UNIQUE UNDER THE SUN

Colombia 2017 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to María Claudia Lacouture, Minister of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism, on integrating Colombia's markets with natural regional partners, boosting underserved areas, and making sure that areas like bird-watching flourish.

María Claudia Lacouture
BIOGRAPHY
María Claudia Lacouture was born in Santa Marta, Colombia. Before being appointed to the role of Minister of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism in May 2016, she was the President of ProColombia. Previously, she worked in the private sector as an accountant and consultant. María Claudia Lacouture studied finance and international relations at the Universidad Externado de Colombia, as well as undergoing postgraduate studies in marketing and economics at Cornell University.

What countries or regions have the most potential for strengthening bilateral economic relations?

We have an agenda to diversify the country's export markets, as well as the exports themselves. The aim is to capitalize on the opportunities that other markets offer, such as Europe. We will maintain an intense commercial agenda with all our international commercial partners. Locally, we will strengthen the Colombian business community and the different regions of the country, with a particular focus on sectors that allow us to further develop supply chains. For example, our relationship with the UK is framed by the Commercial Agreement we have had with the EU since 2013. Almost 2.3% of Colombian exports, excluding hydrocarbons and minerals, are directed to this market, and we want this share to increase. In 2016, we exported USD348.7 million in non-mining products to the UK.

What is your outlook regarding the future of regional integration and Colombia's role in achieving it?

In 2017, we hold the Pro Tempore Presidency of the Andean Community, and in 2018 we will do the same for the Pacific Alliance. This will allow us to further boost the integration of our markets with those of our natural partners, increasing our value-added exports. The Pacific Alliance also has the objective of establishing a stronger platform with Pacific Asia, a strategic point for Colombia. That is why we will keep participating and working together to facilitate commerce between the members of these blocs, to remove the barriers that prevent fluid commerce, and to look for new areas where we can integrate even further. Of the USD2.39 billion we exported in 2016 to the Andean Community, USD2.18 billion were non-mineral and non-energy products. In the same category, USD2.16 billion of non-mineral and non-energy products out of a total of USD2.66 billion were exported to the Pacific Alliance.

What has the ministry highlighted as strategic sectors with the most potential for growth, and how is it working to develop them?

The ministry, together with the private sector, municipalities, and the 32 departments of Colombia, has designated six productive sectors as having strong potential: agro-industries, metalworking, industry 4.0, tourism, fashion and textiles, and chemicals. This is done with the aim of increasing our exports in non-mining and non-energy goods. We make a huge effort to work with the businesses of each region to increase productivity, innovation, and competitiveness. We offer the mechanisms to help them: resources and training for innovation and entrepreneurship, technology transfers, financing, the development of relevant human capital, and promoting regulations to improve quality and sustainability.

In terms of developing Colombia's massive tourism potential, what are ministry's medium-term strategic plans for the post-conflict era?

Peace brings big opportunities for tourism to Colombia, which today is the second generator of foreign exchange. We are preparing for the post-conflict era. We promote high-value products in tourism in the following areas: nature, health and wellness, culture, and conferences. For example, we are betting on bird-watching to increase. We have more than 1,900 species, 20% of the world's total, and 79 that are unique to us. In other areas, we have defined 12 tourism corridors that involve 311 municipalities with great potential.

What are the ministry's immediate goals for 2017?

The national government is optimistic for 2017 in terms of commerce, industry, and tourism. We will begin to see the results of the Productive Development Program; we will see businesses grow and be more productive and competitive. Our exports, particularly non-mineral and non-energy, will also grow. In terms of industrial production, it will remain positive. After two consecutive years of falling exports, in 2017 the country will export more. Private projections show that exports could increase more than 10%. We hope inbound tourism will be 14-18% higher than in 2016.