Who are Colombia’s largest trading partners? How do you anticipate this will evolve in the future and which bi-lateral relations are you looking to develop further?
DUQUE: Our largest trading partners are the US and the EU. We have large trade relations with Latin America but we are lagging behind with regards to our interaction with Asia. We are aiming at being very risk averse and trying to diversify our trading partners. We are trying to reach further with Asia and that will be our priority. The objective for the next few years is really diversification. We are lagging behind in our exposure to the world. We are really coming from low levels of exports and investments. As a result, we want to diversify what we are doing with the rest of the world. We do have other areas of interest, for example Africa. We are planning on doing promising investments in that region. The largest trade agreements only recently came into force. When we first started this department, we only had agreements with Latin American countries. It was only two years ago that we established agreements with Canada, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein. Last year, we signed our FTA with the US and we will be putting into force an agreement with the EU. It is very hard to measure the impacts of these FTAs because they are not things you do for the short run. They are structural changes that provide very clear rules of the game, reduction of costs, and certainty for economic agents to engage. We are pretty satisfied with the results this year from our entrance into an FTA with the US. We now have over nearly 400 new exporters and 200 new products. These numbers portray the benefits of further integrating ourselves with the rest of the world.
What initiatives is the government implementing in order to further promote export development? What are the major trade barriers that exist in Colombia today and what actions are being taken in order to alleviate these challenges?
DUQUE: We are lagging behind with the internationalization of our economy. Our total trade is just above 30% of our total GDP, which is very low with regard to international standards. Only a few years ago, our FDI was just around $2bn. Last year, it was just about $15bn. So we are trying to catch up with the integration of our economy into the world. The good thing is that since we are lagging behind it is not difficult to grow. We have a comprehensive strategy that includes our trade agreements and ensures lower costs as well as more certainty for economic agents. We are coming from very low levels of our economy’s exposure to the rest of the world. We have low levels of imports, exports, and FDI. We are catching up but also growing exponentially. Last year, we exported over $60bn. Colombia’s total trade was nearly $120bn. However, that only represents 30% of our total GDP. We don’t compare well internationally in these standards and our FDI was just around 1% of our GDP. This has gone up to roughly 4.5% since last year. We do have very strong bottlenecks dealing with infrastructure. We are constantly comparing ourselves with the World Economic Forum standards and the Ease of Doing Business standards because we see those publications and studies as sources to identify where our priorities or actions should be. As a result, we are working on many aspects to try and further integrate our economy into the world.
What is Colombia’s overall contribution to the Pacific Alliance? How do you see this evolving over the next 2-5 years?
DUQUE: We are one of the leaders of this initiative. We are building this deep integration with Mexico, Chile, and Peru. These four countries think alike. We believe that sustainable growth can be achieved if we expose our markets and economies to what is happening in the world in terms of technology and consumer trends. We are basically deepening our integration in a very different format. We are doing this in order to further integrate ourselves with the rest of the world. We do not want to build joint barriers around us. We are strengthening what we have because we started this alliance with FTAs among ourselves. We are establishing aspects in which we can collaborate on joint promotions with our agencies abroad and we see this as a very strategic element for making our economies more international. We are the second largest market in the Pacific Alliance and we see it as an important strategy to further link ourselves with the Asia Pacific region.
In what areas or industries does Colombia have the most competitive advantage in? How do you see this progressing in the long-term and how successful has the Ministry been at promoting these segments to global markets?
We are lagging behind with the internationalization of our economy. Our total trade is just above 30% of our total GDP, which is very low with regard to international standards. Only a few years ago, our FDI was just around $2bn. Last year, it was just about $15bn. So we are trying to catch up with the integration of our economy into the world. The good thing is that since we are lagging behind it is not difficult to grow.
DUQUE: Our national development plan highlights five locomotives. These are certain sectors that we are anticipating will experience special growth. These locomotives are infrastructure, housing, agriculture, innovation, and energy. Those are the five sectors, which are a part of the national development plan. However, we also have sectoral policies, which is a very innovative program. There are 16 sectors that we are trying to work with. Some of them are in agribusiness, services, and manufacturing. All of them have advantages and potential. For example, the cosmetics industry is very promising. We have a relatively big market with roughly 7m people. This provides a large platform for growth. There is a large potential for tourism because of Colombia’s climate and geography. We have great health services and we are promoting medical tourism. We are very strong in agriculture because of our production of coffee, bananas, and flowers. Those are very clear examples of what we have. One thing about Colombia is that it is diverse and you can find opportunities throughout most sectors.
How is Colombia overcoming its past reputation and image with regards to safety and security? What impact has this had on investor sentiment and confidence?
DUQUE: It has been about establishing transparency. It is showing how dramatic of a change we have had coming from very bad numbers only 10 years ago. It took a big effort from the government and the population to try to address these issues in a transparent way. We have overcome our reputation by being very clear about the progress we have made and the focus we have put on investing in our resources. We have been dedicated to addressing challenges and have lowered them to very manageable numbers. We are still addressing challenges and this is still a priority. We will continue to do so. It is not about denying where we came from but being very transparent and showing that Colombia has dramatically changed. The best way to see and experience this is to actually visit. We are trying to encourage this as a part of our tourism strategy. We want people to experience the new Colombia.