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Uribe: Colombia Investor-Friendly

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Colombia is friendly towards local and foreign investors. And more investment helps defeat terrorism and drug trafficking.


BY ALVARO URIBE

 

In Colombia we are working one key word for our country, confidence. Confidence for people to live in Colombia, to invest in Colombia, to study in Colombia, to enjoy their lives in our country. And we support confidence upon three pillars, security with democracy, investment confidence with social responsibility, and social cohesion. For us it is very important to create a train of prosperity. This train of prosperity is possible to create with the two first pillars, with security and with investment, and with prosperity it is possible to advance in social cohesion. And finally, social cohesion is a validator for our people to support security and investment in the long term.


Why democratic security? Because six years ago when we proposed security we thought that it was very important to distinguish security in any democratic government from security in the times when Latin America was under the doctrine of national security. Security in Latin America was confused with dictators, with restriction of freedoms. Therefore, for us it has been very important to establish the difference between security with and security without democracy.

During the years of our government, we have made progress in security. In homicides Colombia has come down from 68 cases per every 100,000 inhabitants to 36. This year we are working to not go over 30. But I recognize that it is still a very high rate. Colombia has made progress but we need much more. In kidnapping, Colombia had years with more than 3,000 cases. This year we are hopeful that we will get no more than 200. The cases of kidnapping are concentrated in rural, remote areas of our country.


We have put a special emphasis to protect mayors, governors, journalists, city councilors, teachers, and trade unions. Before our administration, Colombia had years with the assassination of more than 250 members of the union organizations. This year so far we have seen the assassination of eight members of union organizations plus teachers. Some teachers are members of the union organizations. Other teachers are not. In total, this year we have suffered 30 cases. (…)


To create confidence for investors to come to Colombia, we have worked the following items. First, we reiterate that Colombia gives all the guarantees to private investors. Colombia is a friendly country to investors domestic and international. I have to reiterate this point of my country because, as you know, at this moment there is an important debate within Latin America about the role of the state, about the role that the private sector should play. Second, the permanent determination to move forward with democratic security. Third, the permanent effort made by the government to have better macroeconomic indicators. We have reduced the deficit in both expressions. The deficit in the central government has been reduced from 7.5 to 3.2 [percent], and the consolidated deficit has been reduced from 4.2 [percent]. It was the level in August 2002 to a rate between 0.8 and 1.4 [percent]. Public indebtedness has been reduced from 48 percent to 27, and we are working to keep the country on the track to improving the macroeconomic indicators.


We have introduced special tax incentives. We do not share the idea of lowering taxes for everyone. We believe in the idea to promote investment with special incentives. We consider that the best way to create high-quality jobs is by promoting investment. Therefore, we have introduced specific tax incentives for some sectors and general incentives. Today when you invest in Colombia you have the right to deduct 40 percent from your base tax. We have created new legislation for special economic zones. Before our administration, Colombia had 11 special
economic zones. Now the Ministry of Trade has approved 36. These institutions have in Colombia very strict requirements for labor, for high-quality jobs with affiliation to the Social Security system. Congress has approved in Colombia a new law allowing the government to sign pacts on stable rules with investors for 20 years. (…)


The other way to promote investment in our country is by trade agreements. We have signed an agreement with Chile, with Peru, to go much more deeper than the framework of the Andean community. With three Central American countries now we have co-negotiations with Canada. We are in negotiations with the European Union. We are negotiating agreements for bilateral protection of investments with China and with India, and we are hopeful that we can at any moment have the approval in the United States Congress of our free-trade agreement.

 
We consider that in the coming years if the free-grade agreement were approved, (…) the main economic result could be the increase in investments in our country and the more we increase legal investments in our country, the less difficult our task to defeat terrorist groups, to defeat illegal drugs. We have limitations even for Colombia to become a much more competitive country, limitations in infrastructure, limitations in education, in research and development, but we are working.


We are beginning to build new roads. We have created the legal framework for the private sector to invest in our ports, in the railroads. Bogota, our capital city, is located with almost 600 kilometers of distance from the Pacific and at 1,000 kilometers from the Caribbean. We are building both two-lane roads to communicate our capital city with the ports in the Pacific and in the Caribbean and there are several projects of infrastructure that are being started in our country. We are working with nine cities in the process to build massive systems. For everyone visiting Colombia, we see a country working the hardest to catch up with infrastructure. (…)


Our Colombia was drilling ten wells per year. This year my country will explore over 100. Colombia was with a self-sufficiency until the year ’08, now we have the self-sufficiency until the year 2016. We expect that with the confidence to invest in Colombia, we will be able to extend even much more the time, the period of self-sufficiency. In coal we have passed 34 million tons of export, and this year we will reach over 80 million tons of exports in coal. (…)

 

In [biofuels], Colombia has 51 percent of its territory is still in rain forest. In rain forest alone, we have 578,000 square kilometers in rain forest.  My country did introduce biofuels. This year, at the end, we will produce two million liters per day, one million in ethanol from sugar cane, and one million in biodiesel from palm oil. My country has great opportunities to expand the production of biofuels without destroying the jungle and without restricting the area for food security. Due to the confidence in our country, this year we have signed contracts for independent generators to generate in Colombia for million kilowatts of

new energy.

 

In the past, the public sector had to get debts to promote the construction of generators. The electric sector, energy sector, represented 27 percent of the total public indebtedness in our country. Today it represents three percent.


We have created a framework for investors to come to our country, to install new plants for generating energy, without compromising the national budget and without creating problems to the public indebtedness. It has been a great achievement of our Minister of Energy during this year.


If I were asked are you satisfied with the accomplishment of your government, no, and with the problems of Colombia, we can never be satisfied. We have to work every day the best we can. I recognize all the problems we still face, but at the same time, we express our determination to work the best we can to overcome these problems.

Alvaro Uribe is the president of Colombia. This column is based on his remarks at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. on Friday, September 19, 2008.

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