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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.


Phoenix, Arizona-based Intertec International announced March 10 that it’s expanding operations in Medellin and Bogota, seeking 100 bilingual information technology (IT) professionals for its Colombia operations over the next nine months.

According to a joint announcement from Intertec and Agencia de Cooperacion e Inversion de Medellin y el Area Metropolitana (ACI, Medellin’s investment-promotion agency), Colombia now becomes the second base of operations in Latin America, following Costa Rica.

“Colombia is strategic due to the quality of the talent, the availability of services and a location that gives us proximity to the United States and to our clients,” said Kent Feuerhelm, executive vice president of Intertec International.

The company is seeking “bilingual professionals in the areas of software development and engineering, quality assurance, software testing, automation, IT infrastructure, project management and operations support personnel,” according to the announcement.

Besides new operations underway in Medellín and Bogotá, Intertec also aims to hire IT pros in Cali and Barranquilla, according to the company.

“Intertec has 20 years of operations, providing custom software and IT services to industries such as electronics, aerospace, education, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, high-tech distribution, direct sales, finance, hospitality and others,” according to the company.

Both ACI and the national investment agency ProColombia aided the decision to locate here, according to those agencies.


Medellin-based multinational gold mining giant Mineros SA announced March 8 that its full-year 2020 profits fell 42% year-on-year, to US$37.5 million, but fourth quarter (4Q) 2020 rose 54% year-on-year, to US$13 million.

Full-year 2020 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) dipped 32%, to US$128 million, while gross revenues fell 16%, to US$411 million.

“During the fourth quarter of 2020, the price of gold had a stable behavior with a slight increase of 0.7%, with an average price for the quarter of US$1,876 per ounce,” according to Mineros.

Corporate-wide 4Q 2020 gold production fell 19% year-on-year, to 64,908 ounces of gold, of which Colombia accounted for 17,561 ounces, Nicaragua 26,660 ounces and Argentina 20,687 ounces.

The 4Q production decline resulted from “a drop in production from Nicaragua due to hurricanes 'Iota' and 'Eta' and by lower production in Argentina, explained by the natural ending of a deposit of the open pit mine,” according to Mineros.

Cash cost of production rose 14% while all-in sustaining costs (AISC) rose 24%, “mainly explained by the lower production, by the purchases of artisanal material in Nicaragua given the high price of gold and by investments in maintenance that had been delayed because of the [Covid-19] pandemic,” according to the company.

However, the average selling price of gold in 4Q 2020 rose 28% year-on-year, boosting total revenues despite the production decline.

At the end of 4Q 2020, net debt -- total debt less cash and equivalents — fell 82% year-on-year, to US$11 million. “This decrease is mainly due to the increase in cash and cash equivalents totaling more than US$57 million, along with a US$13 million decrease in debt,” according to the company.

In Colombia, 4Q 2020 production fell 14% year-on-year, to 18,000 ounces, “explained by a lower average grade, by the sale of Operadora Minera [underground mining] and by delays in some environmental permits during the quarter, given the difficulty of coordinating visits with the authorities due to Covid,” according to the company.

Future Plans

Mineros now foresees 2021 production in the range of 257,000 to 282,000 ounces of gold.

Its 2021 plans also include exploration programs aiming to increase the life of the Gualcamayo mine in Argentina, as well as “completion of internal technical studies for the Porvenir and Luna Roja mines in Nicaragua, the DCP mine in Argentina and the La Pepa mine in Chile,” according to the company.

Mineros also aims to “develop new alluvial mining methods in Colombia, to increase annual production and diversify operations. We are currently at the final stages of an internal project that uses suction dredges to reach new areas. Also, we have been working on a formalization model, bringing third parties that operate within our mining titles, in areas that our dredges cannot access,” the company added.


Medellin-based multinational power transmission, highways concessions and telecom services provider ISA announced March 3 that its full-year 2020 net income rose 46.7%, to COP$646 billion (US$175 million).

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) rose 38%, to COP$1.9 trillion (US$516 million), while operating revenues rose 23%, to COP$2.16 trillion (US$587 million), according to the company.

While ISA has operated highway concessions in Chile and Peru for years, during 2020 ISA made its first entry into the road concessions business in Colombia, via the acquisition of Concesión Costera Cartagena Barranquilla.

ISA also bought a 65% stake in a new “Interconexiones” alliance with Medellin-based highway construction giant Construcciones El Cóndor, which enables further participation in public tenders and private infrastructure projects in Colombia and Peru, according to the company.

As for its electric-power transmission business unit, “five energy transmission projects entered into operation in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Peru, expanding our infrastructure to 47.358 kilometers and 95,720 millivolt-amps (MVA),” according to the company.

“ISA also was awarded eight energy transmission projects in Colombia, Peru, and Brazil, and we acquired 100% of the shares of Orazul Energy Group, which will cover 746 kilometers of circuit.

“Furthermore, through ISA CTEEP, our affiliate, we entered into an agreement in Brazil to acquire 100% of the shares of Piratininga-Bandeirantes Transmissora de Energia (PBTE).

“In terms of the decarbonization of the Colombian energy sector, ISA was the first company in the power sector to issue green bonds in the stock exchange market.

“ISA also inaugurated a solar plant at its headquarters in Medellín, Colombia, that supplies part of the energy required in our headquarters but is also used to conduct research on distributed energy resources in a company-academia-government alliance to develop an integral proposal that will transform the Colombian energy sector.

“Finally, in for the Telecommunications business unit, through Internexa, we strengthened the services that support our customers' digital transformation processes. Additionally, we gained access to two additional Internet Exchange Points,” the company added.


Argentina-based electronic-commerce giant Mercado Libre announced March 3 that it’s opening a new information technology (IT) center in Medellin -- and expects to hire 500 technical professionals here.

The new center is the company’s second in Colombia, having opened its first IT center in Bogota in 2020.

As a result of the Medellin expansion, “Colombia joins Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Mexico in the list of countries that have two centers of this type for the entire Mercado Libre operation,” according to a joint press release from Mercado Libre, Medellin’s Agencia de Cooperacion e Inversion de Medellin y el Area Metropolitana (ACI, the investment promotion agency) and Ruta N, Medellin’s local high-tech landing site and incubator.

“For the start-up of the new IT Center, job openings will be filled by local experts and talents in skills such as back-end and front-end software, mobile development, IT security, business intelligence, machine learning, data science, application infrastructure [and] user experience, among others,” according to the company.

“After a 2020 of exceptional growth, we decided to redouble this effort in Antioquia,” said Mercado Libre Andean Region Director Jaime Ramírez.

“We are sure that the ecosystem of digital entrepreneurship and the innovative approach that positions Medellín as the city of the fourth industrial revolution is the right place for this second center,” he added.

Founded in 1999, Mercado Libre offers on-line platforms for individuals and companies to buy, sell, advertise and pay for goods and services online.

The “MercadoLibre.com” web site “is among the 50 most-visited sites in the world in terms of page views and is the mass consumption platform with the highest number of unique visitors in the most important countries where it operates, according to metrics provided by ComScore Networks,” the company added.


Medellin-based construction giant Conconcreto on March 1 reported a 64% year-on-year drop in 2020 net income, to COP$23.5 billion (US$6.5 million).

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) declined 40%, to COP$102 billion (US$28 million), while revenues likewise declined by 39%, to COP$574 billion (US$158 million).

Despite the decline in profits, 2020 nevertheless “represents a positive year-end compared to that reported in third quarter 2020, and even more so considering that it reflects the negative impact that the Covid-19 emergency had on the company’s business plan and its investments,” according to Conconcreto.

Meanwhile, Conconcreto’s relatively solid cash position at year-end 2020 enables it to “comply with the financial indicators required to tender standard bidding projects and other [opportunities],” according to the company.

Among those is the recently awarded “Doble Calzada Oriente-DCO” public-private association highway project connecting Medellin eastward to Rionegro and portions of Envigado and El Retiro. For the DCO project, Conconcreto holds a 60% stake.

The DCO project, estimated at COP$926 billion (US$255 million), boosts Conconcreto’s construction backlog by approximately COP$300 billion (US$82.6 million), according to the company.

U.S. ‘Strategic Alliance’ Developments

Meanwhile in the U.S. market, Conconcreto’s “strategic alliance” with U.S.-based Century Asset Management has resulted in development of some 35,000 houses worth about US$6.5 billion., according to the company

The “strategic alliance” is now becoming an “asset manager” that will “manage the resources of its investors through investment funds for the development of rental housing projects,” according to Conconcreto.

“’Century Real Estate Fund I’ is the first fund of this alliance. It is currently in the capital raising stage and seeks to capitalize on the opportunity to invest in an environment of low interest rates, high demand for housing in Miami-Dade County and scarcity of land with permits in strategic locations, developing the Midtown Doral Multifamily project,” according to the company.

“The first project is two towers with a total of 326 apartments, located in the city of Doral, in Miami-Dade County. The first fund will be US$150 million in which Constructora Conconcreto will carry out the designs and execute the construction.”

Backlogs Growing

Aside from the new DCO project in Antioquia, the company’s backlog at year-end 2020 stood at COP$2.21 trillion (US$609 million), while the DCO and other new projects announced so far in 2021 bring the total backlog to COP$2.59 trillion (US$713.6 million), according to the company.

In total, 86.4% of the backlog corresponds to infrastructure projects, while the remaining 13.6% corresponds to buildings, including housing projects.

Infrastructure backlog values are mainly concentrated in the “Ruta 40” highway project, the “Transmilenio” mass-transit rail project in Bogota, the DCO project and the Hidroituango hydroelectric project in Antioquia.

As for building construction backlogs, these are mainly concentrated in the “Contree” and “Las Vegas de Comfandi” housing projects, along with the Century Homestead projects in the U.S., according to the company.

Hidroituango Lawsuit

In a PWC accountant’s note to the official 2020 earnings report, PWC cites the pending COP$10.5 trillion (US$2.9 billion) lawsuit brought by Medellin-based power giant EPM against the builders and designers of the US$5 billion “Hidroituango” hydroelectric project.

That lawsuit claims that Hidroituango’s builders and designers are to blame for a diversion-tunnel collapse in 2018 that resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in physical damages and billions of dollars in lost power sales because of resulting delays of entry-into-service for the hydroelectric project.

Conconcreto has a 35% share of the “CCC Ituango” consortium in the Hidroituango project, PWC noted.

“Based on the analyses undertaken by the consortium, Conconcreto and its legal team consider that no solid arguments exist that would put blame on the consortium and its members for the [losses caused by the tunnel collapse] and therefore they don’t consider it probable that the consortium or its members would be found guilty. As a result, to date the company has not made any [special financial-loss accounting] provision,” according to PWC.

Meanwhile, the CCC Ituango consortium has filed for arbitration to settle the claims -- to be overseen by the Medellin Chamber of Commerce, PWC noted.


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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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