Colombia Commercial Setting and Safety and Security Market Overview

The U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA), which entered into force on May 15, 2012, creates market opportunities for U.S. firms in a number of sectors.  The U.S.-Colombia TPA provides duty-free entry for over 80 percent of U.S. consumer and industrial exports to Colombia, with remaining tariffs to be phased out over the next 10 years and provides greater protection for intellectual property rights (IPR).  Colombia’s traditional acceptance of U.S. brands as well as U.S. and international standards provide a solid foundation for U.S. firms seeking to do business there. 

Colombia is the third largest market in Latin America, after Mexico and Brazil, and is ranked 22nd globally as a market for U.S. exports. Over the past 10 years, Colombia has become one of the most stable economies in the region. Improved security, sound government policies, steady economic growth, moderate inflation and a wide range of opportunities make it worthwhile for U.S. exporters to consider Colombia as an export destination. With more than 45 million people, an improved security environment, an abundance of natural resources, and an educated and growing middle-class, business opportunities are booming in Colombia. The country’s last two governments implemented policies that took Colombia on the path to global competitiveness, opening it up to global trade and investment for 10 consecutive years. Colombia’s strong economic growth, moderate inflation rates, and sound fiscal policies have made it a haven of stability in a time of economic uncertainty. Over the last decade, the country’s economy is estimated to have grown over 4% on average; inflation was kept in the single digits and is expected to remain well within the Central Bank of Colombia’s 2% to 4% range. Furthermore, the Government’s strict fiscal discipline led many international credit agencies to improve Colombia’s credit rating to investment grade for the first time in over 10 years. Increasing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Colombia demonstrates Colombia’s rise as a business destination. In 2011, FDI into Colombia reached a historic US$13.4 billion from only US$2.4 billion in 2000, a fivefold increase in just ten years, with forecasts of continued growth through the next five years.

By 2011, Colombia’s total international trade surpassed US$111 billion; exports reached US$56 billion while imports reached a historic US$55 billion. After implementing free trade agreements (FTAs) with the United States and with Canada, Colombia continues to move aggressively in opening up to trade, seeking to quickly implement FTAs negotiated with the European Union and South Korea, as well as moving ahead in negotiations with countries such as Japan, Turkey, Costa Rica and Israel.

Safety and Security and Defense Industry

The safety and security market in Colombia is a very dynamic sector, growing at an estimated rate of 5 to 10% per year. In addition, Colombian defense spending increased from US$14.7 billion in 2012 to US$15.1 billion in 2013, providing opportunities for U.S. defense technologies, equipment, and services that overlap into the safety and security sector. Market opportunities exist for safety and security industry products such as CCTV cameras, telephones for security, reproduction and record devices for security, data processing equipment, radio transmission, biometric equipment, and communication jammers, among others. Opportunities exist in the security and defense sector for trucks and light armored vehicles (LAV-4x4 and 8x8), engines and turbines military apparel and footwear, fixed-wing and rotary wing aircraft helmets, anti-IEDs (improvised explosive devices), IED and mine detectors, body armor and personal body armor equipment, handheld navigation systems, Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles (UAV), GPS, modern communication systems (MCS), IT-structure platforms, logistics software solutions and software applications, flight simulators, air cruise control, flat bottom aluminum river boats, and marine and coastal surveillance systems and equipment. In regards to services, there is a significant need for security assistance, maintenance and assistance to the Army, Police and Air Force. Helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft maintenance and repair services are especially in need- in 2014 Colombia’s fleet of Sikorsky AH 60L will most likely be undergoing overhauls. The Colombian military has potential in the fields of specialized training for all new communications systems, medical training, and environmental training for hazardous material (HAZMAT) management, transport, process and dispose of HAZMAT, expertise in demolition, technical support for reconnaissance and analysis, and security operations.

Overview of Colombia’s Defense and Security Structure

Colombia’s internal and external defense and security structure includes the Army, Navy (Marines and Coast Guard), Air Force, and the National Police. Real military spending increased from US$ 14.7 billion in 2012 to US$ 15.1 billion in 20131 (this figure includes other costs). The total military spending has been on average 3.7 percent of the country’s total GDP (2009 to 2013)2. Under Plan Colombia, significant U.S. funding, technical assistance, and equipment support has been provided to Colombian-led counter narcotic programs for drug eradication and interdiction, and expansion of the capacity of Colombian military and police. The current format of Plan Colombia expired in 2012, with the consequent nationalization of military programs by the Colombian government. For 2014 some spending may shift to drug eradication and peace keeping programs, especially if the peace negotiations that are currently undergoing with the FARC Rebel forces in Cuba are achieved. Despite the peace negotiations process, the Colombian government is expected to continue military actions and spending to fight narco-terrorism, and gain security area through its police force, especially to develop security surveillance and enforcement in remote and isolated regions of the country.

Through the Foreign Military Sales Trust Fund, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) provides equipment and training to the Colombian military and police through military assistance programming. The Department of State (DOS), military sales, and the international narcotics control program are other sources of funding. The Office of Aviation and Narcotics Affairs has been the main source of funding for equipment acquisition in Colombia since 1990, through private military consulting firms such as DynCorp. These firms operate through an open market competitive bidding system. However, U.S. funding is expected to significantly decrease at a rate of 10% over the next five years, from US$ 157 million in 2011 to US$ 133 million in 20123. The Colombian congress approved Law 80 of 1993, under which procurement of goods and services for security and national defense made in Colombia by local manufacturers, must be purchased over goods made by foreign manufacturers and exporters4. However, under the National Treatment Caveat, Chapter 9 United States-Colombia bilateral trade agreement (U.S.-CTPA), U.S. companies must be treated as locals when they participate on public bids eliminating the disadvantage they used to have prior to the signing of the agreement.

In 2002, the Colombian government created a Wealth Tax to collect US$ 800 million from large companies or wealthy individuals, 70% of which was used to increase 2002-2003 defense spending. A similar tax in 2007-2011 was collected close to USD 3.7 billion, of which a significant portion was founded defense spending. The Colombian Army receives 60% of funding, followed by the Air Force with 25% and the Police with 10%.

The U.S. has had a privileged relationship with Colombia in regards to military equipment acquisitions; however, new competitors from England, France, South Korea, and Spain have gained some notoriety. The Colombian military tends to use standardized equipment and values relationship, trust and familiarity with equipment (as exemplified by their consistent use of the same type of rifles), however, foreign manufacturers are gaining market share. According to the unofficial estimates, U.S. imports represent close to 50% of the total imports of military equipment, out of the unofficial estimates which are calculated to be close to US$ 1.3 billion (2012).

Opportunities

Military and security equipment trends have remained the same post-Plan Colombia, since the government continues to support drugs interdiction and eradication efforts. Due to the significant improvement of national security, the Colombian Air Force has been more involved with military and civilian rescue operations. The Air Force created in 2010 a new rescue unit and continues to purchase rescue equipment and life support systems. The National Police is expanding its activity on civilian and urban surveillance, adapting its force and upgrading its equipment to this environment. Recent navy purchases have shown the governments interest to increase the guarding of the Caribbean coast, especially around the San Andres and Providencia Isles, which are under watch, due to Nicaragua’s intent of claiming more Caribbean territory from Colombia. There has also been the intent from the Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzon to purchase close to 20 fighter jets, some of the possible candidates may include the F-16 and Boeings F-18 Hornet however, and this intent has been put on hold until further notice in 2014.

In 1990, the U.S. Office of Aviation and Narcotics Affairs provided 18 UH- 1N helicopters, buying 36 more over the years. In 2010, the Colombian military had 280 helicopters and 200 fixed-wing aircraft with no major new purchases projected until 2015 with the exception of some possible interest to purchase helicopters with higher capacity to transport troops and equipment. Due to recent aircraft acquisition, there are significant opportunities for training, parts and maintenance for these aircraft, especially for Blackhawk rotor blades repair services and erosion-resistant coating systems. Other opportunities include: parameter security protection systems (convoy security, security walls and fences, and video surveillance systems), safety, survival accessories, search & rescue equipment, protective clothing, emergency medical equipment, trauma-life support systems.

The security forces number about 435,000 uniformed personnel: 285,000 in the military and 150,000 in the police. From 2012 to 2015, key needs will be armament and personal arms (up to USD 1 million a year), night vision goggles (up to USD 1 million a year), anti-ballistic missiles (ABM) (up USD1 million a year), survival equipment and kits (up to USD 400.000 a year), flight suits, footwear (up to US$ 200.000 a year), personal arms (M4 riffles, M9 pistols), grenades, binoculars, and medical equipment. The Colombian army is looking into upgrading its equipment and uniforms, with engineered textile solutions, smart textiles materials, as well as integrated communication aircraft helmets.

On May 15, 2012 the FTA agreement between the U.S and Colombia entered into effect finishing the implementation phase. 80 percent of U.S. exports of consumer and industrial products to Colombia are duty-free immediately upon entry into force, with remaining tariffs phased out over ten years. Other provisions include strong protection for U.S. investors (legal stability), expanded access to service markets, greater intellectual property rights protection, market access for remanufactured goods, increased transparency and improved dispute settlement mechanisms (arbitration). The majority of Defense and Military equipment have zero tariffs since the FTA has been implemented. Prior to the agreement the tariff ranged between 5% and 20%. The U.S.-Colombia TPA also reduced tariffs for a wide variety of products and services in the safety and security industries.