners conducting virtual web seminars with groups of small and medium‑sized enterprises (SMEs) and holding business-to-business meetings via videoconferencing.

Such advances are even more critical with the COVID‑19 pandemic, he says, both for the TCS and the businesses it supports.

“COVID‑19 has accelerated the digital migration that the world was already experiencing. Now, more than ever, companies have to have a digital strategy and adapt to exponential change,” he says. “TCS clients are looking to connect with new clients and find a potential sales channel in the locations they are aiming to do business in. This won't change, but the ways companies get there will be more digitally based.”

Valle says the TCS at the same time is redefining its core service delivery “to adapt to the new reality and keep providing value to our clients.”

He has seen changes in the speed of international business over the years. “Information is nowadays more readily available and there is a sense of immediacy,” he explains. In the early days, the focus was helping Canadian exporters sell their products in Mexico. As years passed and globalization kicked in, the TCS adapted as well. With today’s integrative trade approach, the TCS role has extended to other aspects of the trade continuum, including technology, research and development, and investment.

“Most of our clients are SMEs, and they are not only very innovative, but also have a keen interest in expanding to foreign markets,” Valle observes, explaining that Mexico is a natural market given its proximity and links established under NAFTA. Trade between Canada and Mexico has grown more than 800% since the implementation of the agreement, and he predicts that the New NAFTA “will create a new impetus of regional integration.”

The New NAFTA represents a new opportunity to consolidate what NAFTA created, he says. “Our three countries are already interconnected, but this revamping of the agreement opens up new opportunities as well as provides certainty to all.”

Valle encourages Canadian exporters to work with the TCS on specific opportunities under the New NAFTA. “There will be an adaptation period, and the pandemic has meant a re‑evaluation of traditional ways of doing  business.”

Companies should familiarize themselves with the changes brought by the New NAFTA, whether e‑commerce, innovation, regional content or administrative processes, he suggests. In the automotive sector, for instance, the regional content of a vehicle is increasing from 62.5% to 75%, which represents investment opportunities for the three partner countries.

Mexico today is Canada’s third‑largest trading partner “and TCS clients are committed to this market,” he says, specifically, they’re looking to find buyers and distribution channels there. “Providing Canadian companies with the local contacts they need—and being able to offer introductions that make a difference for them in their successful business development efforts—is part of our value‑added service.”

Valle is confident that through the New NAFTA, Canada and Mexico can deepen their understanding and synergies while increasing their success in the U.S. market. He also hopes they will use each others’ international platforms to expand beyond North America as well.

Canada and Mexico: Together we can go further

As a trade commissioner representing Canada in Mexico, David Valle is able to provide a simple explanation to what is actually a very complex position. “My main role,” he says, “is to bridge two countries, two cultures, and find the many areas where we can work together and enhance our strengths and synergies.”

Through his locally engaged position with the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) in Monterrey, Mexico, he is promoting Canada, his country, and his city all at the same time.

“Canada is a great model to follow as a society, an economy, and a country,” he says. “It has a lot to offer in terms of what a modern society should be: multicultural, respectful, egalitarian, innovative and open to the world.”

Valle says that when he is asked to lecture at local universities, students enthusiastically raise their hands to say they would like to go to Canada. “This is testament to the positive perception Mexicans have about Canada, and this makes our job easier. If we were salespeople, we would brag that we have a great product to sell!”

Canada and Mexico have a lot in common in business, and as “people‑centric societies,” Valle points out. The main market for the two countries is the United States, “and there are many areas to explore to jointly cater to that market.”

Mexico has also signed trade deals with more than 50 countries, which gives Canadian companies an advantage in that they can deal with many Latin American countries through Mexico’s partnerships with them. “Likewise, Canada has well‑established links with Europe and Asia that Mexico can profit from. The bilateral relationship is very rich and strong, but together we can go further.”

Valle expects that trade commissioners in the future will become increasingly specialized, providing more individualized, tailor‑made services and mentoring to clients.

“Just as the world is undergoing an exponential speed of change, the TCS will be able to better exploit our internal information and intelligence sources with the use of data analytics, artificial intelligence and other technologies,” he says. “We will run in faster cycles.”

Having on‑the‑ground trade commissioners with local networks is important. “To be able to open doors at the highest level and with the appropriate contacts is a key part of what we do for Canadian companies,” Valle explains.

Valle feels the TCS is “truly a global team” that operates hand‑in‑hand with all levels of government to help Canadian companies.

“It’s a great feeling to work with a long‑standing institution that allows for the creation of jobs and the growth of the country, while enhancing links around the globe,” he says. “We bring Canada to the world.”

Adapting export solutions to a digital world

Helping exporters cope, adapt and even thrive in an international crisis is an important role for the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS). David Valle, a trade commissioner in Monterrey, Mexico, talks to CanadExport about the challenges and opportunities of the COVID‑19 pandemic.

What are some strategies for companies in the COVID‑19 pandemic?

Companies have to think how they can migrate processes, products and services to a digital world. They also have to think about how they can leverage teleworking and staff on demand, go from physical premises to flexible ones, and find new niches and opportunities.

Where do you think such opportunities will be?

There will be new niches and gaps left by companies that won't be able to adapt. The new competitive advantages of companies will be of a digital nature, such as proprietary algorithms, interfaces, experimentation, having online communities and devoted followers.

What sectors look promising?

The whole health sector has been traditionally geared towards reactive solutions across the board. This pandemic will bring a paradigm shift to preventive medicine and its respective health and hygiene solutions. You could also look at any vertical, such as finance, retail, telecom, government. There are dramatic changes happening in each industry and the need to adapt solutions to a digital world.

What challenges and opportunities does the pandemic present for exporters?

The challenge is that companies will have to realign themselves to the new situation and adapt and act quicker than ever before. For companies doing business internationally, there is a level playing field, where a local supplier and an international supplier have equal access to buyers—or at least they are facing the same conditions at the moment—through a screen.

How are you and the TCS trying to help companies?

My focus is on identifying projects with large local firms where we can use a "pull" strategy and identify pressing needs they have, and then go back to our Canadian clientele to share the opportunity. I think the traditional "push" strategy faces challenges currently, hence the importance of identifying projects and opportunities in our respective jurisdictions.

Do you have some examples?

I presently work with a large original equipment manufacturer with an automation project, as well as with a leading Mexican telecom that is trying to launch new blockchain, cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things services. In both cases, there are specific opportunities that Canadian companies can tap into.

Any overall advice to exporters in the context of COVID‑19?

Be close to the end‑user, and identify the bottlenecks in the supply chain in each sector or industry. And, stay in contact with local experts who can provide insights into the current and future trends and challenges in the industry. As they say, the biggest challenges or problems in the world will be the largest opportunities.

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