CALI FOR YA

Colombia 2014 | ECONOMY | FOCUS: THE VALLE DEL CAUCA DEPARTMENT

The Valle del Cauca, or Cauca Valley, is the country's gateway to the Pacific, boasting the largest port, at Buenaventura. The region's capital, Cali, is also a heavyweight in terms of GDP, yet lingering problems with violence are holding back development

The Valle del Cauca Department lies on Colombia's Pacific coast and is home to the country's largest port, at Buenaventura, and the city of Cali, one of the nation's largest and a true economic powerhouse. And while the violence that marred Colombia's international reputation is on the wane across much of the country, problems in Valle del Cauca persist.

The Valle del Cauca is spread over 22,140 square kilometers and represents 1.9% of national territory. Its population, as of 2013, was just over 4.5 million, or just under 10% of the national population. Its capital is Cali, or Santiago de Cali to give it its full name, and has a GDP of $7.5 billion according to Invest Pacific, or approximately half of the entire department's GDP of $14.3 billion. And the draw of the department is clear, as direct access to the Pacific basin—meaning the Panama Canal—is just 20 navigation hours away. This makes it an excellent platform for exports to many countries in the region, including the US, the largest consumer market in the world, as well as Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile. The region also has exceptional biodiversity and is home to up to 50% of the fauna and 11% of the flora in the country. It also has solid tourism potential, with one of the highest sun exposure indexes in the world—traveller beware, however, as it does equally well on the rainfall index. Much of the local economy revolves around agriculture, although manufacturing also features heavily. And there is room for development, especially when it comes to aquaculture; just 25% of the country's fishing potential has been matched, with that 25% representing 450,000 tons per year.

BUENAVENTURA

According to Invest Pacific, Buenaventura, with 384,500 inhabitants, handles, through its port, 77% of all Colombian imports and 23% of its exports. The port is the city's lifeblood, although forestry, ecotourism, and sea and river fishing also feature heavily. The port, in 2012, moved over 14 million tons of cargo and is Colombia's largest. The facility has been in private hands for 15 years, and has grown significantly since then. Over the past five years, the access channel has been dredged to 13.5 meters, while turning basins have been deepened from 240 meters in 2008 to 450 meters at end-2013. The installation of two post-Panamax cranes, bringing the number of cranes to six in total, allows vessels of up to 335 meters in length with a capacity of 8,500 TEUs to dock. But the city isn't without problems, with violence having slowed an otherwise unstoppable economic rise. According to Human Rights Watch, 50,000 residents have fled their homes over the past three years, in what The Economist has referred to as “a throwback to the country's dark past."

President Santos has been keen to speak up on the issue, however, pledging more security measures. Income disparity remains a key concern, though, with more than 80% of people living below the poverty line, far below the national figure of around 30%. The Commercial & Marketing Vice-President of MAC, Diego Mejía Castro, summed up the mood well in an interview with TBY, “The Cauca Valley is highly representative of Colombia's potential, because…" he said, “…of the opportunities it provides to foreign investors."

CALI & THE REST

Cali is Colombia's second-largest city, with a population of 2.3 million. Representing half of the department's $14.3 billion GDP, the city owes its success to its proximity to the Port of Buenaventura. Close to Cali is Yumbo, which has quickly gained a reputation as the department's industrial capital. With over 2,000 factories, according to Invest Pacific, Yumbo generates 33,000 jobs and is just two hours from Buenaventura. Other towns of significance include Sevilla, in the northeast, which has an average temperature of 20 degrees and is famous for the variety of foods it cultivates, including coffee, bananas, sugar-cane, and citrus. Cartago is also of note, boasting the longest landing strip in the region at the Santa Ana international airport. That also gives it the highest cargo capacity of any airport in Valle del Cauca, and means it is able to handle planes with an average capacity of 40 tons. Cartago, along with the cities of Palmira, Buga, and Jamundí, is dominated by the agricultural sector, while Tuluá, with a population of 206,000, is somewhat of a hub in the region, with solid transport links with all the other major towns, as well as a significant tourism sector.

A crucial part of Colombia's economic machine, the Valle del Cauca Department has overcome much to take the stage in its role as the country's window on the Pacific, but lingering problems with violence threaten to hold back investors. Once cured of its ills, however, the region, and especially the Port of Buenaventura, will be ready to make the rise to international prominence.