Friday, April 16, 2021

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Roberto Peckham

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on March 23 issued a detailed economic/social report finding that the Colombian government is responding wisely to the Covid-19 crisis.

“Colombia has been hit hard by the pandemic, but the policy response has been timely and well-coordinated,” according to the IMF official report.

“Covid-19 has taken a severe social and economic toll, including more than 60,000 deaths. Over 5 million jobs were temporarily affected and GDP contracted by 6.8% in 2020, the largest recession on record in Colombia,” IMF adds.

In the face of the economic-social crisis, government authorities “used the flexibility afforded by their very strong policy framework to deliver a coordinated and timely response to the exceptional shock.”

In addition, “emergency measures have supported the health care sector, households and businesses,” the agency added.

“A flexible exchange rate, monetary policy accommodation and liquidity support, temporary suspension of the fiscal [spending] rule and macroprudential measures mitigated the fallout from the pandemic.”

On another positive front, “a national vaccination program to cover most of the population started in February,” the IMF added.

Meanwhile, Colombia is enjoying a “gradual recovery with [GDP] growth expected to rebound to around 5 percent in 2021. Under our assumptions for declining infections, rising vaccinations and limited lockdowns, GDP is projected to recover gradually this year, although it is not projected to return to pre-pandemic levels until the second half of 2022,” the agency stated.

“Labor markets have partly rebounded with unemployment declining from its peak, although local lockdowns have recently dampened employment gains. Both external and domestic risks to growth remain tilted to the downside.

“External financing needs are expected to remain elevated. However, as non-oil FDI [foreign direct investment] recovers and public borrowing needs decline, the share of private capital flows in external financing is expected to increase.

“Finally, Colombia’s unwavering efforts to integrate Venezuelan migrants into the economy, most recently by granting them Temporary Protective Status, should raise Colombia’s potential growth in the medium term,” the agency concludes.


Medellin-based international textile/fashion-industry trade group Inexmoda announced March 23 that the normally separated Colombiatex and Colombiamoda fashion/textile trade shows will be merged this year into one big show July 27-29 – both in-person as well as via internet.

“Through an omnichannel mode, Colombiatex+Colombiamoda will offer experiences around business, trends and knowledge that will take place in Plaza Mayor Medellín and on the official web-pages www.colombiatex.com and www.colombiamoda.com,” according to Inexmoda.

“The trade show will have about 500 national and international exhibitors who will meet with buyers both in-person or on the ‘Virtual Business Platform,” according to the group.

“Fashion returns in face-to-face catwalks, while digital staging is preserved as a disruptive format to present fashion, and the general public will be able to immediately purchase the products exhibited through different audiovisual content (‘shopstreaming’).

“The ‘Knowledge Pavilion,’ a free access space for our fairs, will be shown both in-person and digitally with 15 lectures and talks by experts from the ‘Fashion System,’ while the ‘Masterclass,’ ‘Workshops’ and ‘Consultancies’ will share, from 12 virtual spaces, knowledge about the future of the industry, innovation and business model,” the group adds.

“Inexmoda has an immense responsibility in leading the economic reactivation of the fashion industry,” explained Inexmoda president Carlos Eduardo Botero Hoyos. “The special edition of the Fair is the result of the lessons learned during this new [pandemic] reality, with the important support of the Mayor’s Office of Medellín and Procolombia who believe in the relevance of these events for the city and the country,” Botero added.

The trade-fair exhibits will include textiles, supplies, machinery, specialized services, jeanswear, children’s-wear, formal/casual-wear, intimate garments, control garments, sleepwear, sportswear, footwear/leather goods and costume jewelry, according to the group.

New technologies, best-practices and trends analysis will focus upon environment-friendly materials, water reuse, energy saving, recycling and "conscious fashion," according to the group.

“The special edition of Colombiatex+Colombiamoda will feature the ‘Fashion Market,’ a physical and digital showcase created to generate greater reach and visibility to the participating brands and offer the consumer fashion products with a single click,”  Inexmoda added.


Irresponsible behavior including reckless partying and crowding expected during “Semana Santa” in Antioquia specifically and Colombia generally just prompted Medellin and Antioquia to impose “pico y cedula” shopping restrictions starting Thursday, March 25 through Monday, April 5.

Acting Antioquia Governor Luis Fernando Suárez Vélez first announced the new restrictions March 23, then on March 30 announced a further, additional ban on liquor sales from 5 pm to 5 am daily March 31 through April 5, matching a new 5 pm-5 am curfew (except for work commutes and required travels).

 Even before Semana Santa started, Medellin and Antioquia had seen a doubling of Covid-19 daily cases in recent days as too many people foolishly believe that the recent, relatively slow arrival of vaccination campaigns automatically lessens the threat of infections, Governor Suarez pointed out in a press statement.

As a result, “pico y cedula” is being reimposed for routine shopping trips from March 25 through April 5, meaning that people with cedulas ending in odd numbers can shop on odd-numbered days, while those with even-number-ending cedulas can shop on even-numbered days.

However, “the restriction of ‘pico y cedula’ does not apply to enter hotels and restaurants, nor does it apply to go to medical services, to purchase medicines or to attend church services during Holy Week,” although hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, restaurants, hotels and houses of worship still must require face masks and minimum social distances.

Meanwhile, hospital intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy is on a dangerous rise -- now exceeding 80% -- prompting yet another hospital “red alert” for Antioquia, Governor Suárez added.

In addition to “pico y cedula” restrictions, Antioquia also is imposing a curfew from midnight until 5 am daily through April 5.

To avoid fines, people traveling to-or-from their jobs during curfew hours must carry a company card or letter from their employer, while those venturing to an airport for an early-hours flight likewise must show their boarding pass or reservation.

During Semana Santa, “family reunions with more than four or five people are not convenient and the massive departure of people from the metropolitan area to other municipalities on the occasion of Holy Week is not convenient,” Governor Suárez added.

A big surge in infections arising from Semana Santa also would further complicate Covid-19 vaccinations, he warned.

“The biggest challenge that Antioquia has in vaccination will be in April, as tentative figures that we have indicate that between 900,000 and 1 million vaccines will arrive here -- and vaccinating during a high peak of Covid makes the process more complex,” Suárez said.

Antioquia aims to vaccinate about 80,000 people daily during April, he added.

To date, 100% of front-line health workers here have received at least their first shot of Covid-19 vaccine, while the 80-and-over population vaccination rate is at about 80% so far.

In all, Antioquia to date has administered 85% of the 238,971 doses of vaccines it has received from the national “MiVacuna” program organized by the Health Ministry, he added.


Medellin-based multinational utilities giant EPM announced March 23 that its full-year 2020 profits jumped 19% year-on-year, to COP$3.7 trillion (US$1.02 billion).

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) came-in at COP$5.8 trillion (US$1.6 billion) with an EBITDA margin of 29%, “slightly below the level of 2019, caused by the increase in operational costs related to the activities carried out to mitigate the pandemic,” according to EPM Acting General Manager Mónica Ruiz Arbeláez.

EPM Group revenues rose 8% year-on-year, to COP$19.8 trillion (US$5.47 billion), with the electric power business accounting for 87% of the total.

During 2020, EPM group invested COP$3.1 trillion (US$856 million) in infrastructure, according to the company.

Profit transfers to the city of Medellin – its sole shareholder – will total COP$1.4 trillion (US$387 million) this year, according to the company.

The impressive growth in 2020 profit and revenue came despite a COP$750 billion (US$270 million) cost hit from the Covid-19 crisis, EPM added.

“During the pandemic and the strictest days of confinement, EPM implemented the special measures decreed by the national government and added its own initiatives within the legal framework that governs it to accompany citizens in one of the most complex times,” according to EPM.

Those actions included reconnections of water, energy and gas services at no cost for disconnected users; zero-cost financing for new water and energy services; a freeze on finance fees for existing services provided; and discounts for timely payment of public services, according to the company.

Beyond the COP$1.5 trillion (US$387 million) profit transfer to the city of Medellín, EPM also paid COP$1.5 trillion (US$414 million) to various providers of goods and services during 2020, while another COP$221 billion (US$61 million) went to support local communities and environmental projects, the company added.

At year-end 2020, EPM saw its total asset values rise 16%, to COP$63.8 trillion (US$17.6 billion), while liabilities rose 19%, to COP$36.7 trillion (US$10.1 billion). Equity now stands at COP$27.1 trillion (US$7.5 billion), up 12% over 2019. The debt-to-EBITDA indicator rose to 4.37 in 2020, up from 3.49 in 2019, the company added.


Agencia Nacional de Infraestructura (ANI, Colombia’s infrastructure agency) revealed today (March 19) that the new Pacifico 1, 2 and 3 highways linking Medellin southwestward toward the Pacific port of Buenaventura will open for traffic in 2022 -- ahead of schedule.

“Next year, the three Pacific highways will be in the service of a whole country,” ANI President Manuel Felipe Gutierrez revealed today via his Twitter account.

“With 62% progress in the Pacifico 1 project, followed by 99% in Pacifico 2 and 83% in Pacifico 3, we continue to serve Colombians” with crucial highway projects that will boost Medellin’s competitiveness by dramatically slashing freight-traffic times and costs.

The Pacifico 1 highway between Medellin’s southern suburbs and the Cauca River town of Bolombolo is making eye-popping strides along a steep mountainside route, from only 8% completion in August 2018 to 62.4% today, according to ANI.

This project includes twin highway tunnels at Amagá (3.6-kilometers-long, now 78% complete) and Sinifaná (1.4-kilometers-long, nearly complete), the latter just on the outskirts of Bolombolo.

Pacifico 1 also includes the construction of 59 new bridges along the entire route as well as three new interchanges at Sinifaná, Titiribí and Camilo C. The new route connects Pacifico 1 to Pacifico 2 via new Cauca River bridges (see photo, above), which in turn are directly tied to the new, twin “Mulatos” tunnels, each 2.5-kilometers in length.

“Pacifico 2 is already at 99.13% completion and it will be one of the first '4G' [fourth-generation highway] projects to finish its construction phase to enter 100% into operation” this year, according to ANI.

Pacifico 2 also includes 40 other bridges, 37 kilometers of new four-lane, divided highway, three kilometers of two-lane highway and rehabilitation of 54 kilometers of existing highway, according to ANI.

Meanwhile, Pacífico 3 – now at 86.82% completion –"connects 18 municipalities in the departments of Antioquia, Caldas and Risaralda through 146 kilometers of highway that include the construction of two tunnels: the Irra tunnel, which has already been put into operation, and the Tesalia tunnel,” according to ANI.

The Tesalia tunnel is 92% complete and will open before year-end 2021, according to ANI.

Meanwhile, the Pacifico 3 sections between La Manuela-Tres Puertas-Irra are now 97.7% complete, including 31 kilometers of highway upgrades and construction of additional lanes.

Toyo Tunnel Ahead of Schedule

Meanwhile, the Antioquia departmental government announced March 18 that the 9.73-kilometers-long “Toyo” tunnel (aka "Tunel Guillermo Gaviria Echeverri") is now at 50% excavation -- more than three months ahead of schedule.

The Toyo tunnel will link the new “Mar 1” and “Mar 2” highways westward from Medellin to new and existing Atlantic freight ports, greatly reducing freight shipping times and costs.

At 4,934 meters already excavated (in each of two parallel tunnels), drillers are advancing at nearly 10 linear meters per day, according to the government. The Toyo project also includes several connecting viaducts, shorter tunnels and open-to-sky sections.

Thanks to steady and relatively rapid progress, “it is expected that the tunnel will be completely drilled in 2022 and the project will be ready in 2023,” according to the Antioquia government.

Meanwhile, the connecting “section 2” of the “Mar 1” highway project westward from Santa Fé de Antioquia to Cañasgordas just got its first of two promised funding disbursements (totaling COP$1.4 trillion/US$394 million) from Colombian highway agency Invias, the government revealed March 18.

‘Vias del Nus’ Progress Accelerates

On yet another front, ANI announced March 19 that the new “Vias del Nus” four-lane divided highway connecting Medellin northward to existing and new highways and northern Atlantic ports -- and including a new bridge over the Magdalena River -- is now at 84% completion.

This project, which had only made 1.8% progress by 2018, is now accelerating rapidly – including the crucial “La Quiebra” twin tunnels (85% complete), which will remove an historic bottleneck between Medellin and highway connections to Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta.


Colombia President Ivan Duque and Commerce Minister José Manuel Restrepo jointly announced March 15 in a nationally televised address that Colombia has just expanded and improved investment opportunities for new and existing free-trade zones.

“Through Decree 278 of March 15, 2021, the competitiveness of this investment promotion instrument in the country will be improved,” according to a Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MinCIT) press bulletin accompanying the announcement.

Among the benefits in the new decree: a 15% reduction in up-front-costs for those investing in such zones.

In all Colombia, Antioquia is the nation's single biggest exporter, hence the new rule would open even more opportunities for foreign and domestic investors.

According to Minister Restrepo, “with this structural advance in the regime, the government contributes to positioning the country at the forefront in the hemisphere for attracting investment, by having a modern instrument that today includes 120 free-trade zones.”

Of those 120, 41 are permanent zones and 79 are “special” zones, of which the term limits have have been extended for five years.

To date, Colombia’s free-trade zone scheme has generated more than 136,000 jobs and attracted COP$48 trillion (US$13.5 billion) in investments in the last 13 years.

The new rules “enable the recognition of intangible assets -- in accordance with the current intellectual property regime -- as part of investment commitments, up to 20% of the new investment,” according to the Ministry.

“Electronic commerce is also allowed in free zones for users of goods and services, through the modality of postal traffic and urgent shipments.

“For new service projects, the possibility of reducing investment commitments is established if exports are made -- effectively channeled through the exchange market each year.

“Additionally, special permanent free zones for services are enabled to become permanent free zones, with the aim of qualifying users who provide services -- mainly for export -- such as science, technology, innovation, culture and knowledge, among others.

“Another novelty is regional development, since the minimum area requirement of 20 hectares is eliminated for the new permanent free zones dedicated exclusively to the provision of services in cities and municipalities with less-than-1-million inhabitants.

“Meanwhile, for new free zone projects located in municipalities with high poverty rates, the investment commitment is reduced by up to 30%. This possibility also applies to the request for the extension of existing free zones in municipalities with this characteristic,” the Ministry added.

Paperwork requirements for free-trade zone investment also is being slashed, to 24 documents (from 57 previously), while processing time is cut to six months, from 18 months previously.

“Additionally, the possibility was opened for the request of new free zones in all types of agro-industrial activities, as well as for airport and rail concessions, the latter subject to regulation,” according to the Ministry.

In addition, “the maximum term for the extension of both permanent and ‘special permanent’ free zones is equalized to 30 years, while free trade zones are allowed to add areas not adjacent to the originally declared space -- provided that said areas are found in the same municipality or in neighboring municipalities within the same customs jurisdiction,” according to the Ministry.

The new scheme “also opens the possibility for existing free zones to request the expansion of the economic activities for which their declaration was authorized,” the Ministry added.


Colombia Health Minister Fernando Ruiz revealed this morning (March 15) that more than 1 million people nationally will have received their first shot of Covid-19 vaccine this week, with 1.8 million likely by end-March.

As of March 13, 782,301 Colombians had gotten a Covid-19 shot since the vaccination campaign started 25 days ago, of which 108,456 were in Antioquia – most of those (more than 70,000), in the Medellin metro area.

“We have a vaccination rate that already shows consistent and well distributed numbers,” Minister Ruiz stated in a press release.

By the end of this March, some 85% of the “phase one” priority group – front-line health workers and those over 80 years of age – are expected to be vaccinated, he said.

With about 4,500 trained vaccinators now giving an average of 50 to 80 shots per day (depending upon region), that means Colombia is now averaging 80,000 shots per day.

“But next month [April] where we will have a much larger stock of vaccines, from 5 million to 8 million vaccines, most likely closer to the 8 million, we will be addressing the entire population of those over 60 years of age, which is more than 7 million people. We hope that this vaccination [campaign] will approach the 200,000 vaccinations per day,” Ruiz added.

While pharmaceutical companies have confirmed their plans to deliver millions of vaccines to Colombia next month, the exact days are still uncertain, he cautioned.

“We do not have much control over the issue [of exact arrival days]; hopefully we can have them in time” to meet the “phase two” goal of vaccinating another 7 million people in April, Ruiz added.


Colombia's border control agency Migracion Colombia announced March 13 that it's still awaiting an official order from the Health Ministry that would enable immediate cancellation of the existing Covid-19 PCR test mandate for all international air passenger arrivals to Colombia.

Until Migracion Colombia receives that order, arriving passengers still must pass a PCR test within 96 hours of boarding a flight to Colombia, or else endure a 14-day quarantine upon arrival here. A third option: Get a PCR test here while in quarantine and then await an all-clear test result, usually in 24 to 48 hours, enabling escape from quarantine.

Earlier, a Cundinamarca Administrative Tribunal on March 9 overturned a lower-court order that had forced Colombia’s Ministry of Health to require all air passengers to Colombia to show proof of passing a PCR test against Covid-19 infection.

Air travelers to Colombia have been required to pass a PCR test within 96 hours of boarding an international flight to Colombia since January 2021.

But the Cundinamarca appeals court just revoked that regulation, finding that the original order by the 11th District Court in Bogota mandating PCR tests for international arrivals is unconstitutional.

In the Ministry of Health’s summary of the new ruling, the appeals court found that “the plaintiff did not prove that one or some of his fundamental rights had been violated or threatened” by allowing passengers to enter Colombia without first passing a PCR test.

In addition, the plaintiff “did not prove legitimacy to act in assuming the rights of others, that is, to request constitutional protection in favor of the Colombian population.”

The Health Ministry had appealed the original decision to the Cundinamarca appeals court, arguing that passengers lacking a PCR test in origin countries actually aren’t any more dangerous for spreading disease than people already here, since Covid-19 is now ubiquitous.

Mask wearing, social distancing, work/public-space protocols, and vaccinations instead are the key factors to thwart Covid-19 infections, the Ministry adds.


Colombia Health Minister Fernando Ruiz announced March 10 that pharmaceutical giant Pfizer just confirmed that Colombia will get another 2.2 million doses of its highly effective Covid-19-prevention vaccines next month (April 2021).

This upcoming delivery comes on top of the nearly 1.5 million Sinovac doses received here last weekend -- supplementing an earlier delivery of some 200,000 more Sinovac vaccines -- plus 317,000 doses of Pfizer doses already delivered here.

As a result, Colombia will have received at least 4.3 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines in the coming days, once including the 2.2 million doses already delivered here.

In parallel, Colombia seems on-target to achieve its initial goal of 1 million persons vaccinated by March 20, according to President Ivan Duque.

To date, Colombia already has signed agreements with several pharmaceutical companies for delivery of roughly 65 million Covid-19 doses over the coming months, mainly from Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson (Janssen), Moderna, Sinovac and AstraZeneca.

However, to reach its year-end goal of getting 37 million people vaccinated, Colombia needs to more-than-triple its current rate of about 1 million vaccinations per month, Ministry data indicate.

As of March 10, only 403,000 people had been vaccinated here since the campaign began on February 17, according to the Health Ministry.

Encouragingly, shot rates are ramping up since the first days of the vaccination campaign, now at around 62,000 persons daily. But that rate needs to hit more than 100,000 persons daily to meet the 37-million-persons target.

Data-entry delays from various health-care providers and local/departmental agencies partly might explain the relatively slow rate of reported daily vaccinations, Health Minister Ruiz stated in a March 10 bulletin.

For example: Antioquia had received 185,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines as of March 9, but had only reported 46,000 actual vaccinations, or just 25% of its total dose receipts, according to Health Ministry data.

In contrast, Bogota seemed to be doing a better job, reporting that its vaccinations were already at 46% of total doses received.

Remarkably, relatively remote territories and areas including Choco, Amazonas, Casanare, Buenaventura and Vichada all reported vaccination rates of at least 90%, best in all Colombia.

However, another key factor explaining the delay between vaccine-shipments and shots-into-arms is the several-weeks-of-waiting required between the first and second shots of the two-dose regimen for the Pfizer vaccine.

Vaccinators Expanding

Meanwhile, boosting the total number of certified Covid-19 vaccination professionals also will help accelerate the daily shot rates here, according to the Ministry.

Today, Colombia has more than 30,000-such trained-and-certified vaccination professionals, with another 21,000 due to gain their required Covid-19 certifications by the end of March 2021, according to the Ministry.

In addition, another 107,000 health workers have signed-up for Covid-19 vaccination training, which will greatly expand capacity in the coming months, the Ministry adds.

Antioquia’s Front-Line Health Workers

Meanwhile, the Antioquia departmental government reported March 9 that 76% of front-line health workers here have already gotten their Covid-19 vaccinations.

Those health workers – along with people 80 years and older – are first priority in the national Covid-19 immunization campaign.

The Antioquia government calculates that front-line health workers and adults 80-and-over total 200,000 persons here, nearly all likely to be vaccinated before the end of March.


Medellin-based packaging manufacturer and exporter Compañia de Empaques announced March 10 that its full-year 2020 net income rose 36% year-on-year, to COP$20 billion (US$5.7 million).

Gross income in 2020 also rose to COP$478 billion (US$136 million), up from COP$457 billion (US$130 million) in 2019, according to the company.

Compañia de Empaques specializes in the conversion of natural fibers including cabuya (fique) and pita as well as synthetic fibers (mainly plastic) into many types of packaging materials for industrial, agricultural, construction and mining companies.

Its various brands of products include “Duramalla” (plastic straps), “Cartonplast” (plastic sheets for signage), “Duratela” (natural and synthetic-fiber packaging bags), “Duracordel” (natural threads), “Durazuncho” (printable tapes), “Concrefuerte” (polypropylene additive for concrete), “Agrotextil” (strengthening fiber) and “Sacos Compañia” (natural-fiber bags).

“Our corporate social responsibility is focused on promoting the sowing and transformation of fique, a biodegradable and highly resistant fiber native to the Andes, which represents an important source of livelihood for more than 50,000 Colombian families and contributes to the substitution of illicit crops in our country,” the company adds.


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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.

Medellin Herald welcomes your editorial contributions, comments and story-idea suggestions. Send us a message using the "contact" section.

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