April 22, 2015 / 7:12 PM / 5 years ago

INTERVIEW-Colombia seeks to double non-traditional exports

BOGOTA, April 22 (Reuters) - Colombia aims to double its non-traditional exports within four years to diversify its goods and services as revenue is battered by a plunge in the price of crude, the trade minister said.

While Colombia is not a major oil producer, crude remains its largest export, generating about 20 percent of government revenue. A 60 percent drop in global prices means the country must bolster its trade sector and develop new sources of income to keep the economy growing.

“We want to get to 2018 with $30 billion from exports of non-mining and energy,” Trade, Industry and Tourism Minister Cecilia Alvarez, 61, told Reuters late on Tuesday. “We don’t want a shower of products though, we must focus.”

The economy is still growing faster than others in Latin America - 4.6 percent in 2014 - but manufacturing, tourism and agriculture income must increase, Alvarez said, adding that Colombia has been slow to diversify as it enjoyed oil wealth.

“One relaxes when earning money ... But we have to take advantage of a crisis,” she added.

As part of her strategy, Alvarez wants to unwind obstacles to overseas trade - cutting paperwork, anti-narcotics checks at ports and reducing duties on some goods.

The effort will work in conjunction with $20 billion in infrastructure spending over the next six years, designed to help solve transport headaches that slow industry and exports.

Colombia, which signed dozens of free trade agreements in the last decade, received $14.2 billion in 2014 from overseas sales of non-traditional goods, or those besides oil, coal, coffee and ferro-nickel.

Oil and coal represented 65 percent of the $54.8 billion in exports shipped last year from Latin America’s fourth-biggest economy.

“We are identifying bottlenecks, what adds value, what is linked to markets globally speaking,” said Alvarez, a former transport minister.

She highlighted tourism as a sector with potential to attract new foreign investors. Last year, travelers brought $5 billion, double the amount from the third-biggest export, coffee.

A 50-year war with Marxist rebels means about 60 percent of the nation is undeveloped and tourism has largely been limited to the capital Bogota and coastal Cartagena.

“Colombia is the jewel to discover,” Alvarez said. “Having been off the tourist map all these years has allowed us to offer something different.”

Exporters have been made “lazy” by government protectionism, which subsidizes their production, Alvarez said.

“We have to make sure protection doesn’t create a lack of interest in exporting,” she added. (Reporting by Helen Murphy. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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