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Executive Summary

With markedly improved security conditions, a market of 49 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.  In the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report, Colombia ranked 65 out of 190 countries in the “Ease of Doing Business” index.

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 U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CTPA), which took effect on May 15, 2012, has strengthened bilateral trade and investment.  Through the CTPA and several international conventions and treaties, Colombia’s dispute settlement mechanisms have improved. Weaknesses include protection of intellectual property rights (IPR), as Colombia has yet to implement certain IPR-related provisions of the CTPA.  Colombia was on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Priority Watch List in 2018.

The Colombian government has made a concerted effort to develop efficient capital markets, attract investment, and create jobs.  However, the government has struggled both to replace the lost energy-sector revenues after the price of oil, its largest export, collapsed in 2014, and to adjust to a concomitant devaluation of the peso.  President Ivan Duque took office in August 7, 2018. The new administration passed a tax reform on December 2018, aimed at alleviating the tax burden on companies, increasing private investment, and strengthening economic growth.

Restrictions on foreign ownership in specific sectors still exist.  FDI decreased 20.4 percent from 2017 to 2018, with more than half of the 2018 inflow dedicated to the extractives, finance, and transportation sectors.  Roughly half of the Colombian workforce is in the informal economy, and unemployment registered at 9.7 percent for 2018.

Security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, with kidnappings down from 3,572 cases in 2000 to 170 cases in 2018.  Since the 2016 peace agreement between the government and the country’s largest terrorist organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia has experienced a significant decrease in terrorist activity.  Negotiations between the National Liberation Army (ELN), another terrorist organization, and the government have stalled, and the ELN continues its attacks on energy infrastructure and security forces. The ELN is one of several powerful narco-criminal operations that poses a threat to commercial activity and investment, especially in rural zones outside of government control.  Despite improved security conditions, coca production is at the highest levels since the 1990s.

Corruption remains a significant challenge in Colombia.  The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index (2018) ranked Colombia 60 out of 137 countries.  The Colombian government continues to work on improving its business climate, but U.S. and other foreign investors have voiced complaints about non-tariff and bureaucratic barriers to trade and investment at the national, regional, and municipal levels.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 99 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 65 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 63 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $ 7,200 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $ 5,890 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Colombian government actively encourages foreign direct investment (FDI).  In the early 1990s, the country began economic liberalization reforms, which provided for national treatment of foreign investors, lifted controls on remittance of profits and capital, and allowed foreign investment in most sectors.  Colombia imposes the same investment restrictions on foreign investors that it does on national investors. Generally, foreign investors may participate in the privatization of state-owned enterprises without restrictions. All FDI involving the establishment of a commercial presence in Colombia requires registration with the Superintendence of Corporations (‘Superintendencia de Sociedades’) and the local chamber of commerce.  All conditions being equal during tender processes, national offers are preferred over foreign offers. Assuming equal conditions among foreign bidders, those with major Colombian national workforce resources, significant national capital, and/or better conditions to facilitate technology transfers are preferred.

ProColombia is the Colombian government entity that promotes international tourism, foreign investment, and non-traditional exports.  ProColombia assists foreign companies that wish to enter the Colombian market by addressing specific needs, such as identifying contacts in the public and private sectors, organizing visit agendas, and accompanying companies during visits to Colombia.  All services are free of charge and confidential. Business process outsourcing, software and IT services, cosmetics, health services, automotive manufacturing, textiles, graphic communications, and electric energy are priority sectors. ProColombia’s “Invest in Colombia” web portal offers detailed information about opportunities in agribusiness, manufacturing, and services in Colombia (www.investincolombia.com.co/sectors).

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign investment in the financial, hydrocarbon, and mining sectors is subject to special regimes, such as investment registration and concession agreements with the Colombian government, but is not restricted in the amount of foreign capital.  The following sectors require that foreign investors have a legal local representative and/or commercial presence in Colombia: travel and tourism agency services; money order operators; customs brokerage; postal and courier services; merchandise warehousing; merchandise transportation under customs control; international cargo agents; public service companies, including sewage and water works, waste disposal, electricity, gas and fuel distribution, and public telephone services; insurance firms; legal services; and special air services, including aerial fire-fighting, sightseeing, and surveying.

According to the World Bank’s Investing Across Sectors indicators, among the 14 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean covered, Colombia is one of the economies most open to foreign equity ownership.  With the exception of TV broadcasting, all other sectors covered by the indicators are fully open to foreign capital participation. Foreign ownership in TV broadcasting companies is limited to 40 percent. Companies publishing newspapers can have up to 100 percent foreign capital investment; however, there is a requirement for the director or general manager to be a Colombian national.

According to the Colombian constitution and foreign investment regulations, foreign investment in Colombia receives the same treatment as an investment made by Colombian nationals.  Any investment made by a person who does not qualify as a resident of Colombia for foreign exchange purposes will qualify as foreign investment. Foreign investment is permitted in all sectors, except in activities related to defense, national security, and toxic waste handling and disposal.  There are no performance requirements explicitly applicable to the entry and establishment of foreign investment in Colombia.

Foreign investors face specific exceptions and restrictions in the following sectors:

Media:  Only Colombian nationals or legally constituted entities may provide radio or subscription-based television services.  For National Open Television and Nationwide Private Television Operators, only Colombian nationals or legal entities may be granted concessions to provide television services.  Colombia’s national, regional, and municipal open-television channels must be provided at no extra cost to subscribers. Foreign investment in national television is limited to a maximum of 40 percent ownership of the relevant operator.  Satellite television service providers are obliged to include within their basic programming the broadcast of government-designated public interest channels. Newspapers published in Colombia covering domestic politics must be directed and managed by Colombian nationals.

Accounting, Auditing, and Data Processing:  To practice in Colombia, providers of accounting services must register with the Central Accountants Board; have uninterrupted domicile in Colombia for at least three years prior to registry; and provide proof of accounting experience in Colombia of at least one year.  No restrictions apply to services offered by consulting firms or individuals. A legal commercial presence is required to provide data processing and information services in Colombia.

Banking:  Foreign investors may own 100 percent of financial institutions in Colombia, but are required to obtain approval from the Financial Superintendent before making a direct investment of ten percent or more in any one entity.  Portfolio investments used to acquire more than five percent of an entity also require authorization. Foreign banks must establish a local commercial presence and comply with the same capital and other requirements as local financial institutions.  Foreign banks may establish a subsidiary or office in Colombia, but not a branch. Every investment of foreign capital in portfolios must be through a Colombian administrator company, including brokerage firms, trust companies, and investment management companies.  All foreign investments must be registered with the central bank.

Fishing:  A foreign vessel may engage in fishing and related activities in Colombian territorial waters only through association with a Colombian company holding a valid fishing permit.  If a ship’s flag corresponds to a country with which Colombia has a complementary bilateral agreement, this agreement shall determine whether the association requirement applies for the process required to obtain a fishing license.  The costs of fishing permits are greater for foreign flag vessels.

Private Security and Surveillance Companies:  Companies constituted with foreign capital prior to February 11, 1994 cannot increase the share of foreign capital.  Those constituted after that date can only have Colombian nationals as shareholders.

Telecommunications:  Barriers to entry in telecommunications services include high license fees (USD 150 million for a long distance license), commercial presence requirements, and economic needs tests.  While Colombia allows 100 percent foreign ownership of telecommunication providers, it prohibits “callback” services.

Transportation:  Foreign companies can only provide multimodal freight services within or from Colombian territory if they have a domiciled agent or representative legally responsible for its activities in Colombia.  International cabotage companies can provide cabotage services (i.e. between two points within Colombia) “only when there is no national capacity to provide the service,” according to Colombian law. Colombia prohibits foreign ownership of commercial ships licensed in Colombia and restricts foreign ownership in national airlines or shipping companies to 40 percent.  FDI in the maritime sector is limited to 30 percent ownership of companies operating in the sector. The owners of a concession providing port services must be legally constituted in Colombia and only Colombian ships may provide port services within Colombian maritime jurisdiction; however, vessels with foreign flags may provide those services if there are no capable Colombian-flag vessels.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In the past three years, the government has not undergone any third-party investment policy reviews (IPRs) through a multilateral organization such as the OECD, WTO, or UNCTAD.

Business Facilitation

New businesses must first register with the chamber of commerce of the city in which the company will reside.  Applicants also register using the Colombian tax authority’s portal at www.dian.gov.co. Apart from the registration with the chamber and the tax authority, companies must register a unified form to self-assess and pay social security and payroll contributions.  The unified form can be submitted electronically to the Governmental Learning Service (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje, or SENA), the Colombian Family Institute (Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar, or ICBF), and the Family Compensation Fund (Caja de Compensación Familiar).  After that, companies must register employees for public health coverage, affiliate the company to a public or private pension fund, affiliate the company and employees to an administrator of professional risks, and affiliate employees with a severance fund.

Colombia went down six spots from 59 to 65 in the World Bank’s 2019 “Ease of Doing Business” index.  According to the report, starting a company in Colombia requires eight procedures and takes an average of 11 days.  Information on starting a company can be found at www.ccb.org.co/en/Creating-a-company/Company-start-up/Step-by-step-company-creation ; http://www.investincolombia.com.co/how-to-invest.html#slider_alias_steps-to-establish-your-company-in-colombia ; and www.dian.gov.co. 

Outward Investment

ProColombia, the government’s FDI promotion agency, also promotes Colombian investment abroad.  The “Colombia Invests” web portal (http://www.colombiainvierte.com.co/ ) offers detailed information for opportunities in the priority sectors of agribusiness, manufacturing, and services for Colombian investors in a range of countries.  ProColombia also offers a network of foreign contacts and plans commercial missions.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

BITs or FTAs:

Colombia has 13 free trade agreements or agreements of economic cooperation that include investment chapters with: the United States, the European Union, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, South Korea, CAN (Andean Community of Nations – Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia), the Pacific Alliance (Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru), EFTA (European Free Trade Area –Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland), Mercosur (Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina), and Central America’s Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala).  Colombia has subscribed trade agreements with Panama and Israel, but they are not yet in effect. There are ongoing FTA negotiations with Japan and Turkey. Through the Pacific Alliance, Colombia is also participating in negotiations with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore to extend “associate state” status to these countries. Additionally, Colombia has stand-alone bilateral investment treaties in force with China, India, Peru, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Japan.

 Bilateral Taxation Treaties:

Colombia has double taxation treaties with Bolivia, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, France, India, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.  Colombia is currently negotiating double taxation agreements with Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, and Panama, and has expressed strong interest in renewing negotiations with the United States.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Colombian legal and regulatory systems are generally transparent and consistent with international norms.  The commercial code and other laws cover broad areas, including banking and credit, bankruptcy/reorganization, business establishment/conduct, commercial contracts, credit, corporate organization, fiduciary obligations, insurance, industrial property, and real property law.  The civil code contains provisions relating to contracts, mortgages, liens, notary functions, and registries. There are no identified private-sector associations or non-governmental organizations leading informal regulatory processes. The ministries generally consult with relevant actors, both foreign and national, when drafting regulations.  Proposed laws are typically published as drafts for public comment.

Enforcement mechanisms exist, but historically the judicial system has not taken an active role in adjudicating commercial cases.  The Constitution establishes the principle of free competition as a national right for all citizens and provides the judiciary with administrative and financial independence from the executive branch.  Colombia has transitioned to an oral accusatory system to make criminal investigations and trials more efficient. The new system separates the investigative functions assigned to the Office of the Attorney General from trial functions.  Lack of coordination among government entities as well as insufficient resources complicate timely resolution of cases.

Colombia is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures (see http://www.businessfacilitation.org/ and Colombia’s website http://colombia.eregulations.org/).  Foreign and national investors can find detailed information on administrative procedures applicable to investment and income generating operations including the number of steps, name, and contact details of the entities and people in charge of procedures, required documents and conditions, costs, processing time, and legal bases justifying the procedures.

International Regulatory Considerations

OECD countries agreed on May 25, 2018, to invite Colombia as the 37th member of the Organization.  With Law 1950 of January 8, 2019, President Duque ratified the Colombian accession to the oOECD. Colombia’s Constitutional Court must now review and uphold the law before accession is completed.  Colombia is part of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The government generally notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. In December 2017, the legislature ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).  The TFA is now also pending constitutional court review before Colombia can deposit its letter of acceptance with the WTO. Regionally, Colombia is a member of organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), and the Pacific Alliance.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Colombia has a comprehensive legal system.  Colombia’s judicial system defines the legal rights of commercial entities, reviews regulatory enforcement procedures, and adjudicates contract disputes in the business community.  The judicial framework includes the Council of State, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of Justice, and various departmental and district courts, which collectively are overseen administratively by the Superior Judicial Council.  The 1991 constitution provided the judiciary with greater administrative and financial independence from the executive branch. Colombia has a commercial code and other laws covering broad areas, including banking and credit, bankruptcy/reorganization, business establishment/conduct, commercial contracts, credit, corporate organization, fiduciary obligations, insurance, industrial property, and real property law.  Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable through the different stages of legal court processes in Colombia. The judicial system is generally regarded as competent, fair, and reliable, but it did suffer reputational damage in 2017 following the arrest of an official in the Attorney General’s office on corruption charges, which led to the uncovering of a judicial influence-peddling scandal linked to the Supreme Court. 

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Colombia has a comprehensive legal framework for business and FDI that incorporates binding norms resulting from its membership in the Andean Community of Nations as well as other free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties.  Colombia’s judicial system defines the legal rights of commercial entities, reviews regulatory enforcement procedures, and adjudicates contract disputes in the business community. The judicial framework includes the Superintendence of Industry and Commerce (SIC), the Council of State, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of Justice, and the various departmental and district courts, which are also overseen for administrative matters by the Superior Judicial Council.  The 1991 Constitution provided the judiciary with greater administrative and financial independence from the executive branch. However, except for the SIC’s efficient exercise of judicial functions, the judicial system in general remains hampered by time-consuming bureaucratic requirements and corruption.  

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The SIC, Colombia’s national competition authority, has been strengthened over the last five years with the addition of personnel, including economists and lawyers.  The SIC issued landmark anti-competitiveness fines in 2015, including against a sugar cartel. More recently the SIC has sanctioned a rice cartel, three of the biggest telecommunication companies in the region, and truck transport operators for anticompetitive practices.  The SIC has imposed sanctions of over USD 400 million on approximately 400 individuals and companies in the last four years for unfair competition practices. In 2016, the SIC sanctioned cartels operating in the diaper, paper, and notebook sectors, imposing fines of over USD 150 million.  The SIC also imposed sanctions in several sectors for violations of consumer rights including for misleading advertising and noncompliance with warranty agreements. These sanctions included the telecommunications, furniture and home appliances, tourism, technology, automotive, and construction sectors.  In the last five years, the SIC has imposed fines of over USD 300 million for “business cartelization.”

Expropriation and Compensation

Article 58 of the Constitution governs indemnifications and expropriations and guarantees owners’ rights for legally-acquired property.  For assets taken by eminent domain, Colombian law provides a right of appeal both on the basis of the decision itself and on the level of compensation.  The Constitution does not specify how to proceed in compensation cases, which remains a concern for foreign investors. The Colombian government has sought to resolve such concerns through the negotiation of bilateral investment treaties and strong investment chapters in free trade agreements, such as the CTPA.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Colombia is a member of the New York Convention on Investment Disputes, the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency.  Colombia is also party to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. In October 2012, the new National and International Arbitration Statute (Law 1563), modeled after the UNCITRAL Model Law, took effect.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Domestic law allows contracting parties to agree to submit disputes to international arbitration, provided that: the parties are domiciled in different countries; the place of arbitration agreed to by the parties is a country other than the one in which they are domiciled; the subject matter of the arbitration involves the interests of more than one country; and the dispute has a direct impact on international trade.  The law permits parties to set their own arbitration terms, including location, procedures, and the nationality of rules and arbiters. Foreign investors have found the arbitration process in Colombia complex and dilatory, especially with regard to enforcing awards. However, some progress has been made in the number of qualified professionals and arbitrators with ample experience on transnational transactions, arbitrage centers with cutting-edge infrastructure and administrative capacity (there are approximately 340 arbitration and conciliation centers in Colombia), and courts that are progressively more accepting of arbitration processes.  The Chamber of Commerce of Bogota handles 75 percent of arbitration cases in Colombia. All arbitration tribunals combined handle around 600 cases a year.

There were 12 pending investment disputes in Colombia in 2019.  The pending cases include but are not limited to:

  • A case initiated in 1994 involving a U.S. marine salvage company that claims rights to a shipwreck.  The company sued the Colombian government for not allowing it access to its property in Colombian waters, a process that resulted in a Colombian Supreme Court decision in 2007, but has not yet been resolved.
  • A case involving a U.S. plane allegedly abandoned in Colombian territory in 2010.  The U.S. owner has been trying to claim his property since 2012. Colombian authorities maintain that the plane is now the property of the Colombian government according to national regulations on abandoned aircraft and have requested that U.S. authorities deregister the aircraft as it had become Colombia’s property.
  • A case involving an American citizen alleging lack of restitution for land seized by the government in the course of an investigation into a prior owner.
  • A case involving a U.S. agro-industrial company that acquired state land in Colombia.  The Colombian government asserts the land was acquired in violation of state lands law.
  • A case, initiated in 2016 by a U.S. mining company, in which the company alleges the wrongful expropriation of a gold mining concession.  

Separately, a Spanish energy company that is the majority owner of a Colombian utility company initiated arbitration proceedings before the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) in March 2017 after the government ordered the liquidation of the electricity supplier.  The company asserted that the move constituted expropriation without compensation, though the government cited mismanagement, an inability to service its debts, and failure to provide reliable electricity to the northern coast of Colombia as justification for its actions. The Colombian government also has pending cases in the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) (https://bit.ly/2D0OtLb).

According to the Doing Business 2019 report, the time from the moment a plaintiff files a lawsuit until actual payment and enforcement of the contract averages 1288 days, the same as in the previous two years.  Traditionally, most court proceedings are carried out in writing and only the evidence-gathering stage is carried out through hearings, including witness depositions, site inspections, and cross-examinations. The government has accelerated proceedings and reduced the backlog of court cases by allowing more verbal public hearings and creating alternative court mechanisms.  The new Code of General Procedure that entered into force in June 2014 also establishes oral proceedings that are carried out in two hearings, and there are now penalties for failure to reach a ruling in the time limit set by the law. Enforcement of an arbitral award can take between six months and one and a half years; a regular judicial process can take up to seven years for private parties and upwards of 15 years in conflicts with the State.  Thus, arbitration results are cheaper and much more efficient. According to the Doing Business report, Colombia has made enforcing contracts easier by simplifying and speeding up the proceedings for commercial disputes. In 2019, Colombia’s ranking in the enforcing contracts category of the report held at 177.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Foreign judgments are recognized and enforced in Colombia once an application is submitted to the Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court.  In 2012, Colombia approved the use of the arbitration process when new legislation based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law was adopted.  The statute stipulates that arbitral awards are governed by both domestic law as well as international conventions (New York Convention, Panama Convention, etc.). This has made the enforcement of arbitral awards easier for all parties involved.  Arbitration in Colombia is completely independent from judiciary proceedings, and, once arbitration has begun, the only competent authority is the arbitration tribunal itself. The CTPA protects U.S. investments by requiring a transparent and binding international arbitration mechanism and allowing investor-state arbitration for breaches of investment agreements if certain parameters are met.  The judicial system is notoriously slow, leading many foreign companies to include international arbitration clauses in their contracts.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Colombia’s 1991 Constitution grants the government the authority to intervene directly in financial or economic affairs, and this authority provides solutions similar to U.S. Chapter 11 filings for companies facing liquidation or bankruptcy.  Colombia’s bankruptcy regulations have two major objectives: to regulate proceedings to ensure creditors’ protection, and to monitor the efficient recovery and preservation of still-viable companies. This was revised in 2006 to allow creditors to request judicial liquidation, which replaces the previous forced auctioning option.  Now, inventories are valued, creditors’ rights are taken into account, and either a direct sale takes place within two months or all assets are assigned to creditors based on their share of the company’s liabilities. The insolvency regime for companies was further revised in 2010 to make proceedings more flexible and allow debtors to enter into a long-term payment agreement with creditors, giving the company a chance to recover and continue operating.  Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Colombia. In 2013, a bankruptcy law for individuals whose debts surpass 50 percent of their assets value entered into force.

Restructuring proceedings aim to protect the debtors from bankruptcy.  Once reorganization has begun, creditors cannot use collection proceedings to collect on debts owed prior to the beginning of the reorganization proceedings.  All existing creditors at the moment of the reorganization are recognized during the proceedings if they present their credit. Foreign creditors, equity shareholders including foreign equity shareholders, and holders of other financial contracts, including foreign contract holders, are recognized during the proceeding.  Established creditors are guaranteed a vote in the final decision. According to the Doing Business 2019 report Colombia is ranked 40th for resolving insolvency and it takes an average of 1.7 years—the same as OECD high-income countries—to resolve insolvency; the average time in Latin America is 2.9 years.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Colombian government offers investment incentives, such as income tax exemptions and deductions in specific priority sectors, including the so-called “orange economy,” which refers to the creative industries, as well as agriculture and entrepreneurship.  More recently, the government has offered additional incentives in an effort to generate investments in former conflict municipalities. Investment incentives through free trade agreements between Colombia and other nations include national treatment and most favored nation treatment of investors; establishment of liability standards assumed by countries regarding the other nation’s investors, including the minimum standard of treatment and establishment of rules for investor compensation from expropriation; establishment of rules for transfer of capital relating to investment; and specific tax treatment.

The government offers tax incentives to all investors, such as preferential import tariffs, tax exemptions, and credit or risk capital.  Some fiscal incentives are available for investments that generate new employment or production in areas impacted by natural disasters and former conflict-affected municipalities.  Companies can apply for these directly with participating agencies. Tax and fiscal incentives are often based on regional, sector, or business size considerations. Border areas have special protections due to currency fluctuations in neighboring countries which can impact local economies.  National and local governments also offer special incentives, such as tax holidays, to attract specific industries.

Special tax exemptions have existed since 2003 and range from 10 to 30 years.  Income tax exemptions for investments in tourism cover new hotels constructed between 2003 and 2017, and remodeled and/or expanded hotels though 2017, for a period of 30 years.  Investments in ecotourism services benefit from income tax exemptions through 2023. New forestry plantations and sawmills also have benefitted from income tax exemptions since 2003.  Late yield crops planted through 2014 are tax exempt for 10 years from the beginning of the harvesting. Electricity from wind power, biomass, and agricultural waste were tax exempt until January 1, 2018, as were river-based transportation services provided with certain shallow draft vessels and barges.  Certain printing and publishing companies can benefit from tax exemptions through 2033. Software developed in Colombia has been tax exempt for up to five years since 2013. To meet exemption requirements, the software must have its intellectual property rights protected, be based upon a high concentration of national scientific and technological research, and be certified by Colciencias (Colombia’s agency for promoting science, technology, and innovation).

Foreign investors can participate without discrimination in government-subsidized research programs, and most Colombian government research has been conducted with foreign institutions.  R&D incentives include Value-Added Tax (VAT) exemptions for imported equipment or materials used in scientific, technology, or innovation projects, and qualified investments may receive tax credits up to 175 percent.  A 2012 reform of Colombia’s royalty system allocates 10 percent of the government’s revenue to science, technology, and innovation proposals executed by subnational governments. Although only subnational governments can submit a project, anyone, including foreigners, can partner with them.

In a tax reform passed in December 2016, the Colombian government created two tax incentives to support investment in the 344 municipalities most affected by the armed conflict (ZOMAC).  Small and microbusinesses that invest in ZOMACs and meet a series of other criteria will be exempt from paying any taxes from 2017 to 2021, while medium and large-sized businesses will pay 50 percent of their normal taxes.  The second component is entitled “works for taxes” (“Obras por Impuestos”), a program through which the private sector can directly fund infrastructure investment in lieu of paying taxes.

In the financing law of 2019 (tax reform), the Colombian government introduced exemption incentives in the payment of income tax for the new orange economy companies that invest more than COP 150 million in three years and that generate at least three jobs.  In addition, it created incentives for new projects in the agricultural sector which will be exempt from income taxes for seven years. Finally, the law created an incentive for the tourism sector for the construction of new hotel infrastructure, and the benefits were extended to projects such as boat docks, theme parks, and eco and agro-tourism projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

To attract foreign investment and promote the importation of capital goods, the Colombian government uses a number of drawback and duty deferral programs.  One example is free trade zones (FTZs). As of the end of 2018, there were 112 FTZs (including permanent, single company, and special types). These have generated development of new industry infrastructure for more than 840 companies in 63 municipalities and 19 geographic departments.  While DIAN oversees requests to establish FTZs, the Colombian government is not involved in their operations.

Decree 2147 of 2016 integrated the regulatory framework for FTZs dating back to 2007 in one document, and made clarifications to certain processes without significant changes.  The government revised tax treatment of companies operating FTZs with the December 2016 tax reform, maintaining a preferential corporate income tax for FTZs while increasing it from 15 to 20 percent.  FTZ users with contracts of legal stability will continue to pay 15 percent. Other changes include VAT exemption for raw materials, inputs, and finished goods sold from the national customs territory to the FTZs, as long as those purchases are directly related to the corporate purpose.  By contrast, no matter the purpose of the purchase, companies not located in the FTZs are affected by VAT. The 2016 tax reform increased VAT from 16 to 19 percent, and eliminated the Income Tax for Equality (CREE), a nine percent tax on company profits over COP 800 million (approximately USD 275,000) designed to contribute to employment generation and social investments.

In return for these and other incentives, every permanent FTZ must meet specific investment and direct job creation commitments, depending on their total assets, during the first three years.  Special FTZs are required to generate a certain number of direct jobs depending on the economic sector. According to the figures of the Colombian National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE), FTZs reached cumulative exports valuing USD 28,346 million between 2005 and 2018.  Between January and December of 2018, exports amounted to USD 2,812 million.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Performance requirements are not imposed on foreigners as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding investments.  The Colombian government does not have performance requirements, impose local employment requirements, or require excessively difficult visa, residency, or work permit requirements for investors.  Under the CTPA, Colombia grants substantial market access across its entire services sector.

In 2017, Colombia issued implementing regulations of its Data Protection Law 1581 of 2012.  The SIC, under the Deputy Office for Personal Data Protection, is the Data Protection Authority (DPA) and has the legal mandate to ensure proper data protection.  The SIC issued a circular on August 10, 2017 defining adequate data protection and responsibilities of data controllers with respect to international data transfers.  The circular details several general criteria reflecting the SIC’s view of adequate data protection and also provides a list of countries, which includes the United States, that meet the SIC’s data protection guidelines.

In Colombia, software and hardware are protected by IPR (Dirección Nacional de Derecho de Autor – DNDA – http://www.derechodeautor.gov.co/).  There is no obligation to submit source code for registered software. However, if the IT provider is contracting with the Colombian government, through a clause of the service contract, the source code must be provided to the entity that the government IT provider is contracting.  The SIC launched a national database registry in November 2015 to implement Law 1581 pertaining to personal information protection and management. It requires data storage facilities that hold personal data to comply with government requirements for security and privacy, and data storage companies have one year to register. The SIC enforces the rules on local data storage within the country through audits/investigations and imposed sanctions.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The 1991 Constitution explicitly protects individual rights against state actions and upholds the right to private property.

Secured interests in real property, and to a lesser degree movable property, are recognized and generally enforced after the property is properly registered.  In terms of protecting third-party purchasers, existing law is inadequate. The concepts of a mortgage, trust, deed, and other types of liens exists, as does a reliable system of recording such secured interests.  Deeds, however, present some legal risk due to the prevalence of transactions that have never been registered with the Public Instruments Registry.

According to Amnesty International, as of November 2015, eight million hectares of land had been abandoned or acquired illegally, equivalent to 14 percent of the Colombian territory.  The government estimates that approximately 6.5 million hectares of land are affected by violent usurpation. Around 18 percent of land owners do not have clear title. The Colombian government is working to title these plots and has started a formalization program for land restitution.

In the seven years that the Law on Victims and Land Restitution has been in force (2011-2018), the government has received nearly 112,000 restitution claims, corresponding to 99,155 properties and approximately 290,000 hectares.  Of these, the “Land Restitution Unit” (URT) created by the 2011 law has studied 58,291 cases and has transferred 14,851 cases for review by a restitution judge. As of March 2018, there have been 6,986 cases resolved by these judges, covering 5,598 properties.  With the entry into force of the 2016 peace deal with the FARC, the government is confident restitution efforts will be more effective as former violent areas become more accessible, although security in some of those areas remains a challenge. While some landowners who received their formal land titles have been threatened by illegal armed groups, the government confirms that the vast majority of land restitution beneficiaries have returned and stayed on their parcels, accessing a two-year subsidy for the implementation of productive projects provided by the URT.

The URT’s work is complementary to the work of the National Land Agency, which deals with property titles for lower income and minority communities.  The Agency was created at the end of 2015 to implement many of the commitments established in the peace deal with the FARC on formalization of rural land and aimed to formalize the property of 50,000 Colombian families in 2017.  Thanks to the implementation of a massive strategy to formalize rural property, the agency formalized the properties of 71,000 rural families by the end of 2017.

In March 2017, the Colombia’s Prosecutor’s Office announced the recovery of 277,000 hectares of land from dissidents and ex-combatants of the FARC and from narcotraffickers.  Colombia ranked 59 out of 190 economies for ease of registering property, according to the 2019 Doing Business report.

Intellectual Property Rights

In Colombia, the granting, registration, and administration of IPR are carried out by four primary government entities.  The SIC acts as the Colombian patent and trademark office. The Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA) is in charge of issuing plant variety protections and data protections for agricultural products.  The Ministry of Interior administers copyrights through the National Copyright Directorate (DNDA). The Ministry of Health and Social Protection handles data protection for products registered through the National Food and Drug Institute (INVIMA).  Colombia is subject to Andean Community Decision 486 on trade secret protection, which is fully implemented domestically by the Unfair Competition Law of 1996.

Colombia made no significant changes to the distribution of responsibilities for IPR protection in 2018.  Decree 1162 of 2010 created the National Intellectual Property Administrative System and the Intersectoral Intellectual Property Commission (CIPI).  The CIPI serves at the interagency technical body for IPR issues, but has not issued any recent policy documents. The last comprehensive interagency policy for IPR issues (Conpes 3533) was issued by the National Planning Department in 2008.  Colombia’s National Development Plan (NDP) for 2018-2022 contains a requirement to update this policy.

The patent regime in Colombia currently provides for a 20-year protection period for patents, a 10-year term for industrial designs, and 20- or 15-year protection for new plant varieties, depending on the species.  Colombia has been on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Watch List every year since 1991, and in 2018 was downgraded to “Priority Watch List” status. Special 301 reports can be found at https://ustr.gov/issue-areas/intellectual-property/Special-301.

The CTPA improved standards for the protection and enforcement of a broad range of IPR.  Such improvements include state-of-the-art protections for digital products such as software, music, text, and videos; stronger protection for U.S. patents, trademarks, and test data; and prevention of piracy and counterfeiting by criminalizing end-use piracy.  Colombia is a member of the Inter-American Convention for Trademark and Commercial Protection. Various procedures associated with industrial property, patent, and trademark registration are available at http://www.sic.gov.co/propiedad-Industrial

Colombia has outstanding CTPA commitments related to IPR.  In January 2013, the constitutional court declared Law 1520 of 2012 implementing several of these requirements (specifically related to copyright law and internet service provider liability) unconstitutional on procedural grounds.  In the case of copyright law reform, the Santos administration then introduced the legislation to congress in October 2017; it was subsequently enacted in July 2018. The bill extends the term of copyright protection, imposes civil liability for circumvention of technological protection measures, and strengthens enforcement of copyright and related rights.

Regarding other CTPA requirements, Colombian officials are discussing with the United States a draft of legislation regulating internet service providers on issues such as compulsory takedown of online content and the protection of intermediaries with “safe harbor” provisions for unintentional copyright infringement.  The legislation has not yet been introduced to congress. Colombia did not make progress in 2018 on an international agreement that it needs to sign in order to comply with CTPA provisions: the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV 91). Colombia’s constitutional court declared accession to UPOV 91 unconstitutional in December 2012 due to lack of consultation with Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities.  Colombia also maintains that the existing Andean Community Decision 345 is in effect and equivalent to UPOV 91.

Colombia’s success combating counterfeiting and IPR violations remains limited.  A 2015 law increased penalties for those involved in running contraband, but more effective implementation is needed.  Colombian law continues to limit the ability of law enforcement (police, customs, and prosecutors) to effectively combat counterfeiting because they do not have the requisite authorities to effectively inspect, seize, and investigate smugglers and counterfeiters.  Colombian authorities did make a number of high-profile seizures of contraband (including counterfeit) goods in 2018. However, counterfeit goods remain widely available in Colombia’s “San Andresitos” markets, as a number of industry stakeholders have noted. Enforcement in the digital space remains weak as well.

Resources for Rights Holders

Embassy point of contact:

U.S. Embassy Bogota
Economic Section
Carrera 45 #22B-45
Bogota, Colombia
(571) 275-2000
Email: BogotaECONShared@state.gov

Country/Economy resources:

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Colombian Stock Exchange (BVC) 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. The BVC is part of the Latin American Integrated Market (MILA) along with the Mexican Stock Exchange, the Lima Stock Exchange, and the Santiago Stock Exchange.  BVC market capitalization has risen from USD 14 billion in 2003 to USD 126 billion in the first quarter of 2019. In the face of a lame-duck government and inflexible spending commitments, Standard & Poor’s downgraded Colombia’s credit rating to BBB- in December 2017.  Moody’s maintained their lowest investment-grade evaluation but modified the outlook from “stable” to “negative” in February 2018. 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. Foreign investment capital funds are forbidden from acquiring more than 10 percent of the total amount of a Colombian company’s outstanding shares.  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. According to the Financial Superintendence, as of December 2018, the combined estimated assets of Colombia’s major banks totaled USD 219 billion.

Colombia’s financial system is strong by regional standards.  The financial sector as a whole is investing in new risk assessment and portfolio management procedures.  As of December 2018, two private financial groups, the Sarmiento Group (Grupo Aval) and the Business Group of Antioquia (Bancolombia), together own over half of all Colombian banking assets.  Grupo Aval controls about 27 percent of the sector and Bancolombia controls about 26 percent. No foreign bank is a major player in the Colombian financial sector.

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. No block chain technology use in financial transactions is approved by the Financial Superintendence as of the end of 2018.  In order to operate in Colombia, foreign banks must set up a Colombian branch. The Colombian central bank has a variety of correspondent banks abroad. No correspondent banking relationships are in jeopardy.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

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.

Remittance Policies

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.  The fund can administer up to 30 percent of annual royalties from the extractives industry. The fund was valued at USD 3.1 billion in 2018 from an initial value of USD 500 million in 2012. 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.  At the end of 2018, the FAE was invested in 67 percent AAA sovereign bonds. There are no known negative ramifications for U.S. investors in the Colombian market. According to the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds (http://www.ifswf.org/our-members), Colombia is not one of the 30 nations that voluntarily upholds the Santiago Principles.

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.  By the end of 2018, the number of state-owned companies reached 109, with a combined value of USD 23 billion. The 109 companies under government ownership fall under the following sectors: agricultural, energy, financial, hydrocarbons, health, telecommunications, transport, and tourism.  The government is the majority shareholder of 39 companies and a minority shareholder in the remaining 70. Among the most notable companies with a government stake are Ecopetrol (Colombia’s majority state-owned and privately-run oil company), ISA, Banco Agrario de Colombia, Bancoldex, and La Previsora.  The asset value of the majority state-owned companies stands at USD 84 billion. SOEs competing in the Colombian market do not receive non-market based advantages from the government. The Ministry of Finance updates their annual report on SOEs every June.

Privatization Program

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. Colombia’s main privatizations have been in the electricity, mining, hydrocarbons, and financial sectors, and in January 2016, the government sold its majority stake in Isagen, the country’s third-largest energy generator, to Canadian firm Brookfield Asset Management for USD 2 billion.  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 utilizing public-private partnerships (PPPs) as a means for securing and incentivizing infrastructure development.

The Colombian government prioritized a fourth-generation infrastructure program (4G) focused on highway construction with PPP opportunities valued at USD 17 billion.  In order to attract investment and promote PPPs, on November 22, 2013, the Colombian government signed a new infrastructure law clarifying 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. Foreign investment has played a substantial role in the 4G program, and the program, with the exception of the Odebrecht scandal mentioned below, has thus far been praised for its transparency and competitiveness.

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.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

In December 2015, the Colombian government released their National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, which responds to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/un-guiding-principles/implementation-tools-examples/implementation-by-governments/by-type-of-initiative/national-action-plans ).  Colombia also adheres to the corporate social responsibility (CSR) principles outlined in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. CSR cuts across many industries and Colombia encourages public and private enterprises to follow OECD CSR guidelines. Beneficiaries of CSR programs include students, children, populations vulnerable to Colombia’s armed conflict, victims of violence, and the environment.  Larger companies structure their CSR programs in accordance with accepted international CSR principles. Companies in Colombia have been recognized on an international level for their CSR initiatives, including by the State Department.

Overall, Colombia has adequate environmental laws, is proactive at the federal level in enacting environmental protections, and does not waive labor or environmental regulations to attract investors.  However, the Colombian government struggles with enforcement, particularly in more remote areas. Geography, lack of infrastructure, and lack of state presence all play a role, as does a general shortage of resources in national and regional institutions.  The Environmental Chapter of the CTPA requires Colombia to maintain and enforce environmental laws, protect biodiversity, and promote opportunities for public participation

In parallel with its OECD accession process, the Colombian government has been working with the organization in a series of assessments in order to develop the implementation the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas, especially related to gold mining.  The Colombian government faces challenges in formalizing illegal gold mining operations throughout the country. The government is also taking steps to address mercury use in mining, banning the use of mercury in mining as of July 2018. Colombia will phase out mercury use from all other industries by 2023. Colombia ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury in March 2018, and is in the final stages of its accession to the treaty.  In March 2018, the Governments of the United States and Colombia signed a comprehensive memorandum of understanding to formalize existing cooperation on reducing illegal gold mining and its negative social, health, and environmental impacts.

Buyers, sellers, traders, and refiners of gold may wish to conduct additional due diligence as part of their risk management regimes to account for the influx of illegally-mined Colombian gold into existing supply chains.  Throughout the country, Colombian authorities have taken steps to dismantle illegal gold mining operations that are responsible for negative environmental, criminal, and human health impacts. The Colombian government has focused its efforts on transnational criminal elements involved in the production, laundering, and sale of illegally- mined gold, and the fraudulent documentation that is used to obscure the origin of illegally- mined gold.

9. Corruption

Corruption has been reported as 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” released in January 2019 assigned Colombia a score of 36/100, down one point from 2018. The group’s analysis noted that corruption in the judiciary contributed to the drop.  Overall, Colombia placed 99th of the 180 countries surveyed, a drop of three spots.  Among OECD member states, only Mexico ranked lower. Customs, taxation, and public works contracts are commonly-cited areas where corruption exists.

In December 2016, one of the biggest corporate corruption cases in history broke when the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Brazil-based construction conglomerate Odebrecht had paid USD 800 million in bribes over six years regionally, including USD 11 million in Colombia, in order to win infrastructure contracts.  The latter figure was subsequently increased to USD 37 million. Two high-priority infrastructure projects are on hold as a result of the corruption revelations, though other highway modernization projects critical to implementation of the peace accord continue. At least 23 Colombian officials have been implicated in the scandal.  The judicial influence–peddling scandal mentioned above, commonly known as the “Cartel of the Robe,” and numerous other reports of official corruption made public over the past year have kept the subject in the public discourse.

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. Additionally, it has 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 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 chapter of Transparency International, Transparencia por Colombia: http://transparenciacolombia.org.co/ 
  • The Presidential Secretariat of Transparency advises and assists the president to formulate and design public policy about transparency and anti-corruption.  This office also coordinates the implementation of anti-corruption policies. http://wsp.presidencia.gov.co/secretaria-transparencia/Paginas/default.aspx/ .

10. Political and Security Environment

Security in Colombia has improved significantly over the past 17 years.  Colombia experienced a significant decrease in terrorist activity, due in large part to a bilateral ceasefire between government forces and Colombia’s largest terrorist organization, the FARC.  On November 26, 2016, President Santos signed a peace agreement with the FARC to end half a century of confrontation. Congressional approval of a peace accord between the government and the FARC on November 30, 2016 put in motion a six-month disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process, which granted the FARC status as a legal political organization.  FARC demobilization could bring greater development opportunities to rural regions.  Since the November 2016 peace accord with the FARC, 7,000 guerrillas have disarmed (over 11,000 are participating in the process, including militia and former prisoners); key implementing legislation has passed; and a UN special political mission has begun verifying security guarantees and FARC reintegration. Security forces estimate roughly 1,000 combatants (FARC dissidents) have chosen not to participate in the process. Currently the peace negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN), which began in February 2017, are suspended.  This terrorist group continues a low-cost, high-impact asymmetric insurgency. ELN attacks, alongside powerful narco-criminal group operations, are posing a threat to commercial activity and investment, especially in some rural zones where government control is weak. The ELN often focuses attacks on oil pipelines, mines, roads, and electricity towers to disrupt economic activity and pressure the government. The ELN also extorts businesses in their areas of operation, kidnaps personnel, and destroys property of entities that refuse to pay for protection.  The Colombian government estimates the ELN has 1,500 to 2,000 armed members.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

An OECD report on Colombia’s labor market and social policies was published in January 2016.  The report mentions progress on labor market reforms, but cites large income inequality and structural flaws in labor market policies, despite relatively low unemployment and high labor force participation.  In 2018, the unemployment rate according to official government figures was 9.7 percent, a slight increase relative to the 2017 rate of 9.4 percent. According to DANE, 48.2 percent of the workforce was working in the informal economy at the end of 2018.  Colombia has a wide range of skills in its workforce, as well as managerial-level employees who are often bilingual.

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, including those related to freedom of association, equal remuneration, right to organize and collectively bargain, discrimination, minimum working age, forced labor, and prohibition of the worst forms of child labor.  Colombia has also ratified conventions related to hours of work, occupational health and safety, and minimum wage. In 2013, Law 1636 was passed to increase protections and opportunities for Colombia’s unemployed population.

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. About four percent of the country’s labor force is unionized.  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 (i.e. hospitals).

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 (those with work-related injuries or union leaders, for example). The Ministry of Labor has been cracking down on using temporary or contract workers for jobs that are not temporary in nature.

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/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/), and the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor (http://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/colombia.htm ) and Lists of Goods Produced with Child or Forced Labor (http://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods/ ).

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

OPIC made its first investment in Colombia in 1985 and has supported more than 70 projects in Colombia since 2005.  OPIC has seven active projects and is exploring several more. OPIC’s largest project in Colombia is a USD 250 million toll road project in the southern part of Colombia known as the Rumichaca-Pasto road.  As of end 2018, OPIC’s active investments in Colombia totaled USD 718 million. Additional information can be found at www.opic.gov .

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy

Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) N/A N/A 2018 $336.940   https://www.imf.org   
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $2.482 2017 -$66 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $516 N/A N/A BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 3.3% 2017 18.8% UNCTAD data available at

https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx  

*Data from the Colombian Statistics Departments, DANE, (https://www.dane.gov.co/  )  and the Colombian central bank (http://www.banrep.gov.co  ).


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI – 2018

Direct Investment From/in Counterpart Economy Data 2018
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions) 2018
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 11,010 100% Total Outward 5,121 100%
United States 2,482.6 23% Mexico 880.5 17%
Spain 1,445.2 13% Holland 681.0 13%
England 1,351.7 12% Panama 557.1 11%
Panama 1,149.4 10% United States 516.7 10%
Switzerland 891.6 8% Chile 457.4 9%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Data from the Colombian central bank (http://www.banrep.gov.co).


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars) (June 2017)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 38,963 100% All Countries 24,228 100% All Countries 14,735 100%
United States 25,654 66% United States 17,699 73% United States 7,955 54%
Luxembourg 4,649 12% Luxembourg 4,573 19% Mexico 1,025 7%
Mexico 1,040 3% Ireland 650 3% International Organizations 994 7%
International Organizations 1,006 3% United Kingdom 302 1% Canada 715 5%
Canada 783 2% Cayman Islands 237 1% France 711 5%

Data from IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey. Source: http://data.imf.org/?sk=B981B4E3-4E58-467E-9B90-9DE0C3367363&sId=1481568994271  

14. Contact for More Information

U.S. Embassy Bogota
Economic Section
Carrera 45 #22B-45
Bogota, Colombia
(571) 275-2000
Email: BogotaECONShared@state.gov

2019 Investment Climate Statements: Colombia
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