Bogotá, the capital of Colombia and one of the great metropolitan areas of Latin America, represents practically a third of the economy of that country. A weight with which he carries for good, when the economy grows, but which also supposes a ‘handicap’ in contexts such as last year, marked by the coronavirus crisis, to try to pull the rest of the activity of the entire country . In order to show its business, investment and economic benefits, the president of the Bogotá Chamber of Commerce, Nicolás Uribe, has begun in Spain a tour of several European countries where he will maintain contacts with businessmen and politicians, to try to attract their eyes towards one of the economies with the best prospects on the other side of the Atlantic, and with the challenge of assuming part of the social discontent derived from the pandemic crisis.
-Does Bogotá’s driving action influence the rest of Colombia so much?
Yes. What happens in Bogotá influences the recovery of the country or its slow recovery. In 2019 we finished with a GDP growth of 3.3% and it was the biggest rise in GDP growth in the last eight or ten years. Then the pandemic hit us and we ended up with a 6.8% drop, with April being the worst month in history, with a 15% drop. The process was evolving positively. And in the first quarter of this year, we achieved a rise in the first quarter of 1.1%, compared, for example, with the 0.5% that Europe grew.
-Has the crisis fractured society in economic terms?
The bill for the pandemic the poorest and most vulnerable in Colombia are paying for it. Before the coronavirus we had a 10% unemployment and we ended 2020 with a rate of 21%, with a disastrous effect on young people and women, and in some regions doubling the national rate. Now begins to have a recovery process. We went from 21 million employed persons at the end of 2019 to 16 million a year later. Now we have recovered 3.9 million employed persons and we have a 15% unemployment rate Although it is serious, it is less than the 21% that we will reach in 2020. The general recovery process is advancing hand in hand with a package of stimuli and investments from the public sector, such as the payroll subsidy or access to credit.
-In this context, should the Colombian economy be opened to the world?
Recovery is not going to be as easy or as fast as one would like, but we will be able to move forward in the process and within this framework it is truly essential to internationalization, to encourage business relationships, to invest. In this process Spain it is essential as the main partner of the European Union and an important investor, as well as an actor that can play a key role in energy or infrastructure.
-Do you seek to strengthen or expand relationships?
Until now, we have been very entertained watching the effects of the pandemic. But there have been decisions to only look inward and think that recovery depends on one’s ability to do so. We believe that it has to do with the ability we have to expand relationships, build alliances and force the ability of our country to move forward. Here is a friendly place and an environment conducive to business development.
-In what fields, specifically?
For example, in renewable energies, infrastructures and in general in tourism issues, where there are great opportunities to work. Colombia is an economy that has many scenarios to build. There Spain, I repeat, can play a very important role.
-Are those relations with Spain good?
We have to go back to the ordinary context of what we should continue to do, such as following a permanent commercial dynamic. The Spanish Secretary of State for Commerce was there recently in Colombia. And he verified that the sector is ready to continue working hand in hand. Here we hold meetings with the Chamber of Spain and Madrid. It is the task of build trust and bear witness to Colombia as an interesting scenario for investment, with business programs that are part of the recovery process.
-What legal security does Colombia offer?
We are in a scenario of uncertainty everywhere. The role of the State has been transformed to make extraordinary investment efforts, putting some stress on the traditional conditions of how the role of the State was read until now. In Colombia, the rule of law is not at risk nor legal security. A package of measures will be launched to help overcome the crisis, especially for the most vulnerable. Here there is legal certainty that investors require. And we have an environment that understands that the private sector is the engine that will generate growth.
-The same does not happen in other countries in your area, with interventionist measures.
We see how the threat to private initiative is spreading to other parts of Latin America, where the attraction to investment is not assured. Here in Colombia we are interested in attracting investment and we are determined to encourage business development. Poverty is not due to the absence of private enterprise, but because of the need for more private enterprise. In fact, international expectations indicate that there may be a 7% growth for this year, an indicator that allows us to show what Colombia means, without being a story.
-Is the response from Spanish businessmen positive?
We find recognition in the Spanish business community because there has been a distancing from the pandemic. It is positive to meet again around a common point, where Colombia is seen as a country with great potential to develop. We have a stability that makes us recipients of interest from many private companies.
-Have the latest social mobilizations been an incentive to carry out this European tour?
Today all the countries are in a moment of constant tension. But we must not confuse a circumstantial event with a substantive issue. Obviously poverty has taken its toll in this crisis. But there was also an interest of certain people to cause chaos. In Colombia there were 13,000 demonstrations in different settings in the last month and there is a guarantee of peaceful protest, since only a small percentage ended in crime and violence. These are temporary issues that come and go. Even if stability prevails. And Colombia is in a recovery process despite these circumstances.