By Scott Wright

SCOTTISH firms have embarked on a trade mission to South America to explore new opportunities following the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU).

Inverclyde Chamber of Commerce is spearheading the mission to Colombia to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) forge links in sectors such as renewables, food and drink, technology, manufacturing, education and football. Distilling and coffee production are a particular focus.

The mission is the first to South America to be backed by the Scottish Government. It involves more than 30 delegates and 16 participating firms pair with local partners, with the British Chamber of Commerce facilitating introductions, meeting support, market reports and access to Colombian Free Trade Zones.

While initial activity has been taking place online, it is hoped business owners will visit the continent in future.

Scottish firms taking part in the mission include Ardgowan Distillery, which recently revealed plans to build a new distillery and visitor centre in Inverclyde. Founder and chief executive Martin McAdam said: “We set out to find a suitable route for our whiskies in addition to developing a deeper understanding of the market for Scotch Whisky and trading conditions in the country itself.

“We now have a clearer picture of what is required to do business in the country and by extension other adjacent countries, having access to on the ground experts has saved us valuable time and resources that we can return to launching our whiskies in the region.”

Columbia is the fourth largest economy in South America, with a population of around 50 million people. It is regarded as a prime destination for exports and is fast building a reputation for tech, having recently produced Latin America’s first “unicorn” – a Deliveroo-style business called Rappi.

Major UK companies such as Diageo and G4S have strong links to the country.

George McKay, chief executive of Inverclyde Chamber of Commerce, said: “This is a huge opportunity for Scottish businesses to make a real mark in an important emerging market and Inverclyde Chamber of Commerce is proud to be driving it forward.

“The support we have received from our partners in Colombia has been excellent, as has the feedback from delegates. Many are already beginning to reap the benefits, and others are forging ahead with business plans. In this post-Brexit environment, it is particularly important for Scotland’s businesses to help themselves, and that is what these trade missions are set up to achieve.”