* Central bank board due to meet on Monday to decide on rate
* Lower borrowing costs would foster growth, says Santos
By Nelson Bocanegra and Jack Kimball
BOGOTA, Jan 22 Colombian President Juan Manuel
Santos said on Tuesday that the government, which is represented
by the finance minister on the central bank's seven-member
board, will ask the monetary authority to lower the benchmark
interest rate next week.
Colombian policymakers have cut the overnight lending rate
at the last two meetings to combat a slowdown in the economy due
to weaker overseas sales and manufacturing, and experts widely
expect another slash at the bank's Jan. 28 meeting.
"I believe the central bank can continue reducing interest
rates," Santos told a meeting of the textile industry in
Medellin, Colombia's second-largest city.
"They should meet next week for the first board meeting of
this year and we're going ask the board to continue lowering
interest (rates) to be able to also give additional stimulus to
the economy," he said.
In a Reuters survey released on Tuesday, analysts nearly
unanimously saw the bank cutting the rate by 25 basis points to
4 percent on Monday, following quarter-point cuts each in
November and December.
The government lowered its growth forecast for 2012 to
around 4 percent from 4.8 percent previously following
weaker-than-expected third-quarter data.
Santos also said the government would introduce an import
tariff on textiles and shoes of $4 per kilogram.
"We've seen a recent increase in imports from some specific
countries, at such a (low) price that it defies reason," said
Santos, adding that the government suspects that money
laundering gangs may be behind these imports.
The 61-year-old economist said that the tariffs applied to
formal importers would be lowered to 10 percent from 15 percent,
so that the new per-kilogram levy would not affect them.
The measure is aimed at helping local manufacturing that has
shown signs of weakness over the last few months and has been
hit by the strong peso which makes Colombian imports cheaper but
its exports more expensive.
Industrial production fell in six of the 11 months with
reported data last year, worrying policymakers.
Colombia's peso currency rose around 9 percent in 2012,
making it one of the world's strongest gaining monies, and the
trend has continued with it firming 1.2 percent so far in 2013.