Free Trade Zones

A region divided: how some nations jump on vaccines and others don’t


After a few false starts and questions of access to vaccinations, growth in vaccination rate in the Americas raised optimism about the region’s economic recovery. Recently, Carissa F. Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), noted that Latin America and the Caribbean are on track to meet the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 vaccination target of 40% by the end of the year.

However, this success is not evenly distributed. Some countries find it difficult to accelerate the pace of vaccination, influenced by two main factors: a lack of access vaccines and lack of confidence in these vaccines. This reality threatens the prospects for recovery in some countries and anticipates a worsening of regional economic inequalities within the Americas.

Nearshore Americas asked industry leaders in the region how their country has success in its recovery efforts and to what extent effective legislation has contributed to this recovery. We also asked how some countries overcome their hesitation about immunization while others lag behind.

Costa Rica’s “long-term” approach

Costa Rica, with its institutional strength, political stability and skilled workforce, has long been hailed as an exciting nearshore destination. For many investors, the Central American nation’s pragmatic mindset of “doing what is necessary” has also been a key motivation there.

Costa Rica has applied this same mentality to deal with the pandemic.

Augusto Arce, Managing Partner of GLC Abogados

“It’s about thinking long term,” said Augusto Arce, Managing Partner of the GLC Abogados law firm in Costa Rica.

For Arce, who represents the interests of foreign investors in Costa Rica, the country’s institutionalist approach remains decisive in continuing to attract the attention of business leaders.

“We have seen how it sometimes seems like the Minister of Health is the one running the country. There is a great deal of respect within the political class and the general population for public health and the measures put in place to protect it. By focusing on the health needs of the country, the economy takes a hit, but we continue to build on the strength of a diverse economy. It helps that this country is so respected internationally as a stable jurisdiction, ”Arce said.

Instead of rushing to reopen the country to create a sense of pre-Covid normalcy, Costa Rica is legislating to emerge from the economic crisis induced by the pandemic.

Although Costa Rica has implemented a law regulating telework in 2019, Covid-19 created the real space for mass implementation.

“Our respect for institutions sometimes takes us through the bureaucratic route, but in this case everyone understood the need to implement this legislation quickly,” Arce added.

Costa Rica’s technological capabilities have also contributed to the shift to remote working. “We were already a highly digitalized society. This has enabled us not only to maintain productivity, but also to create new jobs and attract foreign investment. We are seeing all of these large companies adapting their HR practices to meet these new needs, ”said Miguel Lopez Abarca, Managing Partner at Costa Rica. Recluta Talent Hunter, an executive search and talent management firm, told Nearshore Americas.

Miguel Lopez Abarca, Managing Partner at Recluta Talenthunter

“Over the past three months, various companies have announced an increase in hiring, including several in the technology sector and through free zones, which have become an important tool to maintain investment levels, ”explained Lopez Abarca.

The flexibility of these laws and others, such as the digital nomad law, along with new incentives for foreign investors, put Costa Rica in a good position for a strong long-term recovery. Even though the country has faced its own share of vaccine skeptics, government campaigns to educate the population, a vaccination mandate for the public sector and understanding the economic impact of a delayed recovery, have helped Costa Rica overcome the hurdles that, even today, keep other Latin American countries lagging behind on rates. vaccination.

Uneven recovery for Latin America and the Caribbean

Colombia is another prime example of a country well positioned for post-Covid economic recovery. Colombia remained an attractive market to invest in during the pandemic, with particularly strong investments from call center and BPO operators. Part of Colombia’s success is that its economy has been mostly open over the past year, even though strict closures have been imposed in parts of the country, including Bogota.

Mauricio Velásquez Managing Director of Velásquez & Company

“Colombia’s economy opened up a long time ago. Personally, I have been traveling since the start of this year. This gives us an advantage in many economic activities, especially compared to other South American countries, ”said Mauricio Velásquez, Managing Director of Velásquez & Company, based in Bogota.

The growing interest of outsourcing providers to explore Colombia as a location elevates the role of the BPO industry in the country. “During the pandemic, the BPO industry has become a vital sector, we have added new jobs and opportunities. I think the industry has been very effective in working with government to implement regulations and policies to adapt to the new reality. I think the industry is a very important part of the recovery, ”added Velásquez.

Colombia’s increased vaccination rate, without warrants, has helped promote the South American nation’s profile as a prime nearshore location. This is happening as Mexico, a major regional competitor, lags behind peers in immunization efforts.

But Mexico’s problems with vaccinating its people are reoccurring throughout the region. According to PAHO, six countries have not yet reached 20% of their population: Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Haiti in the Caribbean, and Guatemala and Nicaragua in Central America.

The Caribbean is affected by reluctance to vaccinate, which slowed down the prospects for recovery. Jamaica, a country that has highlighted the BPO industry as one of its priority sectors, vaccinated less than 15% of its population. Even Caribbean islands with better fares like Barbados face the same problem.

Alicia Nicholls, Barbados-based International Trade Specialist

“There is an increase in reluctance to vaccinate,” said Alicia Nicholls, Barbados-based international trade specialist.

“Barbados is seeing an increase in the number of cases. The government has been successful in increasing vaccination rates, but we are also dealing with a clearly anti-vaccine segment of the population. Even if we are not completely close, the current situation does not allow us to accelerate a reopening, ”she added.

Examples from countries like Costa Rica and Colombia show that there is no one-size-fits-all method of recovery. But they prove that there are certain necessary elements that each country must apply if it is to move towards economic reopening. Immunization coverage is one of them.