- The Washington Times - Monday, December 5, 2011

Colombia hopes to export more goods to the United States in the wake of a recent free trade agreement, but first it needs the help of the U.S. business community to overcome major transportation barriers that make importing and exporting difficult.

The Latin American country has a transportation “bottleneck” that hinders trading, Colombian officials said Monday. The problem is caused by a lack of roads, railways, shipping ports and airports. Often what happens in Colombia stays in Colombia, because there is no way to get it out of the country and overseas.

So the nation is turning to its new trade partner. It doesn’t have enough money to invest in a major overhaul, so American capital and expertise are viewed as critical to boost exports and take advantage of the trade pact.

“We want to have as much foreign participation as possible,” Luis Fernando Andrade Moreno, director of Colombia’s National Infrastructure Agency, told The Washington Times, a day ahead of a major presentation in Washington on new trade opportunities for American businesses. “This is the most ambitious program that we’ve ever undertaken in Colombia for infrastructure. And I think it’s a great opportunity for U.S. companies.”

The U.S. recently passed three long-delayed trade deals with Colombia, South Korea and Panama. One of the biggest holdups was Colombia’s working environment and treatment of union leaders. The issue was eventually resolved after a half-decade of negotiations.

Now Colombia wants to take advantage and make up for lost time.

Colombia recently created the National Infrastructure Agency to oversee development and ensure maintenance of this new infrastructure. In addition to the U.S., the group is seeing interest in investment opportunities from countries like South Korea, Canada, Spain and France.

The NIA estimates that infrastructure investment will more than double by the end of next year to nearly $4 billion, and it could pass $7 billion by 2014. Most of that money will be used to build better roads with plans to double the number of four-lane highways by 2014 and quadruple them by 2018.

Railways are also in line for improvements. The country wants to increase the length of railways in operation by 50 percent by 2014, and triple it by 2018.

Railways, which are used to transport goods such as coal, are a less expensive transportation option than roads in many cases. Expanding this system is expected to lower costs by 50 percent.

“The idea is that you will be able to put it on a rail cart, haul it to the coast, and ship it overseas,” Mr. Andrade said.

Shipping ports are slated to get a 50 percent boost in load capacity by 2014, and double by 2018.

Airports are looking at a 35 percent increase in the number of passengers by 2014, and a 50 percent increase by 2018.

Mr. Andrade pointed out that Colombia’s GDP is expected to grow by 5 percent annually over the next few years.

“This is a place where demand will be strong,” he said. “If you looking at the investment opportunities, they’re everywhere.”

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