With improving security conditions in metropolitan areas, a market of 50 million people, an abundance of natural resources, and an educated and growing middle-class, Colombia continues to be an attractive destination for foreign investment in Latin America. Colombia ranked 67 out of 190 countries in the “Ease of Doing Business” index of the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report.
The Colombian economy contracted for the first time in more than two decades in 2020, with the effects of COVID-19 and lower oil prices resulting in a 6.8 percent decline in GDP. Measures to alleviate the pandemic’s effects led to a temporary suspension of Colombia’s fiscal rule and the deficit surpassing eight percent of GDP for 2020, with a similar deficit expected in 2021.
Colombia’s legal and regulatory systems are generally transparent and consistent with international norms. The country has a comprehensive legal framework for business and foreign direct investment (FDI). The 2012 U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CTPA) has strengthened bilateral trade and investment. Colombia’s dispute settlement mechanisms have improved through the CTPA and several international conventions and treaties. Weaknesses include protection of intellectual property rights (IPR), as Colombia has yet to implement certain IPR-related provisions of the CTPA. Colombia became the 37th member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2020, bringing the obligation to adhere to OECD norms and standards in economic operations.
The Colombian government has made a concerted effort to develop efficient capital markets, attract investment, and create jobs. Restrictions on foreign ownership in specific sectors still exist. FDI inflows increased 25.6 percent from 2018 to 2019, with a third of the 2019 inflow dedicated to the extractives sector and another 21 percent to professional services and finance. Roughly half of the Colombian workforce in metropolitan areas is employed in the informal economy, a share that increases to four-fifths in rural areas. Unemployment ended 2020 at 17.3 percent, a 4.3 percentage point increase from a year prior.
Since the 2016 peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia has experienced a significant decrease in terrorist activity. Several powerful narco-criminal operations still pose threats to commercial activity and investment, especially in rural zones outside of government control.
Corruption remains a significant challenge. The Colombian government continues to work on improving its business climate, but U.S. and other foreign investors have voiced complaints about non-tariff, regulatory, and bureaucratic barriers to trade, investment, and market access at the national, regional, and municipal levels. Investors also note concern at a heavy reliance by the national competition and regulatory authority (SIC) on decrees to remedy perceived problems.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2020||92 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2020||67 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2020||68 of 131||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2019||$8,264||https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2019||$6,510||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The Colombian Securities Exchange (BVC after its acronym in Spanish) is the main forum for trading and securities transactions in Colombia. The BVC is a private company listed on the stock market. The BVC, as a multi-product and multi-market exchange, offers trading platforms for the stock market, along with fixed income and standard derivatives. The BVC also provides listing services for issuers.
Foreign investors can participate in capital markets by negotiating and acquiring shares, bonds, and other securities listed by the Foreign Investment Statute. These activities must be conducted by a local administrator, such as trust companies or Financial Superintendence-authorized stock brokerage firms. Direct and portfolio foreign investments must be registered with the Central Bank. Foreigners can establish a bank account in Colombia as long as they have a valid visa and Colombian government identification.
The market has sufficient liquidity for investors to enter and exit sizeable positions. The central bank respects IMF Article VIII and does not restrict payments and transfers for current international transactions. The financial sector in Colombia offers credit to nationals and foreigners that comply with the requisite legal requirements.
Money and Banking System
In 2005, Colombia consolidated supervision of all aspects of the banking, financial, securities, and insurance sectors under the Financial Superintendence. Colombia has an effective regulatory system that encourages portfolio investment, and the country’s financial system is strong by regional standards. Commercial banks are the principal source of long-term corporate and project finance in Colombia. Loans rarely have a maturity in excess of five years. Unofficial private lenders play a major role in meeting the working capital needs of small and medium-sized companies. Only the largest of Colombia’s companies participate in the local stock or bond markets, with the majority meeting their financing needs either through the banking system, by reinvesting their profits, or through credit from suppliers.
Colombia’s central bank is charged with managing inflation and unemployment through monetary policy. Foreign banks are allowed to establish operations in the country, and must set up a Colombian subsidiary in order to do so. The Colombian central bank has a variety of correspondent banks abroad.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
There are no restrictions on transferring funds associated with FDI. Foreign investment into Colombia must be registered with the central bank in order to secure the right to repatriate capital and profits. Direct and portfolio investments are considered registered when the exchange declaration for operations channeled through the official exchange market is presented, with few exceptions. The official exchange rate is determined by the central bank. The rate is based on the free market flow of the previous day. Colombia does not manipulate its currency to gain competitive advantages.
The government permits full remittance of all net profits regardless of the type or amount of investment. Foreign investments must be channeled through the foreign exchange market and registered with the central bank’s foreign exchange office within one year in order for those investments to be repatriated or reinvested. There are no restrictions on the repatriation of revenues generated from the sale or closure of a business, reduction of investment, or transfer of a portfolio. Colombian law authorizes the government to restrict remittances in the event that international reserves fall below three months’ worth of imports. International reserves have remained well above this threshold for decades.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
In 2012, Colombia began operating a sovereign wealth fund called the Savings and Stabilization Fund (FAE), which is administered by the central bank with the objective of promoting savings and economic stability in the country. Colombia is not a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds. The fund can administer up to 30 percent of annual royalties from the extractives industry. Its primary investments are in fixed securities, sovereign and quasi-sovereign debt (both domestic and international), and corporate securities, with just eight percent invested in stocks. The government transfers royalties not dedicated to the fund to other internal funds to boost national economic productivity through strategic projects, technological investments, and innovation. In 2020, the government authorized up to 80 percent of the FAE’s USD 3.9 billion in assets to be lent to the Fund for the Mitigation of Emergencies (FOME) created in response to the pandemic.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
Since 2015, the Government of Colombia has concentrated its industrial and commercial enterprises under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance. According to Ministry’s 2019 annual report, the number of state-owned companies is 105, with a combined value of USD 20 billion. The government is the majority shareholder of 39 companies and a minority shareholder in the remaining 66. Among the most notable companies with a government stake are Ecopetrol (Colombia’s majority state-owned and privately-run oil company), ISA (electricity distribution), Banco Agrario de Colombia, Bancoldex, and Satena (regional airline). SOEs competing in the Colombian market do not receive non-market-based advantages from the government. The Ministry of Finance normally updates their annual report on SOEs every June.
Colombia has privatized state-owned enterprises under article 60 of the Constitution and Law Number 226 of 1995. This law stipulates that the sale of government holdings in an enterprise should be offered to two groups: first to cooperatives and workers’ associations of the enterprise, then to the general public. During the first phase, special terms and credits have to be granted, and in the second phase, foreign investors may participate along with the general public. A series of privatizations planned for 2020 were postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic. The government views stimulating private-sector investment in roads, ports, electricity, and gas infrastructure as a high priority. The government is increasingly turning to concessions and using public-private partnerships (PPPs) to secure and incentivize infrastructure development.
In order to attract investment and promote PPPs, Colombian modified infrastructure regulations to clarify provisions for frequently-cited obstacles to participate in PPPs, including environmental licensing, land acquisition, and the displacement of public utilities. The law puts in place a civil procedure that facilitates land expropriation during court cases, allows for expedited environmental licensing, and clarifies that the cost to move or replace public utilities affected by infrastructure projects falls to private companies. However, infrastructure development companies considering bidding on tenders have raised concerns about unacceptable levels of risk that result from a law (Ley 80) establishing a framework for public works projects. Interpretations of Ley 80 do not establish a liability cap on potential judgments and view company officials equal to those with fiscal oversight authority when it comes to criminal liability for misfeasance.
Municipal enterprises operate many public utilities and infrastructure services. These municipal enterprises have engaged private sector investment through concessions. There are several successful concessions involving roads. These kinds of partnerships have helped promote reforms and create a more attractive environment for private, national, and foreign investment.
Corruption, and the perception of it, is a serious obstacle for companies operating or planning to invest in Colombia. Analyses of the business environment, such as the WEF Global Competitiveness Index, consistently cite corruption as a problematic factor, along with high tax rates, inadequate infrastructure, and inefficient government bureaucracy. Transparency International’s latest “Corruption Perceptions Index” ranked Colombia 92nd out of 180 countries assessed and assigned it a score of 39/100, a slight improvement from the year prior. Customs, taxation, and public works contracts are commonly-cited areas where corruption exists.
Colombia has adopted the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and is a member of the OECD Anti-Bribery Committee. It also passed a domestic anti-bribery law in 2016. It has signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention and adopted the OAS Convention against Corruption. The CTPA protects the integrity of procurement practices and criminalizes both offering and soliciting bribes to/from public officials. It requires both countries to make all laws, regulations, and procedures regarding any matter under the CTPA publicly available. Both countries must also establish procedures for reviews and appeals by any entities affected by actions, rulings, measures, or procedures under the CTPA.
Resources to Report Corruption
Useful resources and contact information for those concerned about combating corruption in Colombia include the following:
- The Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory is an interactive tool of the Colombian government aimed at promoting transparency and combating corruption available at http://www.anticorrupcion.gov.co/
- The Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory is an interactive tool of the Colombian government aimed at promoting transparency and combating corruption available at http://www.anticorrupcion.gov.co/ • The National Civil Commission for Fighting Corruption, or Comisión Nacional Ciudadana para la Lucha Contra la Corrupción (CNCLCC), was established by Law 1474 of 2011 to give civil society a forum to discuss and propose policies and actions to fight corruption in the country. Transparencia por Colombia is the technical secretariat of the commission. http://ciudadanoscontralacorrupcion.org/es/inicio
- The National Civil Commission for Fighting Corruption, or Comisión Nacional Ciudadana para la Lucha Contra la Corrupción (CNCLCC), was established by Law 1474 of 2011 to give civil society a forum to discuss and propose policies and actions to fight corruption in the country. Transparencia por Colombia is the technical secretariat of the commission. http://ciudadanoscontralacorrupcion.org/es/inicio
- The Presidential Secretariat of Transparency advises and assists the president to formulate, design, and coordinate the implementation of public policy about transparency and anti-corruption. http://wsp.presidencia.gov.co/secretaria-transparencia/Paginas/default.aspx/
Secretary of Transparency
Calle 7 No.6-54, Bogota (+57)1 562 9300
Transparencia Por Colombia (local chapter of Transparency International)
Cra. 45A No. 93 – 61, Barrio La Castellana, Bogota
(+57)1 610 0822
11. Labor Policies and Practices
An OECD economic survey of Colombia was published in October 2019. The report mentions progress on labor market reforms, but cites a weakening of the labor market given decelerating economic growth, stalled progress on labor force participation, and persistently high income inequality. At the end of 2020, 49.2 percent of the urban workforce was working in the informal economy. The overall unemployment rate at that time was 17.3 percent. Both figures represent deteriorations due to the economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic. Colombia has a wide range of skills in its workforce, including managerial-level employees who are often bilingual, but faces large skills gaps. Colombia has made strong efforts to incorporate Venezuelan migrants into the formal economy, most notably the February 2021 announcement of ten-year Temporary Protected Status for the country’s estimated 1.8 million Venezuelan migrants.
Labor rights in Colombia are set forth in its Constitution, the Labor Code, the Procedural Code of Labor and Social Security, sector-specific legislation, and ratified international conventions, which are incorporated into national legislation. Colombia’s Constitution guarantees freedom of association and provides for collective bargaining and the right to strike (with some exceptions). It also addresses forced labor, child labor, trafficking, discrimination, protections for women and children in the workplace, minimum wages, working hours, skills training, and social security. Colombia has ratified all eight of the International Labor Organization’s (ILO’s) fundamental labor conventions, and all are in force. Colombia has also ratified conventions related to hours of work, occupational health and safety, and minimum wage.
The 1991 Constitution protects the right to constitute labor unions. Pursuant to Colombia’s labor law, any group of 25 or more workers, regardless of whether they are employees of the same company or not, may form a labor union. Employees of companies with fewer than 25 employees may affiliate themselves with other labor unions. Colombia has a low trade union density (9.5 percent). Where unions are present, multiple affiliation sometimes poses challenges for collective bargaining. The largest and most influential unions are composed mostly of public-sector employees, particularly of the majority state-owned oil company and the state-run education sector. Only 6.2 percent of all salaried workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), according to the OECD. The Ministry of Labor has expressed commitment to working on decrees to incentivize sectoral collective bargaining and to strengthen union representation within companies and regulate strikes in the essential public services sector. Strikes, when held in accordance with the law, are recognized as legal instruments to obtain better working conditions, and employers are prohibited from using strike-breakers at any time during the course of a strike. After 60 days of strike action, the parties are subject to compulsory arbitration. Strikes are prohibited in certain “essential public services,” as defined by law, although Colombia has been criticized for having an overly-broad interpretation of “essential.”
Foreign companies operating in Colombia must follow the same hiring rules as national companies, regardless of the origin of the employer and the place of execution of the contract. No labor laws are waived in order to attract or retain investment. In 2010, Law 1429 eliminated the mandatory proportion requirement for foreign and national personnel; 100 percent of the workforce, including the board of directors, can be foreign nationals. Labor permits are not required in Colombia, except for minors of the minimum working age. Foreign employees have the same rights as Colombian employees. Employers may use temporary service agencies to subcontract additional workers for peaks of production. Employers must receive advance permission from the Ministry of Labor before undertaking permanent layoffs. The Ministry of Labor typically does not grant permission to lay off workers who have enhanced legal protections (for example, those with work-related injuries or union leaders). The Ministry of Labor has been cracking down on using temporary or contract workers for jobs that are not temporary in nature, although challenges remain in this area.
Reputational risks to investors come with a lack of effective and systematic enforcement of labor law, especially in rural sectors. Homicides of unionists (social leaders) remain a concern. In January 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a public report of review in response to a submission filed under Chapter 17 (the Labor Chapter) of the CTPA by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and five Colombian workers’ organizations that alleged failures on the part of the government to protect labor rights in line with CTPA commitments. In January 2018, the Department of Labor published the first periodic review of progress to address issues identified in the submission report. For additional information on labor law enforcement see:
- Section 7 of Colombia’s Human Rights Report https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt
- Department of Labor Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/colombia
- Lists of Goods Produced with Child or Forced Labor https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods