Colombia does a development model or a drift boat?

Translator: Andrés Fernando Cardona Ramírez

Spanish version:

The twentieth century was largely a protectionist century. In this context, Latin American countries, including Colombia, conducted an import substitution policy seeking to promote the nascent industry. In the 1960s, this policy was supplemented by export promotion strategies to diversify the offer and sell the world other goods than mining and agriculture.

However, for emerging economic trends in late twentieth century, to the academy and to those in power, the ECLAC economic model ran out. In its place, neoliberalism substantiated opening strategies to modernize the economy, liberalizing trade and attracting foreign investment. However, a quarter century later, there are reasons to wonder where Colombia is going in terms of economic development.


The twentieth century protectionist model gave way to a significant light industry, with progress in production of household appliances, electrical instruments and vehicle assembly. Parallel to this, exports diversified, reducing dependency on coffee and increasing the production of other goods, especially in the agribusiness and textile sectors. However, the paradigm of competitive advantage was imposed on the world; therefore, the door was opened to competition, new suppliers and investors to create conditions for modernizing the economy.

As shown on the map of Sciences Po, most world trade is within the North blocks (circles) and between them (thick arrows). This is because they involve manufactured products with high level of technological sophistication, and in these, few Latin circuits are involved, Colombia included: we must create competitive advantage.

Consequently, from the beginning, economic liberalization was expected to make foreign investment modernize our production, make our production more sophisticated, foreign competition would oblige our fledgling industry to get better in order to compete. these pillars expected to be the base for a new economy centered on the creation of competitive advantage for firms.


However, although some companies have modernized, overall figures indicate that Colombia does not advance in this direction. According to studies by the Bank of the Republic, until the beginning of economic liberalization (1990), coffee represented between 50 and 70% of exports. In the 1990s, exports other than coffee and oil and became almost 50% of the total export supply. But this does not mean that the manufacturing industry had been the major enhancer, although some of it if was: Venezuela was mainly, within the frame of CAN, a big market for assembled vehicles, apparel and agribusiness.

However, the balance of the first decade of the twenty first century states that what little progress had been made in diversification has been waning. While we do not depend significantly on coffee exports, unprocessed mining products have come to occupy this privileged position. Between oil, coal, ferronickel and gold do we find the axis of Colombian sales abroad, which are complemented by a light industry that does not evolve: apparel, bananas and flowers. According to the Private Competitiveness Council, 88% of our exports are raw materials or low-tech goods.

Consequently, we are in an ambiguous situation: we started a model of economic opening, inspired by the principles of Competitive Advantage, which means science, technology and innovation. But the sophistication of our industry and agriculture is not happening. We have better communications a more internationalized banking, higher education offer, but we still export raw goods. We are not doing something right.


we have become a mining economy. Coal and oil have become our main source of foreign exchange, exports and attracting foreign investment. However, this situation is a determinant (while not exclusive) of the revaluation of the peso. Consequently, the mining boom is causing part of the weakness of other industries with aspirations to participate in international markets. The makers, flower coffee and banana growers lose competitiveness as a result of an unfavorable exchange rate. We are experiencing symptoms of Dutch disease. Is this sustainable?:

According to the data of the company BP, worked by Nelson Hernandez, 10 countries possess 80% of world oil reserves, but Colombia is not among them. Therefore, a mining development model, based on the oil industry does not seem sustainable in the long run for Colombia. There are no signs that we can sustain the long-term model derived from the investment currency and oil exports, while manufacturing and other industries, agricultural and depress as a result of the revaluation of the first causes.

 Innovation and Sustainable Development:

the exchange rate is not the only thing that affects manufacturing and the agro Colombians. This country has very bad indicators for innovation, development, education and science. According to optimistic data, Colombia could be spending just under 0.5% of GDP on R & D processes, while successful East Asian countries are investing in this area about 4%. Neighbors such as Brazil and Chile, invest more than 1%. Our lack of vision translates into fewer patents and lower business innovation. It is no coincidence that one of the few companies that is patented in Colombia is Ecopetrol.

When it comes to education, although there are changes in the quantitative-more coverage, more masters, less illiteracy-, there are still significant shortcomings found in the qualitative: universities do little research and lack advancements in their approach to the big issues the country faces, particularly to the sophistication of our production capacity. There is little interest in the study of basic sciences and we are still seriously behind in bilingualism.

Finally, the country is having a big debate on mining. In this context there is serious concern about the poor relationship between the pursuit of a modern mining and sustainable development in Colombia: not only agriculture can be affected but, in general, it can cause irreparable environmental damage if the theme of “sustainable mining” is not clarified. Many interests are at stake and there is little legal and executive clarity .

 To close:

while the present belongs to mining, the future is uncertain. Neither the economic liberalization started a quarter century ago, nor mining numbers are arguments to indicate that the country is headed in one direction or another. We are a rudderless ship signing FTA’s with everyone without thinking what it is that we will offer our partners in the future. As we have said in previous articles: to export hydrocarbons is not required to sign agreements … We have lost the compass!

Colombian peace and political stability in Venezuela: good business

Traductor (translator) Andrés Fernando Cardona Ramírez

Ver versión en castellano:

Colombia and Venezuela are living momentous political processes. The first ventures into a new attempt to cap the legendary conflict between the government and the FARC. Across the border, Venezuelans go to the polls to decide whether to continue with the political project called “XXI century socialism” or give a 180 * turn and allow the opposition to present an alternative to the nearly three decades of Chavez government.

Both the issue of war and peace, and the Venezuelan political climate are vital phenomena for stability, growth and development of the Colombian economy.

The end of the war: a motor for prosperous fields and more sustainable cities.

The first conclusions that have been raised against the armed conflict can be summarized in three points: military spending will not be reduced, peace involves decades of increased public spending to compensate victims but at the same time, contribute between 1% and 3% GDP growth. There will be no cuts to military spending partly because other destabilizing factors survive, like BACRIM and drug trafficking.

While the contribution to GDP (1-3%) can be considered a pretty solid argument to bet on the negotiation, it is necessary to review a little more to realize that the possible effects have to do with not only growth but, specially the socio-economic development. The war has brought many evils and one of them, transcendental due to our demographic structure has been the migration from the countryside to the city. This situation has led to the deterioration of our rural economy and the emergence and development of poverty belts in cities.

The end of the war must stop this wave of migration, raising the potential of the field as an economic sector, improving food supply, encouraging new industries to move into international markets, therefore improving the quality of life in cities, with adequate and financially sustainable urban planning.

The country in recent years has become a magnet for foreign capital, but funds have been especially directed towards the mining industry and to the financial services and telecommunications. The end of the conflict could reduce the level of risk; improve the skills of Colombia, creating a new appeal for foreign capital to finance the production of food, raw materials of plant and animal origin and biofuels. The comparative advantages of good climate, good soil and industrious workforce, could be the seed for creating competitive advantages from a field that is modernized, which and makes way for an export-oriented agribusiness.

Venezuela: (potential) strategic partner.

When it comes to economic matters, for decades, Venezuela has been instrumental in the Colombian economy. The crisis of commercial relationships that we are currently facing has been a blow to the economic development of our country. Although exports to the world have grown, despite the withdrawal of Venezuela from the Andean Community of Nations (AC), qualitatively speaking, the damage has not been compensated.

Why do we say that the damage has not been compensated? Because Venezuela was the largest importer of Colombian manufacturing-products with added value; while the growth of exports to the rest of the world has been mainly of mining commodities. Do not forget that before Venezuela left the AC, the country imported 80% of vehicles exported-equivalent to 20% of imports from Venezuela to Colombia, and 50% of the clothing we exported to World -16% of their total purchases from Colombia.

Venezuela was our second largest trading partner, aside from the U.S., in fact, to the border departments of Santander, Norte de Santander and Arauca, it was critical on many economic fronts and for other regions such as the Aburrá Valley it was an engine for commercial-industrial employment.

Similarly, Venezuela’s withdrawal from AC has weakened the bloc. The largest commercial center of this ambitious integration agreement was the exchange between Colombia and Venezuela, followed by Colombia and Ecuador. Peru has its sights set on global markets for mining products and Bolivia is very much dependent on Mercosur.

Perhaps the AC isnot a great accord of economic integration, although it aims to create a Customs Union. But many nations of the world today consolidated their position in the market through the blocks to which they belong. Keeping isolated weakens the bargaining power in forums such as the WTO. There, for example, an agricultural G-20 was developed to meet the interests of rural America and the European Union, and in that group is not Colombia.

Things with Venezuela, from an economic perspective, are not on the best course. But this neighbor is a strategic partner that we must recover. Independent of the results of the October 7 elections, social and political stability in the neighboring country suits our economy. Retaking the road to good relations is a key strategy for social and economic development of Colombia.

History tells us that in the past the Colombians migrated to Venezuela looking for “El Dorado” due to the lack of opportunities in our land. If In fact, long term migration enriches cultures, in the short and medium run it affects the strength of the development of cities and sometimes brings security problems. A social crisis in Venezuela could lead to a reverse migration wave, for which we are not prepared, as our current growth is not based on labor intensive sectors and the rise of underemployment may offset the demographic balance that could start generating if peace comes the Colombian countryside.