What have been the main achievements of your presidency, and what campaigns are worth mentioning?
From day one of our administration, we started initiatives aimed at promoting legality, equity, and entrepreneurship. For example, we put culture and creative industries at the center of the agenda: an important measure taken is the seven-year income tax exemption for companies focused on the orange economy. We undertook an ambitious transformation of our energy matrix. When our government took office, we found less than 30MW for solar and wind power generation. By 2020, we had increased that capacity by almost seven times. Aware of the importance of protecting the environment, we set a goal of planting 180 million trees, of which we have already planted more than 62 million. In addition, we have managed to reduce deforestation by 19%, mainly in the Amazon. In addition, a major driver of deforestation are illicit crops. In 2020, we achieved a 7% reduction in coca crops. Thus, we continued with the downward trend that we undertook in 2018. In 2021, we allocated the highest budget in history for education—USD12.5 billion—and with the Generation E program, we have already achieved that more than 200,000 young people can access higher education. The pandemic presented us with new challenges, to which we responded with resilience and determination. For example, with programs such as Ingreso Solidario and the VAT Refund, we are benefiting around 4 million poor and vulnerable households. We also made an effort to assure entrepreneurs legal and institutional stability as well as important tax incentives, among others, to help them thrive these challenging times. As such, we created the Formal Employment Support Program (PAEF), a payroll subsidy with which we have protected almost 4 million jobs. The UNDP, the World Bank, and our National Planning Department estimated that, without these measures, 2 million people would have fallen into poverty and 4 million into extreme poverty. These are only some of our achievements in the last three years of our government.
What makes Colombia an attractive destination for foreign investment, and what incentives are available to international businesses?
Colombia provides political stability for the development of the private sector, and we are a responsible government committed to health and economic recovery which allows the country to capitalize 50 years of sustained economic growth. Thanks to Colombia's strategic location, we are an ideal nearshoring destination due to a wide range of competitive advantages, including its network of free trade agreements (FTAs). Likewise, our country has a well-developed tech ecosystem and the necessary standards to face the post-COVID-19 “new normal" stage. Among the incentives, Colombia offers preferential access to approximately 97% of the countries in the region; we also have 17 FTAs in force that allow preferential access to 60 countries and 1.5 billion consumers. The country has more than 4,500 maritime routes and access to 680 ports around the world. We have one of the most competitive air freight costs in the region, and we stand as a leader in air cargo traffic in Latin America. Colombia also has 2,400 air routes (direct and connecting) offered by more than 30 airlines. We have a competitive Free Trade Zone (FTZ) regime that grants one of the most attractive incentive packages in the region, with benefits such as 20% income tax rate in FTZ, among others. Finally, our administration has introduced several incentives to support and encourage foreign direct investment, such as progressive reduction of the corporate income tax rate, mega-investments regime, holding companies regime, deductions of paid on real fixed assets, special benefits for distribution centers, and income tax exceptions for different sectors of the economy.
What is Colombia's approach to international cooperation, and what role does Colombia want to have, at a regional and global level?
The health and social effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have created global challenges where real and lasting solutions need to be found through international cooperation. Along with the climate change threat and migration, COVID-19 has made global cooperation and its actors more crucial than ever in our country. Therefore, Colombia's approach to international cooperation lies in the spirit of solidarity. The duty to cooperate and support the most vulnerable while applying a multidimensional approach is the key to moving toward more significant equity and is one of the foundations of development. Colombia is an upper-middle-income country, a member of the OECD, and has suffered major development setbacks due to COVID-19. This new scenario should invite us to reflect on the recipients of cooperation. Our discussions should focus on how to stop measuring development only in economic terms and include multidimensional perspectives. In this sense, Colombia wants to have a leading role at the regional and global level in promoting a new paradigm of development cooperation, which requires establishing new indicators that recognize the integral and non-binary nature of development. In addition, one of the most significant consequences of COVID-19 has been the gap between rich and poor states, which is now greater than in 2019. At the UN, discussions are being held on the impacts of inequality at all levels and the obstacles to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Thus, these common challenges are an invitation to rethink Colombia's approach to developing and promoting innovative actions under the new paradigm of Official Development Assistance (ODA). This new paradigm of development cooperation is built upon three essential elements: a) placing risk and resilience as a building block of development cooperation; b) sharing knowledge and technology, promoting public policies that incorporate an inclusive digital transformation; and c) reinventing our approach to development cooperation, thinking about innovative financing mechanisms that involve new actors such as the private sector, and expanding access to resources globally. To accomplish this, Colombia must have a role that invites other countries to advance toward a higher level of development, broad and sustainable in multidimensional terms.
What principles guide the country's strategy for economic reactivation post-pandemic, and what are your mid and long-term outlooks for the Colombian economy?
2020 marked a decisive situation for our future due to the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting the world's economy. Therefore, in order to mitigate its social and economic impact, we implemented a strategy based on three key issues: managing the healthcare emergency caused by COVID-19; protecting society's most vulnerable citizens; and preserving economic activity and protecting employment. Aware of these challenges, we sought to reactivate our economy in the short, medium, and long term and launched our recovery plan called Compromiso por Colombia, an ambitious, but realistic, plan with commitments on five fronts: job generation; clean and sustainable growth; society's poor and vulnerable; rural areas and peace with legality; and the continued strengthening of the health sector. The plan's investments accounts for around USD38 billion in 550 public, private, and public-private projects. We advance in our economic recovery with great resilience: turning difficulties into opportunities, without leaving anyone behind. So far, we have administered more than 16 million doses in our National Vaccination Plan, and our goal is to vaccinate around 70% of Colombians by the end of 2021 and, together with the global economic recovery, lead an important rebound of private consumption and investment. We are making good progress on this front, and during 1Q2021 our economy grew 1.1%. We overcame recession. In addition, the unemployment rate for April 2021 was 15.1%, while in April 2020 it was 19.8%. This shows a significant reduction one year after the start of the pandemic. Colombia is projected to grow 7.6% in 2021 according to the OECD and 5.9% according to the World Bank, with a better performance than the average for the region. From our administration, we expect a post-pandemic economic recovery leading to a GDP growth of 6% this year. We will continue supporting all Colombians by focusing on the compromise of not leaving anyone behind and making the entrepreneurship and legality the bases for a more equitable society toward the economic recovery of our country.