Interview: José Manuel Restrepo
How can Colombia boost international trade?
JOSÉ MANUEL RESTREPO: Our strategy to boost productivity includes a push to actively participate in global value chains by capitalising on our free trade agreements and strengthening the country’s export capacity. We are reaching out to business owners across the country to support them in their export development strategies, taking a micromanagement approach to business, rather than a macro-management way.
For exporting companies, we are putting together a supplier development programme to support them in their import and export procedures, which currently exhibit high costs and are lengthy compared to other Latin American countries. Through our institutional workshops with various stakeholders, we have defined 110 actions to be taken to fast-track trade procedures, 30 of which have already been achieved. Furthermore, we seek to expand the Plan Vallejo, which provides certain incentives for exporting companies, to also encompass the export of services.
What measures are being implemented to boost growth in the tourism sector?
RESTREPO: The development of the tourism sector is at the core of the government’s policy, as we seek to increase its participation in the country’s GDP. The number of international tourists has increased by double digits every year for the last four years, while certain stakeholders believe that the number could double between 2019-23. We have devised the tourism sector plan 2018-22 which includes matters related to infrastructure, air connectivity, lodging, training and education. We have been expanding specific tourism products and routes, based on the tourism corridors defined by the previous administration, to bolster the number of investors in the industry. The tourism sector accounts for a large portion of the informal sector existing in Colombia today. Thus, one of our priorities in the field has been to formalise through a simplification of procedures and minimisation of costs. We have already had some success, as the number of formal tourism operators has increased by 8% across the country.
What is being done to foster the competitiveness of Colombia’s industrial sector?
RESTREPO: According to the most renowned global competitiveness indicators, Colombia has been falling in its ranking in recent years. Reversing this trend will require strong efforts by authorities on a number of important factors, such as infrastructure, fostering innovation, ensuring legal security and improving education. Improving our country’s competitiveness will demand of us to work together with the Regional Competitiveness Commissions (RCC), present in each of Colombia’s departments.
As we come closer to the end of our demographic bonus, it is imperative that we bolster the country’s total factor productivity. We will be launching the Estado Simple, Colombia Agil (“Streamlined State, Responsive Colombia”) programme to tackle administrative hurdles. By December 2018 we have intervened on 400 procedures – through either simplification, elimination, rationalisation or by integrating technology, and intend to follow through with an additional 800 in the coming years. We have inherited a country with an average time per procedure of 7.4 hours, against a Latin American average of 5.4 hours. In this context, we have already launched the single window for businesses in early 2018, followed by the single window for trade, and the single window for investment will be launched soon with the help of the Inter-American Development Bank.
In the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) segment, we have developed the concept of “productivity factories”. By December 2018 we had worked with 200 companies, with an aim of expanding our reach to 4000 additional SMEs in the years to come.
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