FROM HERE ON OUT

Colombia 2015 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to María Claudia Páez, Executive Chairman of Cámara de Comercio de Cartagena, on developing international partnerships, what to expect from new development projects, and helping local business succeed in the global market place.

María Claudia Páez
BIOGRAPHY
Maria Claudia Paéz Mallarino earned a degree in industrial engineering from the Universidad Javeriana, Colombia, and holds a Master’s Degree in Market Management from the Universidad Externado, Bogotá. Prior to her tenure as President of the Cartagena Chamber of Commerce, Mrs. Mallarion held several positions that included managing the economic development strategy for the Gramalote resettlement project and the master plan of the city of Santa Marta as Sustainability Manager of AECOM Spanish-speaking Latin America. She has also worked for the Colombian Institute for Rural Development, the Colombian Planning Department (DNP), the Planning Secretary of the City of Cartagena de Indias, and other key development projects in the country.

What have been the reasonCartagena's dramatic economic performance?

Mining and energy-related and hydrocarbon-derived products have played a key role in our regional GDP. This sector in Cartagena uses state of the art technologies and we strive to add value to these industries that work with primary materials. For these reasons we have partnerships with prominent multinational groups such as Mexichem, Dow, and we are now competing with the refinery of Cartagena. We also need to keep in mind two other sectors that are experiencing considerable growth, namely tourism, particularly business tourism and the boom in events and conventions. We should also aim to become a hub for cultural tourism, principally cinema festivals and exhibitions, the Hay Festival, and classical music. Those have generated a strong cultural dynamic in the city. Also, thanks to the law that extends tax exemptions to new hotels, such facilities have gravitated towards Cartagena, including multinational chains such as Hyatt, BHL, and InterContinental. Another segment contributing significant growth to the city is our port industry. The ports in Cartagena today are not just the most efficient in Colombia, but are also a model to follow at a Latin American level. Many service industries are increasingly looking to Cartagena. Therefore, tourism, port activity, and mining-energy related sales have driven growth; these three sectors have together boosted a fourth sector, namely construction. Over the past 15 years, we have experienced a construction boom in residential buildings, commerce, malls, and tourist developments. 15 years ago, Cartagena did not have a single mall, while today we have numerous such retail venues.

To what extent have the FTA's made manufacturing in Cartagena's more competitive?

In primary materials, particularly concerning hydrocarbon-derived products such as plastic containers, the FTA's have benefited us. However these companies have naturally been affected by the falling price for of petrol. Manufacturing is continuing to grow in various forms, the growth of the petro-chemicals industry is on the rise, thanks to the efficiency of the ports. These manufacturers will become increasing competitive as specialized ports such as Puerto Bahía start to operate. Other related industries, such as shipyards, producing vessels ranging from 5-10,000 tons, are booming.

There are numerous large infrastructural projects underway around Cartagena. How are these projects set to impact the city's industries?

One of our comparative weaknesses has been our inability to fully take advantage of the benefits of globalization, because of our underdeveloped infrastructure. There are certain infrastructural projects, however, that will give our industry a huge boost. At the moment, the greatest impediment to the competiveness of our industry is the cost of inter-city transport. The navigability of the Rio-Magdalena will rectify that, and it will effectively be a source of the Canal del Dique. This will change the dynamic of commerce not only in the city of Cartagena, but also throughout Colombia. We are also at a huge crossroads with regard to 4G infrastructural projects, and the dual carriageway being constructed by the Ruta del Sol will create greater connectivity between the coastal cities of Cartagena, Barranquilla, and Santa Marta. Our main infrastructural weak point in the city is our health infrastructure. Accordingly, we have planned the construction of three large hospitals. Hospital Bocagrande is currently under total renovation, and we also have a new hospital being constructed in the Parque de las Americas Free Zone. The fourth great infrastructural project, relates to the development of educational colleges. The Chamber of Commerce is developing a strategic 20-year expansion plan for the educational infrastructure to extend to those most in need.