Ecuador believes in free markets, but it also wants to make sure they work for the benefit of all citizens, the Andean country’s ambassador to the U.S. told Global Atlanta

Nathalie Cely, who will visit Atlanta this Thursday for a World Chamber of Commerce event on immigration, said the blend of private-sector emphasis and social progress is what Ecuador calls a “third way in the South,” an aspect that it distinguishes the country on a continent that has faced an ideological divide in recent decades over the government’s role in the economy. 

“We believe in private initiative and we foster entrepreneurship, but we just believe in the right balance,” said Ms. Cely, who served separate terms as cabinet secretary for competitiveness and social development. “This is a socialist-leaning country; the difference is that the search for excellence and efficiency are the top priority for the government.” 

Ecuador has tackled education reform and has been taking trade and tourism to record heights, nurturing a bilateral relationship with the U.S. that reached $18 billion last year and made it America’s No. 33 trading partner. 

The dollarized economy’s socialized medical system has been instrumental in attracting droves of American retirees, who come to enjoy natural and cultural assets recognized by both the United Nations and many international publications. 

“Tourism is booming in Ecuador,” which is home to various climates ranging from the Galapagos Islands and mountain peaks covered in snow all year, garnering the country recognition as one of the top countries for biodiversity in the world, Ms. Cely said. 

The U.S. is the largest trading partner for the country of nearly 14 million people, with a product profile diversifying away from simply minerals and oil. American firms are exporting more capital goods like machinery to the country, while Ecuadorian agricultural products like shrimp, fruits, flowers and cocoa are building their brands here. Ecuadorian chocolate got a boost last year when Oprah Winfrey dubbed Pacari’s lemongrass-flavored bars one of her favorites. That led to the company’s chocolate being used to create Oscar figurines at the premier movie awards ceremony, Ms. Cely said. 

Over the next year, the embassy is partnering with its ministry of trade and tourism to target the American cities of Chicago, Miami and Washington with an advertising push highlighting the country’s various products and assets. 

Atlanta is also on its list of potential partners. While the Ecuadorian capital of Quito is seeking a nonstop air link with Chicago, Delta Air Lines Inc. already offers that connectivity from Atlanta. Ecuador also has a consulate general, an honorary consul and a binational chamber of commerce in Atlanta. 

During her visit this week, Ms. Cely hopes to meet with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal but is still finalizing an itinerary that is to include meetings with the community and the private sector. 

“I want to develop and deepen our bilateral trade and tourism relationships to do more. We’re doing a lot, but I think it’s time to do more,” she said of Atlanta. 

She will receive an award from the World Chamber of Commerce at the organization’s Business and Immigration Forum for the embassy’s efforts to boost economic development and work with the 1 million-strong Ecuadorian community in the U.S., she said. 

In the Global Atlanta interview, Ms. Cely said it’s a “moral imperative” to fix its “broken” immigration system and recognize the contributions of immigrants to society. 

She said she is working with city leaders in New York and Chicago to provide English courses, startup assistance for female entrepreneurs and training for workers in construction and other fields. She welcomed the idea of doing the same in Atlanta, where the mayor has put together a coalition focused on ensuring that the foreign-born population has access to opportunity. 

“We strongly believe that our community contributes a lot to the economy here, and we wish that you could have the consensus inside the United States to really come up with immigration reform that I think will benefit everybody.” 

Along with presenting awards to Ms. Cely and Gilbert Galanxhi, ambassador of Albania to the U.S., the chamber is to present a lifetime achievement award to Atlanta architect John Portman. A WCC Guatemala Chamber of Commerce and a WCC Dominican Republic Chamber of Commerce will also be launched at the event. 

For more information about the World Chamber event, visit

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...