Saturday, November 18, 2017

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Roberto Peckham

Having now won crucial Colombian government licenses for cultivation and production of medical marijuana products with “unlimited” percentages of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), Toronto-based PharmaCielo now aims to launch production and commercial marketing in 2018.

In a November 7 interview with Medellin Herald, Federico Cock-Correa, the Medellin-based CEO of PharmaCielo Colombia Holdings, told us that the company now faces only one remaining regulatory hurdle: a production “quota” that he expects would be approved soon by Colombia’s Justice Ministry.

The Ministry must issue such quotas following limits mandated by the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) -- or, as known in Spanish, the Junta Internacional de Fiscalización de Estupefacientes (JIFE).

INCB works with national governments “to ensure that adequate supplies of drugs are available for medical and scientific uses and that the diversion of drugs from licit sources to illicit channels does not occur,” according to the agency.

INCB also “administers a system of estimates for narcotic drugs and a voluntary assessment system for psychotropic substances and monitors licit activities involving drugs through a statistical returns system, with a view to assisting governments in achieving a balance between supply and demand,” the agency adds.

According to Cock-Correa, following issuance of the “quota,” Colombia would be the first target market for PharmaCielo’s pioneering medical-marijuana products.

Potential distribution chains could involve feedstock sales to third-party pharmaceutical producers as well as direct sales through retail pharmacies and supermarkets.

But the company is also targeting international markets including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Peru and South Africa -- along with more than a score of other countries that are moving to legalize medical marijuana, he explained.

While some U.S. states have enacted marijuana legalization measures, the U.S. as a whole has yet to adopt a single, uniform regulatory-permission scheme. As a result, PharmaCielo might have to wait a few more years for future U.S. regulatory evolutions that would enable broad market penetration there, Cock-Correa explained to us.

Despite U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recently expressed hostility toward marijuana legalization, ironically there’s a growing rationale for broader legalization of medical marijuana in the U.S. -- thanks in part to U.S. President Donald Trump recently declaring that the U.S. is in the midst of a horrific opioid-addiction epidemic.

Rationale for legalization: In recent years, several health researchers have published studies concluding that relatively non-addictive medical marijuana could at least partially substitute for highly addictive opioids in pain control -- hence potentially helping to stem opioid abuse.

Other claimed health benefits for medical-marijuana products include stress reduction, sleep inducement, appetite enhancement, nausea reduction (for patients using certain cancer drugs), headache relief and glaucoma relief. However, researchers also have cautioned that medical marijuana can have detrimental effects on attention-span, judgment and balance.

Asked what factors are key to achieving success in the emerging medical-marijuana market, Cock-Correa pointed out to us that scientific research, development and quality control throughout the entire process -- from cultivation to manufacturing of extracts – are critical.

For example: Artisanal and illegal marijuana-extract producers (whose products are found in the Colombian market today) don’t necessarily ensure that an end-product is free of harmful metals, chemicals or other contaminants. Nor can the efficacy of certain illegal products be guaranteed.

But besides ensuring relatively high quality products, legal producers also could benefit from being first-to-market with certain specialties, he added.

High-quality research-and-development, cooperation with quality, licensed producers of marijuana feedstocks, potential deals with third-party pharmaceutical manufacturers, marketing deals with big retail chains, and ability to produce a suite of high-quality products for various niche markets are all factors that could favor legal producers over illegal producers, he added.

Colombia’s more-than 50-years’ experience in ornamental flower production on a massive, industrial scale – plus its relatively favorable climate and competitive costs-of-production-- are additional factors favoring legalized medical-marijuana producers here, he said.

As for potential misuse of medical marijuana for recreational use, Cock-Correa pointed out that this same problem already occurs with alcohol or other products that have both medical and recreational -- and sometimes addictive -- applications.

So, while legalized medical-marijuana producers can do their best to warn against misuse -- and also employ control methods to prevent illegal diversion -- consumer education and government enforcement also must be part of the solution to minimize this problem, he concluded.


Medellin-based electric power transmission giant and multinational infrastructure operator ISA reported November 1 that its third quarter (3Q) 2017 net income rose 30.8% year-on-year, to COP$317 billion (US$103 million).

The improvement mainly came as a result of greater revenues, a decline in finance costs and favorable Brazilian tax-and-compensation provisions for operations there.

Consolidated operating revenues for 3Q 2017 rose to COP$1.9 trillion (US$620 million), while consolidated net income rose to COP$565.8 billion (US$184 million), according to the company.

Consolidated earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) for the latest quarter hit COP$1.18 trillion (US$385 million) with an EBITDA margin of 64%.

Capital investments during 3Q 2017 totalled COP$643 billion (US$210 million).

In Colombia, ISA invested COP$197 billion (US$64 million) in projects under construction, including the Ituango and Caracolí power substations and the Chinú-Montería-Urabá and Cerromatoso-Chinú-Copey transmission lines.

In Peru, ISA invested COP$154 billion (US$50 million) in various power-distribution construction projects.

In Chile, ISA invested COP$236 billion (US$77 million) in transmission and transformer projects, as well as COP$7.7 billion (US$2.5 million) in security and lighting projects for several of its highway concessions.


The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) announced October 30 in a new report that Colombia’s exports are forecast to rise by 16.5% for full-year 2017, up sharply from a 12.8% decline in 2016.

Meanwhile, imports to Colombia are expected to rise 5.2% this year, up from a 16.9% decline last year, according to ECLAC’s report (see: http://repositorio.cepal.org/bitstream/handle/11362/42316/1/S1700860_en.pdf).

For the entire Latin America and Caribbean region, collective exports are seen rising 10% this year. Only Brazil (up 18%), Honduras (up 29.6%) and Nicaragua (up 23.5%) are seeing bigger percentage increases in exports than Colombia in the Latin America region this year, the report shows.

“Socialist” Venezuela is the only country in all of Latin America showing a decrease in imports this year -- down 21.8% -- following a 35.7% decline last year and a 22.3% decline in 2015.

“South American countries are projected to post the strongest increases in [export commodity] prices owing to the greater weight of petroleum, minerals and metals in their export baskets, particularly those of Andean countries,” according to the report.

“Colombia is expected to post the strongest increases in prices as its main export products include petroleum and coal,” it added.

On the other hand, “success of traditional and modern services exporters in the region depends heavily on the public-private strategies in place to support this sector,” according to the report.

“Examples in the region are the Productive Transformation Program established in Colombia in 2009, with targets for 2019 for software and information technology (IT) services exports, business process outsourcing (BPO) and knowledge process outsourcing (KPO).

“Some countries have designed specific support instruments to promote modern services exports. In Colombia, ProColombia has designed special programs for the promotion of BPO, ITO and KPO service companies, including through the provision of buildings with operators that provide specialized services (communications, energy, security and mass transport for example) to exporting firms,” the report added.

 


The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced October 31 that it is helping Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities in El Bagre, Antioquia, to restore lands to safe and productive use following environmental destruction left by irresponsible miners.

In the COP$1.4 billion (US$470,000) USAID-sponsored project, 90 economically disadvantaged families – all members of the community councils of Puerto Claver and Los Mellizos, Antioquia – are planting Acacia mangium seedlings and native-tree seedlings in areas that had been wrecked by destructive mining.

The project aims to plant 327,745 trees -- 90% Acacia mangium and 10% native species -- according to USAID.

Each week, six groups of 30 people plant trees, providing “income opportunities to the greatest number of beneficiaries,” according to the agency.

In addition to planting, the families also support the tree-nursery operation and perform the hole-digging.

“The desert soils left by [irresponsible] mining in the village of Puerto Claver, municipality of El Bagre, Antioquia, will begin to grow again in the hands of families which for years lived on the little left by the informal exploiters,” according to USAID.

“These activities are part of the rehabilitation project of 295 hectares degraded by the informal mining in the corregimiento of Puerto Claver, which USAID supports through its ‘Oro Legal’ (legal gold) program, together with the mayor of the municipality of El Bagre and the Community Council of Puerto Claver (Afroclaver).

“Oro Legal will support the establishment of the plantations through the first maintenance [cycle], the fourth month of planting the seedlings, and the implementation of a beekeeping project, which will include the establishment of 200 hives.”

The “Afroclaver” community council, which ensures the protection of rights groups of the Afro-Colombian community, settled more than three decades ago in the township of Puerto Claver.

“This population did not have its own territory, until the mayor of El Bagre certified their possession,” according to USAID. Meanwhile, Colombia’s national land agency is working to finalize the community’s legal title to the lands.

To date, USAID’s “Oro Legal” program has supported soil-rehabilitation projects (in areas degraded by illegal mining) covering 1,989 hectares -- 1,141 in Bajo Cauca, Antioquia, and 848 hectares in the department of Chocó. The goal is to recover 11,500 hectares by 2020, according to the agency.

 


Medellin-based multinational utilities giant EPM announced October 31 that it successfully placed a COP$2.3 billion (US$764 million) 10-year bond offering at 8.375% interest.

“This is the third international issue denominated in Colombian pesos,” according to the company. Wall Street bond rater Fitch gave the issue a “BBB+” rating while Moody’s gave it a “Baa2” rating.

“With this issuance, made in order to prepay debt in dollars, the profile of the company’s debt is improved,” according to EPM. The latest placement takes advantage of the “current financial conditions of the international market,” according to the company, whose sole shareholder is the municipality of Medellin.

For the issue, about 60% of the bond buyers were from the United States, Europe, Chile, and Peru, while the remaining 40% were Colombian investors, according to the company.

“Thanks to this issue, we managed to make an important debt-management operation, which will allow us to improve the maturity profile and the average life of the debt,” added EPM general manager Jorge Londoño de la Cuesta.

“In addition, we will increase our debt composition in Colombian pesos, which will allow us to reduce EPM’s exposure to debt denominated in dollars, thereby minimizing the impacts derived from foreign exchange risk,” he said.

Funds from the bond issue will prepay a loan due in 2020, which was signed with seven banks in 2015. In total, 45% of the issue funds are going toward the construction of the US$5.5 billion, 2.4-gigawatt “Ituango” hydroelectric project in Antioquia, with the remaining 55% going to support other investment plans.

Spanish bank BBVA, U.S.-based Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and UK-based HSBC served as placement bankers for the issue.


Medellin-based textile giant Fabricato announced October 31 that its third quarter (3Q) 2017 net loss hit COP$19 billion (US$6.2 million), down from a COP$755 million (US$248,000) net profit in 3Q 2016.

Sales in 3Q 2017 also fell 23.5% year-on-year, to COP$85 billion (US$28 million), while earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) margin fell to a negative 7.5%, down from a positive 12.8% in 3Q 2016.

“The period covered by this [latest quarterly] report was surely one of the most negative for the [Colombian] textile sector in recent years,” according to Fabricato.

“The textile and apparel sectors presented results that were much lower than those budgeted for the period, as well as being inferior to those generated in the immediately preceding year,” the company added.

While Colombia’s relatively feeble 1.8% growth in GDP this year is partly to blame for the declines, the hike in value-added tax (VAT) this year to 19% (from 16% last year) and relatively high interest rates were additional negative factors, the company noted.

Another key factor was the November 2016 termination of the “mixed tariff” on textiles, which had been relatively effective in preventing imports of products that were “under-invoiced” in order to avoid tax duties, according to Fabricato.

“With the termination of this [mixed] tariff modality, replaced by a model that only considers a percentage on the value of the imported product, some gaps emerged that facilitated the increase of unfair [textile and clothing import] practices, such as price declarations or product specifications that do not correspond to what is really important,” according to the company. “In order to combat this imbalance, the government is working with the private sector to prepare a decree that should be enacted shortly and that should set reference prices to avoid importing products with ostensibly low prices.”

In addition to under-invoiced imports, “there is an increase in the importation of products with prices below reasonable international costs, which characterizes ‘dumping,” according to Fabricato.

“In this case, to prove this unfair practice and take restrictive measures, the [remedy] process is longer and more complex. However, Fabricato and [fellow Medellin-based textile maker] Coltejer jointly initiated an anti-dumping process against denim fabrics of Chinese origin. This process should receive a first response from local authorities this year, and if accepted in all instances, could result in effective measures in favor of domestic producers in the first half of next year,” according to the company.

“In addition to the unfair practices mentioned above, Colombia is the country with the lowest textile tariffs [10%] when compared with countries such as Argentina (26%), Brazil (26%) and Mexico, which varies from 10% to 20%.

“Due to the ease of legal importation, unfair dumping and under-invoicing practices, what was noted on the supply side was a disproportionately high increase, while on the demand side, as we have already said, we have noticed a contraction. As a natural result of this combination of factors, an increase in inventory levels was perceived.

“With so much negative news and misinformation generated by some unions in the [textile] sector, financial institutions and insurers perceived an increase in the perception of risk, with the consequent credit restriction and increase in credit insurance premiums, in addition to the reduction in credit quotas.

“Even in the case of small or medium-sized companies, which are not financed through the financial system but through credits with the importing/distributing companies, credit was affected,” Fabricato concluded.


Medellin-based banking giant Bancolombia – Colombia’s biggest bank and now a growing multinational – reported October 26 that its third quarter (3Q) 2017 net profit dipped 1% year-on-year, to COP$1.7 trillion (US$564 million).

However, Bancolombia’s gross portfolio grew 6.5% year-on-year to COP$158 trillion (US$52 billion), of which 25% corresponds to its international operations including Banistmo (Panama), Banco Agrícola (El Salvador) and BAM (Guatemala).

The ratio of 90-day past-due loans rose to 2.9%, up from 2.0% in 3Q 2016. But provisions for this portfolio are 161%, which “guarantees solidity in the midst of a challenging environment,” according to the company.

“Recognizing the current economic outlook, the bank continues its growth path,” added Bancolombia president Juan Carlos Mora. However, “provisions charges were increased in order to maintain a prudent coverage index and keep the balance-sheet solid,” Mora said.

As of September 2017, Bancolombia Group had 9,707 correspondent banking outlets, 5,504 ATMs, and reported 6.8 million downloads of its “App People” banking application as well as 50,000 “App Companies” users.

“The growth in these channels makes it more efficient for more people and companies to access the financial system in all the geographies in which Bancolombia is present,” according to the company.

Another highlight was the growth in international capital markets, according to the company. For example, Banistmo achieved placements in the international bond market of US$500 million, with bond-buyer demand exceeding bond supply by 450%. “With this issue, the four banks of the Group have already successfully entered the international capital markets, managing to diversify their funding structure,” according to the company.

In addition, “Bancolombia Group has enough capital to face the challenges of the coming years. Primary capital reached 10.3%, which represents more than twice the minimum required. Likewise, solvency [ratio] was 13.4%,” according to the company.

In a subsequent October 27 conference call with investment analysts, Bancolombia chief economist Juan Pablo Espinosa added that Colombia’s economic growth this year continues to be sluggish, with year-on-year GDP seen rising by only 1.9%.

However, productivity is expected to rise, and when combined with improved global demand and likely reductions in central bank interest rates, full-year 2018 GDP is seen rising by 2.5%, he said.

Full-year 2017 inflation is now seen at 4%, while full-year 2018 inflation is likely to dip to 3.5%, he added.

Colombian exports are forecast to grow by 20% this year and another 5% next year thanks to the relatively strong U.S. dollar versus the Colombian peso, combined with recoveries in global demand.

While the national government is likely to meet its fiscal deficit target of 3.6% of GDP this year, the government will need to take more austerity steps in 2018 -- and achieve more reforms in 2019 in order to keep fiscal deficits in check, he cautioned.


Medellin-based multinational foods manufacturer Grupo Nutresa announced October 27 that its third quarter (3Q) 2017 net consolidated profit rose 3.6% year-on-year, to COP$324 billion (US$107 million), while gross profit rose 3% year-on-year, to COP$2.8 trillion (US$930 million).

Sales in Colombia grew 3.1% year-on-year, to COP$4 trillion (US$1.3 billion), while consolidated earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) margin was 12.5%

Sales abroad -- excluding sales in “socialist” Venezuela – rose 5.8% year-on-year, to COP$2.3 trillion (US$797.7 million), representing 37% of total sales.

Consolidated revenues (not including Venezuela) rose 2.6%, to COP$6.4 trillion (US$2.1 billion), “the result of sales growth in the local [Colombia] market and a solid and sustained growth in international revenues,” according to Nutresa.

Net post-operatng expenses totalled COP$187 billion (US$62 million), “14.8% less than the same term in 2016, due primarily to the treatment of the investment in Venezuela as a financial instrument starting October 1 of such year,” according to the company.

Meanwhile, Nutresa for the seventh straight year entered the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and “continues to be the only company in the food sector from an emerging market to be part of this global index,” the company noted.

“In the economic dimension, [the company] obtained the maximum score in terms of health and nutrition, materiality, risk and crisis management, and tax management. In the environmental category, Grupo Nutresa received the highest score in environmental reporting and packaging. Finally, in the social dimension, it achieved the highest valuation in human rights,” according to the company.

Grupo Nutresa describes itself as “the leader in processed foods in Colombia (60.5% market share) and one of the most relevant players in the sector in Latin America, with consolidated sales of US$2.8 billion in eight business units: cold cuts, biscuits, chocolates, Tresmontes Lucchetti [Italian foods], coffee, retail food, ice cream, and pasta.”

The company has a direct operating presence in 14 countries and international sales in 72 countries.

 


Colombia’s national infrastructure agency (Agency Nacional de Infraestructura, ANI) announced October 26 that expansions and upgrades to Medellin’s Jose Maria Cordova (JMC) international airport will debut in December 2017.

The US$116 million project adds five more aircraft boarding tunnels, another 9,000 square meters of terminal space and additional independent power systems (IPS’s) that bring electric power to planes  parked at gates.

As a result, JMC will have 17 boarding slots with passenger tunnels, plus an additional 16 remote positions. The national-flights terminal area expands to 49,894 square meters (up 5,119 square meters) while the international-flights terminal area rises to 57,932 square meters (up 4,375 square meters).

In addition, five new electric escalators and elevators have been added. Passengers in transit from one flight to another now will be able to move through two new connection modules, both equipped with electric elevators and a fixed metal staircase.

Passengers also now will be able to board two electric elevators and electric escalators connecting terminal areas to the main parking lot adjacent to the terminals.

Last year, JMC served 7.56 million passengers and 81,846 flights.

Besides offering non-stop flights to Bogotá, Cali, Cartagena, San Andrés, Barranquilla, Cúcuta, Santa Marta, Montería, Bucaramanga, Pereira and Leticia, JMC also offers non-stop flights to Lima, Mexico City, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, New York, Panama City, Madrid, San Salvador, Aruba and Valencia (Venezuela).


Toronto, Canada-based PharmaCielo announced October 24 that it has become Colombia’s first medical-marijuana producer to win a license to cultivate cannabis with “unrestricted” percentages of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) alike.

As a result, PharmaCielo becomes “the world’s largest licensed producer,” according to the company, which has its marijuana nursery, propagation and processing center in the Medellin suburb of Rionegro. The company first won a Colombian manufacturing license in 2016.

“To say that we are excited is an understatement, as to date the Colombian government has issued licenses only for the cultivation of non-psychoactive cannabis containing little-to-no THC,” said Federico Cock-Correa, CEO of PharmaCielo Colombia Holdings.

“Receipt of the dual licenses for psychoactive and non-psychoactive cannabis containing THC and CBD, combined with the fact that we have Colombia’s only fully functional cultivation and processing facility inspected and approved by the government, allows PharmaCielo the opportunity to become Colombia’s first and leading producer of medicinal-grade oil extracts.”

The cultivation licenses that enable the propagation of the full range of cannabis varietals “enables the company to develop a complete vertical offering of standardized, medicinal-grade formulations containing all active elements, including levels of THC greater than +1.0%,” according to PharmaCielo.

“PharmaCielo is now positioned as Colombia’s first unrestricted producer of medicinal-grade oil extracts and related products and is capable of providing reliable, standardized relief and wellness formulas for patients in need, including those requiring higher levels of THC.”

The Rionegro facility includes 12.1 hectares (1.3 million square feet) of open-air greenhouses ready for cultivation. “The facility has been independently reviewed and certified by the government as part of overall licensing, and in the future, will supply plant seedlings to over 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of contract growers’ open-air greenhouses for final cultivation,” according to the company.

“Over the past year, since we were granted our initial license, we have invested considerable effort and resources into building the infrastructure required for cultivation and processing of cannabis oils as well as working together with rural communities to help build a new Colombian agricultural sector to join coffee and flowers,” added PharmaCielo president Patricio Stocker.

“We intend to immediately begin cultivation, processing and scientific testing of highly standardized, premium-quality cannabis oil extracts and related products demanded by the international marketplace. We expect to initiate sales and distribution of finished products to the global marketplace in 2018, to the benefit of all stakeholders,” Stocker added.

Earlier this year, the company announced a partnership agreement with Cooperativa Caucannabis (comprised of 63 indigenous farmers), based in the department of Cauca, which separately applied for a cultivation license for a new greenhouse facility to be jointly operated with PharmaCielo.

“The members of Cooperativa Caucannabis have since been certified by the government as independent small growers and expect the government’s response to their application in the coming days,” according to PharmaCielo.


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About Medellin Herald

Medellin Herald is a locally produced, English-language news and advisory service uniquely focused upon a more-mature audience of visitors, investors, conference and trade-show attendees, property buyers, expats, retirees, volunteers and nature lovers.

U.S. native Roberto Peckham, who founded Medellin Herald in 2015, has been residing in metro Medellin since 2005 and has traveled regularly and extensively throughout Colombia since 1981.

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