Private Roundtable with Colombian Finance Minister José Manuel Restrepo

collage of Restrepo, Shifter, and Bogota Main photo: Pixabay

On February 17, 2022, the Inter-American Dialogue hosted a private roundtable with Colombian Finance Minister José Manuel Restrepo. The discussion centered on the country’s economic outlook for the next year and the measures needed for it to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

In recent years, Colombia’s economic situation has been relatively stable. One of the more significant pre-pandemic challenges for Colombia was the increased inflow of Venezuelan migrants. Minister Restrepo highlighted that the country was able to turn this into an opportunity by increasing inclusive investments in the health and education sectors, which allowed migrants to integrate and to become part of Colombia’s economy.

Another challenge the country has faced more recently is the effects of the pandemic. In the government’s response to the health crisis, priority was given to people over the economy, Minister Restrepo noted. Economic challenges that arose over the past two years included a decrease in economic productivity due to lockdowns, and reduced tax revenue to the state in order to alleviate financial pressure on citizens. At the same time, the government increased spending and investments in the health sector. One of the most crucial issues for Colombia during the first phases of the pandemic related to the high informality of its labor market, which has been around 60 percent. The loss of employment and decreases in income for many Colombian families was tackled with social investments programs such as Ingreso Solidario, direct cash transfers, subsidies, and other measures for small- and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs.

The direct consequence of these measures was the rise in sovereign debt and the fiscal deficit. After the most severe first phases of the pandemic, the priority then became the economic recovery through the Compromiso por el Futuro de Colombia package of investments. The projects under the plan included investments ranging from the rural and agricultural sector, vaccination campaigns, infrastructure spending, and green investments, such as the Canal del Dique project connecting Cartagena Bay to the Magdalena River.

After two years of the pandemic and cycles of economic crisis and recovery, both still ongoing, many challenges remain today for the Colombian government. Yet, the 10.6 percent growth of the country in 2021 that was announced earlier this month is higher than forecast and an encouraging signal as it represents something more than merely a rebound from the previous year of economic slump, Minister Restrepo noted. The objective has now moved to the need for fiscal consolidation (typically achieved through raising more tax revenue and/or cuts in spending), a problem facing most Latin American and the Caribbean nations. The fact that Colombia has reduced its debt-to-GDP ratio to 62 percent, a figure previously expected to take ten years, is another indicator of Colombia’s strong economic recovery since the depths of the downturn.

Questions from the roundtable participants focused on the potential for expanding and extending the Ingreso Solidario program, a request for more details on the plans in Colombia to cut tariffs on certain products in order to counter inflation, as well as questions about the outlook for economic policy continuity after elections scheduled this March (legislative) and May (presidential) in the Andean country.


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