With investments in road infrastructure taking off, Colombia is recognising the need to improve other elements of the logistics mix to reap full benefits of these works. As economic growth and new trade agreements turn up the pressure to move larger amounts of goods, the country is looking to improve the logistics chain at each link. The main challenges will be connecting the road, rail and port networks, and developing logistics centres to deal with Colombia’s taxing geography.
A formal strategy for the logistics sector has been in progress since 2008, when it was highlighted as a specific goal by the National Planning Department. Further institutional force was applied after the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos included it in its 2010-14 National Development Plan. Since then, authorities have been working to overcome the difficulties that hamper the development of logistics.
The National Logistics Policy, as the plan will be called, is receiving helpful support from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). To speed implementation, the IDB approved a $15m loan in late 2013 aimed at improving coordination between the private and public sectors in developing multimodal transport and logistics corridors. This follows a 2011 loan to structure the institutional framework and draw up the blueprint for the sector. In a nod to the importance of such a strategy, the 2010-14 National Development Plan set the target of making Colombia the third most logistically competitive country in Latin America by 2032.
The deadline is still years away, but the challenges are considerable. The countrywide logistics strategy is beset by internal, obstructive weaknesses. One major problem is the lack of sufficient coordination among the institutions involved. According to a recent IDB report, “With respect to the supply of land for logistics and corridor management projects that would optimise national distribution and foreign trade (freight centres for distribution, controlled Customs areas, multimodal logistics platforms, port and airport logistics areas, etc.), the government of Colombia has no specific management model for promoting specialised logistics infrastructure.”
This thwarts efficiencies in specific ways. Local regulations can make access to cities difficult for large transport trucks. Transit of trucks through some of the main urban thoroughfares is therefore limited, but under the current design of some major road networks, trucks need to pass through urban areas. This is especially penalising in the three biggest cities – Bogotá, Medellin and Cali. “Everything gained in better infrastructure outside cities is lost when you come into the cities,” Juan Carlos Rodríguez Muñoz, president of the Colombian Federation of Road Cargo Transporters, told OBG.
Restrictions pose other challenges for transport operators. Vehicles of more than 7 tonnes are unable to unload their cargo on urban main roads during the daytime, increasing stoppage times for vehicles and reducing productivity. For current improvements to have their full impact on transportation costs in the medium term, logistics policy will need to find better alternatives to reduce truck traffic in cities while also ensuring that transport of goods is not delayed.
Another challenge is connection to exit and entry points. The typically long distances from Colombian ports to production areas and big domestic markets underlines the need for clear logistics corridors, as well as for distribution areas. These, however, have been difficult to establish. “The country is not well equipped with logistics spaces, because everything in Colombia has been done from the ports inwards. Public policy is based on documents, and there is not enough coordination between the public sector and private operators,” Rodríguez Muñoz told OBG.
A lack of coordination between the central government and regional and municipal authorities makes it difficult to source funds and to determine where routes should be laid or logistics areas established. Uneven communication on national policy also makes it hard to garner support from private investors. Local authorities are especially important in determining what land is available for logistics projects. In planning such zones, there is often a disconnect between central policy and local rules based on specific cities’ land development plans. This is set to change, however, as the Ministry of Transport is currently establishing the location of the main logistics corridors. An important legal precedent, the new rules will force mayors to consult the ministry before advancing any changes to land plans that would impede the development of a declared logistics area.
Curbing the influence of local powers may also be achieved through new regulations designed to hasten the completion of the fourth-generation road projects. Under the 2013 infrastructure law, all land required for these projects is considered to be of public interest, a status that is designed to speed up their administrative expropriation by the National Infrastructure Agency. To declare a similar status for the areas needed for logistics projects would facilitate procedures for developing certain areas, as well as reduce tensions between central and local government authorities.
Improvements are also needed for Customs rules. According to the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2014” index, Colombia ranked 94th out of 160 countries for the way it moves trade across borders. The study found that export procedures require five days to prepare documents, two days for Customs clearance and another three days for port handling. On top of this, exports require another four days for inland transportation, taking the time needed to export goods up to 14 days. This is higher than the OECD average of 11, but lower than the average for Latin America and the Caribbean at 17 days.
More agility has been progressively introduced since the launch of the Single Window for Foreign Trade in 2004. This trade policy, much upgraded over the years, now allows businesses to pay for all permits, registration fees and licences involved in import or export in one place, by integrating information from 19 different entities. A bigger challenge remains, however. Many delays in Customs handling, especially for imports, arise from the need for goods to be checked by different government bodies. Entities such as the National Institute for Surveillance of Medicines and Foods, the Agricultural Institute of Colombia or the Bureau of Narcotics all do routine checks on imports, multiplying waiting times. To overcome this, authorities are implementing the Simultaneous Inspection of Goods System, which is being run as a pilot project at the Buenaventura port.
A swifter system should spur more private investment: bigger logistics operators often invest in their own distribution centres. Yet a nationwide planning of logistics flows will be crucial to ensuring more public investment in the sector. This is already happening in some areas, such as transport routes for hydrocarbons. Cenit, a subsidiary of state-owned Ecopetrol overseeing pipeline logistics, recently announced a $500m investment in its NAFTA transportation network. The project will upgrade the links from the Pozos Colorados terminal at the port of Santa Marta all the way to Meta, in the country’s centre. It will be tendered and awarded in three phases, from 2014 to 2016.
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