Interview: René Puché

Given that Colombia’s ports are far from the main centres of production and consumption, how can firms be encouraged to relocate nearer to them?

RENE PUCHÉ: This is one of the biggest challenges that Colombia is facing today to developing its industrial sector and boosting foreign trade. The first task is to demonstrate the advantages of moving closer to existing infrastructure, including lowering transport costs. Relocation would also be supported if the government were to provide economic benefits to firms that transfer their operations. In addition, tax incentives or tendering of available land at competitive prices would encourage companies to transfer their operations. Local governments of port cities also have a role to play in this regard. These cities need to become attractive to industrial companies by improving road infrastructure, public services, health, education, housing and entertainment, along with qualified human resources.

What role is the private sector playing in developing port infrastructure and expanding capacity?

PUCHÉ: The Colombian model for establishing the growth and expansion of ports is different when compared to other countries. The government grants concessions in the country’s existing port areas to private companies, which are in charge of managing and developing those areas. For example, the Port of Barranquilla currently has 24 concessions, for which there are two types of mechanisms: a private one at the service of a particular company and a public one, which involves private companies partnering with different organisations from the public domain. The strict regulation that prevails in the sector requires existing concessions and the firms that operate them to undertake capital expenditure to ensure the proper development of these areas. Moreover, the expansion of the ports has a direct impact on foreign trade growth and creates a competitive environment for ports. Stakeholders are motivated to make additional investments to differentiate themselves from the other ports, either through better infrastructure, technology or services. This is a feature of Colombia’s port sector, as many ports are expanding capacity with investments coming from the private sector.

What types of investments are needed to stop drug trafficking and smuggling in the country?

PUCHÉ: Currently, the port sector and the government are making great efforts to focus on the prevention of drug trafficking and smuggling to avoid contamination of shipments. The government has required that ports install non-intrusive inspection x-ray equipment, which allows for the swift inspection of goods while ensuring operational efficiency. The country’s terminals work alongside the authorities to facilitate their role in this regard, thereby reducing costs and times for imports and exports. For its part, the Port of Barranquilla has included this as one of the key pillars of its 2015-17 master plan investments. As part of this strategy we are strengthening our security scheme, with the acquisition of technology that allows us to check fee statuses in real time, along with guaranteeing the reliability of information, service continuity and agility of the processes of receipt and clearance of cargo.

What needs to be done logistically for Colombia to boost exports in its agriculture sector?

PUCHÉ: Colombia has several tasks to complete before we can develop the country’s logistic infrastructure and strengthen agricultural exports. The first task is to promote public investment in rural development, which will close the social gap that exists in these areas. We should continue to promote agriculture as an ideal productive sector that will bring about reintegration in the post-conflict environment, while also investing in logistics and storage centres. Lastly, we should focus on creating institutions devoted to facilitating foreign trade for small and medium-scale producers.