Interview with Chris Campbell, HM Ambassador to Ecuador

With a new trade agreement in effect, Ambassador Campbell explains why UK investors should take a closer look at Ecuador...

Please give us a profile of the relationship between the UK and Ecuador.

Ambassador Campbell: There are lots of opportunities in Ecuador for UK companies and British innovation. The world has been coming to terms with the pandemic for the last seven months but now we need to look ahead and plan for the future. We need to innovate if we are going to reactivate our economies. It’s not just a question of going back to before, we want to build back better. In Ecuador they are keen to grow in a sustainable way. So that means using the country’s incredible natural resources responsibly. They need to use those resources, for example in mining, energy and agriculture, to kickstart the economy but they are keen to do it sustainably. And that’s where the UK can help. We have expertise in renewable energy, precision farming and marine environments. We are already working with the Ecuadorian government to see how British firms can help them achieve these goals.

Your readers may remember from my previous interviews that I am a trade-focused ambassador. Commerce is at the heart of what I do and in that sense I am very fortunate that my predecessor, Cathy Ward, oversaw the UK – Ecuador Trade Agreement, which has now been ratified by the Ecuadorian parliament. That means there won’t be any gap in bilateral trade come the 1st of January 2021 when the UK’s transition period to leave the European Union ends. Part of my role is to make sure this new trade agreement is used to the maximum extent possible. I want to make sure that British companies know how to use it to its full potential, and that Ecuadorian companies are ready to export to and invest in the UK.

We are co-hosting COP 26  next year, and this is already a major focus for our work here. The UK has long and historical links working with Ecuador on the Galapagos Islands. There has been a lot of work on conservation and the protection of biodiversity and we are want to help the islands become self-sufficient in renewable energy. We are want to take the best of UK energy technology, expertise and innovation and apply it to a remote island location with very specific needs. That’s just one example of how the UK can collaborate with Ecuador and create opportunities for British companies. I have met with many of the UK firms already here and they are enthusiastic about the opportunities here.

I left the DR at the end of their election process and there will now be elections in Ecuador early next year. In any country, that process creates a level of uncertainty, as you don’t know what policies our companies will be working under. Part of my job will be to engage with the various candidates and find out their positions on key areas of interest for the UK so that we can plan accordingly.

Trade between the UK and Ecuador is relatively small; how will you seek to increase it?

AC: You’re right. It’s not a huge trade relationship – the school report would probably read “could do better”. My job is to work with the DIT team to identify opportunities and open doors. But there is a lot here for us to work with. One of the largest companies here, Agripac, is led by an English family, we have strong business chambers in both Quito and Guayaquil and there have been some trade developments that look promising. Ecuador recently started shipping pineapples to the UK, on top of its traditional banana and shrimp exports, while the Sunderland-made Nissan Qashqai is a popular car here. There is potential for so much more. For example, Ecuador is opening up its mining industry, which could create lots of opportunities for responsible mining.

One area with potential is using British innovation to help Ecuadorian agribusiness become even more efficient. We already import Ecuadorian bananas, cacao, shrimp and tuna, but we can also help those industries become more sustainable.

I hope that a lot of what I learnt during my time in the Dominican Republic will prove useful here. The key for me is boosting trade in both directions. I don’t just want to promote UK exports and create an unbalanced trade relationship, not least because Ecuadorean exports mean jobs in the UK. Also, I believe that we need to use this time in the pandemic to prepare for what’s coming after. The world is going to recover soon, with industries like tourism coming back, so we need to make sure that we are ready for that.

Can the pandemic improve the bilateral relationship between the UK and Ecuador?

AC: The pandemic has been a tragedy that has caused pain around the world. The loss of life has been terrible, especially in Ecuador, so I don’t want to pretend it has been in any way positive. However, it is an area where we have been working with Ecuador. In September the Ecuadorian Health Minister came to the UK to discuss Covid-19 responses and vaccines with British health officials. We must remember that this is a relationship that was already on an upward trend. During Ambassador Ward’s tenure there were visits from the then Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, Sir Alan Duncan and the then Permanent Under-Secretary, Sir Simon Fraser. So, my job is to build on that momentum and make sure that we take the relationship to new heights.

I get asked a lot about the Oxford University vaccine as there is plenty of interest here. The UK government’s stance is clear -  we want equitable access to a vaccine for all. It’s not about which country has the first vaccine but about ensuring that we can protect as many people as quickly as possible and as safely as possible. That’s why we encourage all other countries to sign up to Covax and to Gavi, so they can ensure they get the vaccines they need. And that’s why I am very pleased that the Ecuadorian government has now formally signed up to COVAX mechanism and that they have agreed a commercial deal with Astra Zeneca that will help guarantee provision of the Oxford University vaccine, as and when it is ready, for the Ecuadorian people.