Apr. 9, 2020

José Manuel Restrepo Abondano


José Manuel Restrepo Abondano

Minister, Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism

“A strategy the government seeks to develop is taking advantage of one of the most important assets we have as a country: our human talent.”


José Manuel Restrepo Abondano is Minister of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism.

Would you give us a short briefing on the role that creative industries play in the Colombian economy today?

A strategy the government seeks to develop is taking advantage of one of the most important assets we have as a country: our human talent. Colombia has the second-youngest population in Latin America and there is a great deal of entrepreneurial spirit here. President Duque has been developing and encouraging the orange economy, and there is a perfect match with the idea of creative economy. Creative economy icludes those economic sectors traditionally related to human talent and culture that now deliver more added value based on creativity and innovation. In Colombia, that represents around 1.8% of our GDP. However, in countries like the UK and the Netherlands, that participation is close to 10%. Our goal is to move from 1.8% and double that figure or even get close to a 5% contribution to GDP. To reach that level of participation, we need to strengthen our institutions, boost the country's industry and ensure that we have an inclusive sector that develops and supports inspiration, one that has actions focused on building this kind of culture and mentality in our field. We want to develop more incentives such as a zero-percentage income tax rate for the next seven years for our sector. We are also extending existing incentives, for example, we are going to improve the production of not only films, but also television series, videos, and other media related to the creative economy. Today, this sector, which includes music, arts, theater, architecture, design, audio-visual, games, and so on, is becoming a relevant sector for the country's future. It may not be the most important one, but it will be quite relevant and strategic. Currently, economic activities directly related to the cultural and creative industries generate about 1.1 million jobs; ProColombia, for example, has facilitated export business to 176 orange entrepreneurs from 13 departments towards 50 countries; Foreign direct investment in orange economy projects was estimated at USD 1.093 in the last year. Additionally, entities such as Artesanías de Colombia have supported more than 14.900 artisans in 300 municipalities of the country through technical assistance and production promotion programs, generating income for more than 10MM, while the Vice Ministry of Tourism has more USD10.600 millones de pesos to strengthen the sector of cultural tourism, infrastructure and technical training in all departments of the country. This is how the Government of President Duque wants to position the orange economy not simply as a trend, but as an alternative model of development for Colombians, especially at the regional level, understanding the creative and cultural vocation of each territory. Colombia is the first Spanish-speaking country with a “Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. This Center seeks to support the construction of policy frameworks so that Colombia and Latin America can undertake a technological transformation, marked by public, private, social and academic collaboration. The Center supports, advises and formulates policies for the management, development and implementation of 4.0 technologies. It has three areas of work: internet of things, artificial intelligence and blockchain.

What benefits will be created with the Sustainable Trade Program that the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism has just agreed with the EU?

The main actor in this process is the Ministry of Culture through the Vice-Ministry of Creativity. Our role is to provide the infrastructure and especially financial access. This is why we issued orange bonds over the last year to attract investment from around the world from different institutions to have enough money to offer a generous amount of loans for the sector. We issued bonds of almost USD150 million and those are already fully subscribed. The sector is taking advantage of this amount of money and using it for its own future as a sector. We did not think we would use all those funds so quickly, but we did, which means the economy has responded. We also believe the creative economy is a great opportunity to increase Colombia's export services. Over the last four years, the export services from Colombia has had reached an almost double-digit growth. Growing our exports is a must for the country over the coming years. This is why in March 2020, we will launch a new program funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) where we will develop policies, strategies, and tactics to increase service exports, including widely the orange economy. We are also working with the EU on cooperation methods to develop the creative economy concept. There are many strategies at the same time to grow the sector over the coming years.

What is the ministry's position on moving through the process and becoming part of the OECD?

We are committed to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the internal work that we must get done is mostly about strengthening our institutionality, in order to seek a position for Colombia as an active member. Since before being accepted as members of the Organization, we have been working on necessary internal adjustments to be able to reach the required international standards, which we will undoubtedly continue to improve with our full admission to this exclusive group of countries. It is the scenario in which the country can measure and compare itself with its peers, evaluate its context and accurately identify the fields were we can improve, promoting public policies that meet high standards and that leads us to improve transparency in every single action we take, a flagship crusade in Colombia. All these efforts probably will result in more equity, more employment and better quality of life for citizens. Compliance and "vigilance" of these standards creates certainty and predictability for productive sectors, investors and in the work of public officials. The active participation of the country in the OECD will allow for greater work spaces and for solving joint problems with other members, which are currently Colombia's main trading partners. In particular, as a full member of the organization, you can use your resources and participate in different discussions to constantly evaluate and improve the country's public policies, this to meet your challenges and achieve faster the country's goals. This is expected to influence the quality of government action and it is a way to contribute country's adequate development. An additional benefit of being part of the OECD, is that having passed the access filters, immediately it verifies a minimum of institutional strength. This is valued, for example, by an important group of institutional investors that limit their investments only to 'OECD countries', which impacts not only on attracting capital to the country but also on the cost of financing (due to its perceived risk reduction effect).

You have traveled extensively around Colombia's regions talking to the people about the ministry's policies and the president's proposed projects. What has been the impact of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism's regional networking?

Colombia is a country of regions, so we do need to be present in all of them. People want to be more competitive, and the only way to do this is by developing competitiveness in each of the country's regions. It is not feasible to foster growth just in one region or city, while the others do not develop correctly. But how can we show that this approach works? Firstly, Colombia has one of the highest growth rates in Latin America today at 3.05%. Our growth rate could be first or second in Latin America and far above other countries with which we compete. This means something is changing in this country and that the productive sector apparatus is moving, not only in Bogota, but in every region of Colombia. For example, the Caribbean region is growing by 5-6%, making it one of the biggest engines of Colombian growth. In addition, the interest from global investors is increasing, with FDI growing at higher than 24%, which means the country is becoming an attractive one, and not only because of its main cities, but also our regions. There is investment in energy, infrastructure, IT, industry, tourism, and agroindustry, and in different sectors of the economy in diverse regions of Colombia. It is not only in the numbers; from my interaction with people in the regions, I can see they are finding new opportunities. Going to the regions is not only a way to attract investment and grow more, but also to see how we can take advantage of the particular resources different regions have, such as an industrial, tourism, or agricultural base. It is a way to grow faster and allow people to see how they can be part of this new process of growth in the country. For the regions, we have also been working on the Integrated Competitiveness and Innovation Agendas, which are constituted as socio-economic and competitive development routes for the regions. We currently have nine: Quindío, Chocó, Nariño, Boyacá, Huila, Casanare, Bolívar, Guajira and Córdoba. This Project has got the Confecámaras support based on a methodological design of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism. There are 278 programs, projects and initiatives prioritized.

Tourism has increased by 50% over the past five years in Colombia. What are the tourism ministry (Viceministry) strategies and objectives and its general goals for 2020?

Through our Sectoral Tourism Plan, we are working on improving the competitiveness of our country as a desirable tourist destination. We are strengthening our productivity, generating value and co-responsibility among actors in the tourism sector, as well we are continuously working on positioning Colombia in national and international markets. Our strategy is focused on increasing formalization throughout the tourism businesses and that they provide quality services in destinations. The latter via training and supporting regional entities. We established what we can call a “Formalization Council”, were we are able to identify and propose concrete and measurable actions, in order to solve the issues in the sector and increase the tourism businesses formalization, generating fair rules for different actors and interest groups pertaining to the tourism value chain. The result of our hand in hand work with territorial entities can be confirmed by the positive numbers and the adequate development they are showing. Nowadays, our main challenge remains in improving the positioning of our destinations in national and international markets, but, we are sure we are walking the right path, we are making tourism the “New Petroleum of Colombia.” By 2020, our goal is to close the year with more than 4.9 million non-resident visitors and with a lot more sustainable destinations to offer our tourists. These destinations should have excellent practices in the environmental, socio-cultural and economic dimensions, as these requirements help destinations to be much more responsible. As well, it gives them recognition, helping them to improve the economic development of the region and, at the same time, generating new opportunities for the competitiveness of the sector.