Following more than half a century of armed conflict, peace is shining a new light on Colombia’s future.
A peace deal reached last November ended a 52-year conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), ushering in a new era of opportunity and prosperity for Colombia. In fact, The Economist named Colombia country of the year in 2016 for “the colossal achievement of making peace.”
The guerrilla movement had controlled a large swath of the country, but those regions are now blooming with opportunities for business and tourism. Colombia has emerged from the peace agreement as one of great turnaround stories in history, and this bodes well for its economic future and long-term stability.
In fact, the Colombian economy is forecasted to grow 2.3% in 2017, above the 1.1% average for Latin America, according to the International Monetary Fund. Furthermore, the economy is poised to continue growing, driven by much needed development in the post-conflict regions, which span from the Northern Atlantic Coast to the East and Southeast. According to the Colombian government, peace will allow an additional growth between 1.1% and 1.9%.
These opportunities are attracting foreign investment. The U.S. is already the world’s largest investor in Colombia, having brought $15.5 billion into the country between 2010 and 2016, according to the Colombian Central Bank data. A free-trade agreement between the two countries in place since 2012 has spurred trade as well, with U.S. purchases of Colombian products growing 12% in 2016 from 2012, led by coffee, flowers, honey and sugar, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission.
Colombia’s extensive connections to the rest of the world have also been a powerful incentive for American companies looking to invest abroad. Colombia has 16 free-trade agreements in total, making it an extraordinary platform for exporting goods and services with tax incentives to more than 1.5 billion people around the world. Legal stability, as well as ample logistics and warehousing capacity are added benefits.
According to the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, more than 250 U.S. companies are taking advantage of Colombia’s newly created opportunities, including Brinks, Cisco, Citibank, DuPont, ExxonMobil, EY, General Electric, General Motors, IBM, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Pfizer, PricewaterhouseCoopers and 3M.
Investors are also seeing openings in Colombia’s internal market. The agricultural sector has always been a bright spot, with its coffee and flowers coveted in international markets and a population with ample experience in farming, passed down over the centuries. Now with peace, almost 10 million acres of suitable land have become available to raise cattle and grow vegetables and fruits. Because of its food producing potential, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has named Colombia one of the world’s five food pantries.
Still, the country’s expertise is growing far beyond agriculture. Colombia’s high-tech sector is thriving as the third largest in Latin America, with USD $2.5 billion in annual revenue, according to International Data Corporation, a market research firm. Investors are looking at Colombia as a tech hub for Latin America. With more than 5,000 tech companies and close proximity to the U.S., the country is becoming the hotspot for American tech companies to expand their development capabilities and target sales growth in Latin America, a market of 626 million people.
A whole lot is also coming out of the factories: from auto parts to building materials, fashion clothing to processed food and consumer products. Colombian jeans are making a splash around the world for the fine fit, so too its bathing suits and underwear. Architectural glass, ceramic roof tiles and pharmaceuticals – there’s ample room for foreign investment in manufacturing.
International tourism is another success story. In 2016, foreign visitors reached 5 million in, a 15% increase over the previous year.
With the peace deal, a host of new spots have become available for safely visiting like the Lost City high in the mountains of the north, the Amazon rainforest and the Serranía de la Macarena, home to dozens of species of orchids and countless more of plants, plus a rainbow-colored river. Colombia is also home to more than 1,900 bird species, making it the perfect destination for birdwatchers.
One thing is clear, with the return of peace, a prosperous economy and its extraordinary connections to the world, Colombia is on its way to becoming Latin America’s brightest star.
Felipe Jaramillo is the president of ProColombia, a government agency promoting exports, international tourism and foreign investment in Colombia.