TBY talks to Felipe Jaramillo Jaramillo, President of ProColombia, on Colombia-US trade relations, FDI opportunities in the post-conflict era, and the growth of tourism.

What is your outlook on the relationship between Colombia and its largest trade and investment partner, the US, in light of the new administration?

The US is our most important trading partner and the biggest investor in the country; hence, it is of critical importance to the government and country in general. With the new administration, we are hopeful that things will continue to move forward in the right direction. Historically, Colombia has had a positive political, economic, and trade relationship with the US, regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats were in charge. We are hopeful that we will continue down this track of cooperation and deepen our trade connections.

What other regions are part of Colombia's strategy to diversify its trade relations?

In contrast to the US and Latin America, Colombia has had less historic ties with Europe and Asia. Therefore, this is where we see an opportunity. We at ProColombia, as well as in the Colombian government, have been working consistently on diversifying not just the type of products and services that we export, but also the markets that we export to. In this sense, the UK, and Europe in general, are our main targets. We know there are a lot of things we have that Europe and the UK need, and vice versa. We are optimistic about the trade relationship moving forward, especially after President Santos' official state visit to the UK in late 2016, which was the first by any Colombian president. In addition to all the political and state meetings that were held, the visit had a significant focus on business and trade. Beyond Europe, Asia is also important for helping us diversify our export market. Historically, we have had little trade with Asia and are working hard to change this. In 3Q2016, we implemented our first trade deal in Asia with South Korea. Now, we are in negotiations for another deal in the region—this time with Japan. It is risky to be too dependent on just a few markets. Since some sectors in Colombia are especially competitive in the region, we definitely want to strengthen our trade there.

What are some of the main obstacles that have been holding back Colombia's trade with Asia?

For decades Colombia did not look at trading with Asia because most of our trading was focused on our neighbors and the US. However, now we are betting really hard on Asia. We believe the Pacific Alliance is going to be of critical importance in connecting our economy more closely with Asia. In fact, when the Pacific Alliance was created one of its main objectives was to connect the four Latin American countries of Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Chile with Asia. This is definitely something we are going to be working hard on over the next few years.

In terms of diversifying your exports, what sectors or products beyond the traditional exports have the most immediate potential?

There are two points here. Obviously the first thing we have been working on is diversifying the economy as a whole. Historically, we have been more dependent on commodities and oil than we would like to be. Therefore, the Colombian government has been working on a new development plan to grow those sectors of the economy in which we are globally competitive. There are a few sectors like agro-industries, metal mechanics, tourism, and manufacturing where we believe we have advantages. We are betting hard on these with the objective of diversifying the economy. Of course, commodities and oil are sectors of the economy that are going to be important for many decades to come; however, we do not want to depend on them too much. It is important for us to diversify our exports to the world. In the past, most Colombian exports have been basic products and commodities without added value. That is definitely something we are working on changing. We know that in order to reach our goals in terms of social and economic development as a country we need to export more and internationalize our economy. To do this successfully we need to create products with added value. Otherwise, we are going to be too exposed to price fluctuations and the actions of competing countries.

What investment opportunities does the peace process open up for the country, especially in terms of foreign investment?

In the context of a post-conflict era, we have been talking consistently about a bigger Colombia. We believe that a lot of the regions of the country that were falling behind in terms of development as a result of their proximity to the conflict are now open to the world, including foreign investment and international visitors. Those areas have a lot of potential. This is one of the reasons why we are investing so heavily in agro-industry projects because those regions have a lot of potential in that sector, not to mention tourism. For example, the Guainía and Guaviare districts of the Llanos Orientales region. We are optimistic about the impact the development of those regions will have on the Colombian economy. At ProColombia, we are working hard on promoting these regions internationally. This is the first time we have been able to do this and the first time we have seen international visitors coming to these parts of the country. Obviously, there is also investment coming from abroad, especially for agro-industrial projects in those regions.

What is your general outlook for 2017?

Although the country has some problems—there is no question about that—this is nevertheless the best moment in Colombia's history. We are going to make the transition to peace and the economy has good momentum. One of the great things about Colombia's economy is that even in the worse moments of civil conflict in the 1980s and 1990s, we still had responsible economic management, which had a positive impact on the country's economy as a whole. Now, Colombia is the second fastest growing economy in the region and it has one of the better outlooks for 2017. Therefore, we are optimistic that 2017 is going to be great for Colombia because it will be the first year of peace. At ProColombia, we want to take full advantage of this momentum. We have three roles within this institution, and they are going to benefit greatly from this new context the country is in. It is our job to attract FDI and international visitors and to help Colombian businesses internationalize. Peace is going to be a great boost in all three of these areas of responsibility. We have very aggressive goals for 2017. FDI grew consistently in 2016 and we are aiming for even bigger growth in 2017. International visitor numbers are also increasing and are growing at three or four times the global average. So we are nothing but optimistic about the future. Of course we hope and expect that FDI and tourism will be of critical importance during this process of development. Our job at ProColombia is to promote Colombia globally, and there could not be a better time to do so.