This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.
Last Published: 10/16/2019
According to BMI Research, Colombia’s construction industry will return to robust growth in 2019 and 2020, backed by rising investment in infrastructure and non-residential construction as well as a strengthening of the residential sector from 2020. Over the long term, growth will be sustained by improving macroeconomic conditions, strong housing demand, and a continued focus on infrastructure development.

While corruption investigations will continue to pose a downside risk to the sector in 2019, project activity is expected to increase this year, supporting the recovery of the overall construction industry. Moreover, the Colombian government passed several measures on 2018 to improve the public procurement process. For example, Infrastructure Law 1882 modifies the rules of public contracting, infrastructure, and Public Private Partnerships (PPP), and has been a boost for the infrastructure sector in Colombia. The Law has improvements that go from the selection process in tenders (multiple bidders) to the liquidation of infrastructure contracts, with the aim of improving efficiency, transparency, and legal security. 

Table 11: Current State of Transportation Infrastructure
Segment-Global CompetitivenessRankScore
Transport Infrastructure9340.2
Railroad Infrastructure998.1
Port Infrastructure4447.3
Airport Infrastructure4862.5
World Economic Forum Report 2018-2019. Score 0-100 best

Colombia's transportation infrastructure segment will see robust growth over the coming years driven by the country's USD 25 billion 4G road concessions program as well as the USD 4.4 billion Bogota metro rail project that is scheduled to begin in 2019. Despite the uncertainty created by the recent Odebrecht corruption scandal, there are indications that investor confidence is returning to Colombian infrastructure projects, supporting new financial closures on the 4G program.

Table 12:
Roads and Bridges3.
Ports, Harbors and Waterways0.
e/f=BMI estimate/forecast Source National Sources, BMI

Table 13: Total Value of Ongoing Transportation Infrastructure Projects: + USD Nine Billion
Bogota Metro Rail, Line 1USD 4.4 billion
Magdalena River Navigability ProjectUSD 1.43 billion *Goldman Sachs
El Dorado 2 Airport ConstructionUSD 1.3 billion
Ferrocarril AntioquiaUSD 900 million
Airport ModernizationsUSD 545 million
RegioTram Bogota  USD 465 million
Barranquilla Light MetroUSD 460 million
Airports: According to BMI, Airport infrastructure development in Colombia will be a significant focus of infrastructure investment through 2023, with the government planning to prioritize investment in the sector given expectations of strong demand growth over the coming years. Bogota and Cartagena will likely be the primary focus of investment, with privately-backed projects being considered in both metropolitan areas, including the expansion of Bogota’s El Dorado Airport and a greenfield airport project in Cartagena.

For BMI, private investment will remain key in airport development across the country. Colombia’s major airports are all operated via concession agreements. Supported by the country’s relatively secure concession framework and a supportive political environment for private involvement in infrastructure development in the country, major infrastructure groups are interested in backing new investments in the airport sector, greatly increasing the probability that projects advance.

Seaports:  More than USD 1.5 million will be invested by private companies in Colombia to develop 17 port terminals in seven departments distributed between the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean.

Colombian ports have been pioneers in attracting private investment. Colombia’s National Infrastructure Agency (ANI) has concessioned 60 ports in eight port areas, and between 2010 and 2017 USD 158 million were invested in port access channels. Ports have also grown considerably in capacity and cargo: in 2010 they had a capacity of 286 million tons and in 2017 the figure reached 444 million tons.

Today the country has 31 gantry cranes installed in the main port terminals of the country. Port operators in Buenaventura (Pacific), Cartagena, and Santa Marta (Caribbean) made significant investments that have introduced more efficiency and competitiveness. In addition, new terminals in Puerto Bahía (Cartagena), Puerto de Aguadulce (Buenaventura), and Puerto Cayao (Cartagena) began operations in recent years.

Colombian sea terminals are at capacity and are continuously receiving upgrades, including the expansion of container yards, building of refrigerated cargo facilities, and other modernization projects. All Colombian seaport terminals are seeking to increase the efficiency of their operations. As a result, the following investments are being made:
  • Expansions of port platforms
  • Canal dredging
  • Green technologies to lower pollution emissions affecting local populations
  • Navigation systems

Riverine ports: The Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht was a stakeholder in the Navelena consortium that was in charge of developing the navigability of Colombia’s Magdalena River. However, the company’s global corruption scandal suspended the project and revoked the company’s concession. The current value of the project is approximately USD 1.3 billion, which entails dredging more than 600 miles of river and creating a “Mississippi River” in Colombia that facilitates commerce from the center of the country to the Caribbean port of Barranquilla. The savings in transportation costs are estimated to be 20 percent compared to the use of inland roads. The project is scheduled to re-open for public tender at the end of 2019 and will have a concession valid for 13 years.

Roads: The Colombian Government has been investing in the ambitious Fourth Generation (4G) public-private partnership infrastructure program, which continues to advance slowly eight years after its inauguration. According to BMI, road and bridge construction will be a key driver of infrastructure investment in Colombia over the coming years supported by the advance of the large 4G road concessions program. Investments will also flow into the sector from the advance of a number of other projects including the La Linea tunnel as well as the former Ruta del Sol II road concession, sections of which will now be developed as public works contracts. Supported by these investments, BMI forecasts the road and bridge construction segment will see average real growth of 6.1 percent between 2018 and 2022, driving the growth of Colombia's construction industry.

The completion of the 4G program is expected to have a positive impact on Colombia’s economic competitiveness by lowering relatively high logistics costs that hamper the country’s productivity and drive up costs of consumer goods and industrial inputs. The 4G program envisions a USD 17 billion investment to build over 4,400 miles of new roads, 141 tunnels, and 1300 viaducts. 

Most of the road projects were designed to expand the country’s transportation system and include more than 30 primary road improvements and construction projects. Many planned concession projects (such as the Prosperity Corridor and the Sun Route) will link main ports with major cities to augment the current state of cargo transportation and lower the relatively high costs of shipping goods over land.

Generally, U.S. companies have not participated in the 4G program due to the uncertainty surrounding cost recovery, the high risk associated with the projects (many in remote areas), and the complexities of environmental licensing and consulting with local communities. Many of these companies have found the return on investment to be too low given the risks and have preferred to participate in less risky portions of the projects, such as engineering, architectural design, and financing.

Urban and Rail Transportation
Supported by progress on the Bogota Metro Rail and the RegioTram, BMI Research modified its forecast for the rail sector and expects growth of 20.0% in 2020 and15.3% in 2021 as work picks up on the two projects.

Bogota Metro Rail, First Line
This project has secured funding (Fitch Rating AAA). Prequalification of interested parties May/July 2018. The First Metro Line in Bogotá is a historic project and one of Colombia’s largest infrastructure projects, with an estimated CAPEX of USD 4.4 billion. Of that total, USD 694 million come from public coffers in Bogota. The concessionaire that wins the tender will contribute USD 1.16 million, delivered through debt or own resources, while USD 2.4 million will be financed by international financial institutions. The transactional model is to make a single integral concession that includes the construction of civil works, the incorporation of rolling stock and railway systems, as well as its partial financing, operation and long-term maintenance. In this way, there would be only one tender for the concession, which would be awarded to a single company or consortium of contractors, manufacturers and operators. This reduces the risks of executing the project through several contracts. U.S. companies could be key players by participating in the architectural design, construction, and engineering of this metro rail project. More information is available at: Metro de Bogota     

On February 25, Metro de Bogota, the public agency in charge of urban rail development in the city of Bogota, opened seven bids for prequalification in the project. Among the 23 firms making up the bidding groups are numerous major international infrastructure developers with substantial experience in the construction of urban rail systems, including large European, Chinese and Latin American firms. Following this step, Metro de Bogota is scheduled to announce the prequalified firms for the project on June 28. Prequalified bidders will then be invited to submit economic offers for the project in the following months with the goal of awarding the project by October. The project involves the construction of a 24 km of elevated railway in Bogota with 16 stations.

Light Rail and Metro Projects (Barranquilla, Medellin and Bogota)
Colombia has 1,500 miles of narrow-gauge railroad, which is divided into four different systems managed either by concessions or by one of Colombia’s thirty-two departments (states). The public railroad system is not extensive or efficient and is currently not a high investment priority for the Government of Colombia. Two mining companies privately own the only two standard gauge lines in Colombia, which are mostly used to transport coal from the mine to the seaport for export.

According to BMI, a light rail project in the department of Antioquia is seeing momentum. In February, the Administrative Court of Antioquia overturned a ruling that had blocked the financing deal for the USD 300 million automatic light rail project in Rionegro, removing a key obstacle to the advance of the project. A four-month tendering process for the project, which involves the construction of a 17 km light rail line and 14 stations, is set to begin in mid-2019.

Residential/Non-Residential Building
According to BMI, non-residential construction will compensate for weak investment in residential construction in 2019, supported by improving macroeconomic conditions in the country and rising foreign investment. Building permit data indicates rising momentum for non-residential building in recent months. Logistics facilities and shopping malls are set to be among the primary areas of investment in the near term, with a large number of these projects currently under development in the country. Residential construction, in contrast, will continue to see limited investment through the first half of 2019, with potential for weaker than expected investment in the sector. Investment in residential construction has fallen substantially since a peak in 2015, with the total area permitted in 2018 down 6.1 percent compared to levels seen in 2017 and down 27.7 percent from levels seen in 2015. The weakness of the sector appears set to continue through much of 2019.

Leading Sub-Sectors
Best prospects in the construction and infrastructure sectors are:
  • Complex engineering projects and services related to mass transport systems: seaport/riverine engineering (liquid natural gas facilities), tunnels and bridges, high security government buildings, and infrastructure/urban master plans

  • Architectural and engineering for LEED projects

  • Aeronautical infrastructure equipment and services

  • 4G project financing and financing for private sector initiatives

  • Intelligent transportation systems equipment and services

  • Road safety equipment and services (such as electronic toll collection)

  • Specialized construction equipment

On May 15, 2018, the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) celebrated its sixth anniversary. Due to the TPA, road and railroad construction equipment (once totaling an average import tariff of 15 percent) currently enters the Colombian market duty-free. Services such as project management, bridge design, and architecture and engineering, among others, have also benefited from the TPA.

Other gains from the TPA include stronger legal protections for U.S. companies, expanded access to the services market, market access for used goods, increased transparency in procurement, and improved dispute settlement mechanisms (arbitration). Under the National Treatment Caveat, Chapter Nine of the TPA, U.S. companies must be treated as locals when they participate in public bids, eliminating the disadvantage they used to face prior to the signing of the agreement. The one exception is public bids issued by the Colombian Civil Aviation Authority (AeroCivil).

Since opportunities in road construction, airport expansion, and port expansion arise from concessions and from 4G contracts based on the Public Private Partnership (PPP) law, American firms interested in offering services to construction companies in Colombia must understand how the PPP structure works. U.S. firms should also find a local representative who can support them in-country or explore the possibility of a joint venture for engineering projects. 

Trade Events
National Congress on Infrastructure
Cámara Colombiana de Infraestructura
November 20-22, 2019
Cartagena, Colombia
Web Resources
U.S. Commercial Service Bogota contact: Senior Commercial Specialist Camilo Gonzalez
Tel: 57 1 275 2764
Key Contacts
National Agency of Infrastructure
Colombian Chamber of Infrastructure
Camacol-Colombian Construction Chamber

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Colombia Design and Construction Trade Development and Promotion