Mark Untersander: “The term ‘Switzerland’ evokes positive emotions in Chile.”

Chile has developed into an interesting target country for Swiss cleantech solutions. But how does this market work, and where is the potential for Swiss companies? An interview with Mark Untersander, Head of Trade Point Chile.


Mark Untersander, cleantech is a broad term. In which sectors are there tangible business opportunities for Swiss companies?
It is true that the term “cleantech” covers a variety of applications. Such technologies, manufacturing processes and services that help to protect and conserve our natural resources are in demand in all sectors of the economy. Chile is a small country with a population of around 18 million and is not known as an important global production location. In Switzerland, therefore, Chilean services or industrial products are very rare. The situation is quite different in the primary sector: the country has traditionally been a major power in the mining industry, where billions are made and invested. Innovations in the areas of water, energy, waste and protection against natural hazards are in demand. Chile is also a disproportionately important player in agriculture, forestry and fishing. Chilean export products such as avocados, apples or wine can be found in Swiss supermarkets.

The copper and lithium business has also established itself in Chile. 27 percent of the world's copper and 40 percent of its lithium are produced in the country. Is there still room in this market for Swiss companies?
Raw materials of Chilean origin are very present in our modern everyday life. For example, copper or lithium can be found in mobile phones, cars and building technology. Demand is growing, and Chile is striving to further expand its position as world market leader. Sustainability is playing an increasingly important role here. On the one hand, electric cars, which are considered cleantech technologies, contain a lot of copper and lithium. On the other, mining struggles with its image as a polluter. The Chilean government has set itself the goal of producing these raw materials, which are increasingly needed for future technologies, more sustainably in order to reduce environmental damage and create a global competitive advantage. Chilean mine operators intend to invest over 60 billion Swiss francs in their copper mines over the next eight years. An important part of this also goes into solutions for increasing sustainability, an area in which the best cleantech innovations worldwide will be put to use. Our companies can benefit from this growing market and Switzerland's good reputation as a clean, innovative country with high-quality products.

Chile is a very open country that attaches great importance to being as attractive as possible for foreign partners.

How can Swiss exporters participate in these projects in Chile and master market entry?
Many roads lead to Chile. The over 200 Swiss companies who have gained a foothold here have accomplished this in very different ways. Chile has the most free trade agreements of any country in the world and is regarded as a very open market. It is a member of the OECD, is politically very stable and, by South American standards, almost “Swiss”. However, it should be noted that this is a far-off land with its own rules. Switzerland Global Enterprise and Trade Point Chile offer a wide range of assistance and services aimed at helping Swiss exporters take the step abroad. We also cooperate with specialist groups in Switzerland or with the Swiss-Chilean Chamber of Commerce, where the exchange between companies is promoted.

What regulatory requirements are there in Chile that Swiss companies should be aware of?
As mentioned above, Chile is a very open country that attaches great importance to being as attractive as possible for foreign partners. Even if sector-specific regulatory hurdles exist, they are a secondary issue compared to the cultural challenges and general market rules such as price or quality.  

Chilean companies are very much willing to pay higher prices for products and services that are reliable.

Could you describe the cultural challenges?
Good contacts in Chile are extremely important for successful market entry. A lack of personal networks or recommendations is often the cause of decisions being made that we Swiss cannot rationally comprehend. Due to its openness and its strong trade links with Asia, the country has access to very inexpensive products, which can be an advantage for Far Eastern producers with a rather short-term Chilean orientation.

Is Swiss quality a sales argument in Chile?
I'm convinced of it! We see every day that the term “Switzerland” evokes very positive emotions both in society and in the business world. This undoubtedly helps when it comes to making the contacts mentioned above. In addition, a copper mine, for example, generates daily sales in the millions. This means that downtime results in huge financial losses and companies are willing to pay higher prices for reliable products and services. To successfully enter the market, a company must therefore be in a position to demonstrate these advantages to decision makers. Finally, perseverance, patience and a certain amount of stubbornness are also required.   

How can the Trade Point Chile support Swiss SMEs with their exports to Chile?
The Trade Point acts as part of the embassy at the intersection of business, politics, research and international relations. Coupled with a close connection to Swiss officials, these links can often open important doors. Our mission is to help Swiss companies in Chile. We offer a wide range of services, from answering basic questions to identifying experts or representatives to supporting large delegations. In doing so, we always strive to put ourselves in the company’s shoes; we are always happy to see Swiss companies successfully enter the Chilean market.