Colombia had a strong economy early thanks to its rich natural resources. Until the end of the 1900s, exports were dominated by agricultural products, mainly coffee and tobacco, but in the last decades oil and coal have taken over this role. In addition to export-oriented agriculture, the industry and service sector developed strongly after 1940.
Colombia, compared to other Latin American states, has enjoyed good GDP growth since the 1920s, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, but income has been unevenly distributed. During the period 1965–70, annual growth was as high as 5.8 percent, and it remained around 5.7 percent during the years 1970–75. A sharp decline occurred in the early 1980s; GDP growth was less than 1 percent and per capita, even negative. After a recovery in the late 1980s, the growth rate during the 1990s was quite low and, during the beginning of the 1990s, turned into a decline for the country. Through a series of measures, such as privatizations and cuts in public spending, as well as efforts to increase the security of foreign investors, By the end of the 1990s, the country was able to reverse its negative economic development and report GDP growth again. However, fluctuations in world market prices for raw materials such as oil, coal, nickel and bananas pose a threat to economic growth.
A major problem is also Colombia’s “parallel economy”. The illegal trade in marijuana and cocaine is large.
Agriculture, forestry and fishing
The country’s cultivated area, 5.5 million ha, is very unevenly distributed. A land reform is being prepared but has not yet been implemented. In 2016, agriculture accounted for 7 percent of GDP, which can be compared with 38 per cent in 1970 and just over 50 percent in 1960. Just over 15 percent of the country’s employment is found in agriculture.
Coffee was until 2007 the most economically important crop, but was then passed by bananas. Colombia’s share of world coffee production amounts to 9 percent, making it the world’s third largest producer of coffee, after Brazil and Vietnam. Coffee is grown in many places, but mainly in a belt comprising the departments of Antioquia, Caldas, Tolima and Valle del Cauca. Bananas are grown mainly in the Urabá region, and today Colombia is one of the world’s ten largest banana producers.
Other important export crops are sugar, cotton, tobacco and cut flowers. Sugar is grown especially in Valle del Cauca. The most important of the crops is rice, potatoes, maize, wheat and barley. Rice is grown in Tolima and in the plains to the east, Llanos Orientes. About half of Colombia’s area is wooded. In recent years, the logging of timber has increased dramatically. Livestock management is primarily a local concern, but the livestock market in Medellín is one of America’s largest. They are working on a return of deforested, eroded soil with infertile red soil of mainly iron and aluminum oxides to a productive pasture with a combination of selected grass and legumes.
Colombia is the world’s largest producer of cocaine, and large areas of the rainforest are used for illegal cultivation of coca plants.
Colombia has a large fishing potential, yet largely untapped. The cultivation of shrimp has increased strongly in recent times.
Minerals and energy
Colombia has large mineral resources. Gold is mined mainly in Antioquia but also in Cauca, Caldas, Tolima, Nariño and Chocó. Large gold deposits were found in 1987 in the Guainí region in the eastern part of the country. Other minerals include silver, copper, lead, mercury, emeralds (60 percent of world production), manganese nickel and platinum. Emeralds are mainly extracted in Muzo and Chivor.
Oil extraction has long been a problematic business, not least because the government provided insufficient incentives for exploration and extraction to the oil industry, and during the 1980s it accounted for no more than 1 percent of GDP. Significant oil deposits were made in 1986 in Arauca in the northern part of the country and southeast thereof, in Vichada. Joint venture projects with foreign companies enabled Colombia to produce not only for its own consumption but also for export. During the 1990s, oil has become the country’s most important export commodity.
Colombia has Latin America’s largest known coal reserves. The production of natural gas has increased and now exceeds its own need. The Guajira field was put into operation in 1977, and in 1994 a large gas field was discovered at Cusiana.
Industry, including the construction industry, employs just under 15 percent of the workforce. The manufacturing industry contributed significantly to Colombia’s economic boom in the 1970s, but experienced a downturn during the difficult years of the early 1980s. It was severely affected by foreign trade liberalization and the reduction of import duties in the early 1990s, but has recovered to some extent.
The main industries in the manufacturing industry are the food industry, the chemical industry and the manufacture of transport equipment and metal products. The heavy industry has grown in importance in recent years, thanks in large part to the increased oil and coal production. The textile industry dates back to the childhood of Colombian industrialism in the early 1900s. This sector has been hit particularly hard but also unevenly by the liberalization; some industries, such as the leather industry, have increased their exports. The construction industry grew rapidly in the late 1980s but has since stagnated.
The restructuring of Colombia’s economy during the 1990s facilitated foreign investment, especially in the automotive composition industry.
Colombia’s traditional dependence on coffee for its export earnings has been replaced by greater versatility. In the early 1990s, oil took over as Colombia’s most important export commodity. Despite broader exports, the country is still sensitive to fluctuations in world market prices for the most important export goods: oil, coal and coffee. Non-traditional export goods include cut flowers and orange juice. Colombia is a member of the Andean Community. The most important trading partners on the export side are the USA, Panama and China and on the import side USA, China and Mexico.
- COUNTRYAAH: Find major trading partners of Colombia, including major exports and major imports with latest trade value and market share as well as growth rate.
Colombia is visited annually by about 1 million visitors. The poor security situation in the country has made it difficult to attract tourists. In practice, this means that many visits are confined to the capital Bogotá. This is regrettable, as several of the other major cities have much to offer. Cartagena has a well-preserved city center from the 16th and 16th centuries, situated on what is practically an island off the Caribbean coast. Cali is a beautiful city with fine colonial buildings.
- According to AllCityPopulation, the capital city of Colombia is Bogotá with a population of 7.7 million (estimate 2013). Other major cities include Medellín with a population of 2.4 million, Cali with a population of 2.3 million, Barranquilla with a population of 1.3 million, Cartagena with a population of 980,000 (2013 estimate).
The country’s capital Bogotá has a colonial center with well-preserved stately palaces and lavishly decorated churches without the nature of cultural reserves. The main attraction is the Museo del Oro, which holds pre-Columbian gold treasures with no equivalent in the world. From Mount Montserrat you have nice views of the city; at its foot is Simón Bolívar’s atmospheric “mansion”, today a museum.
The country’s outstanding national parks and ancient sites are other potential sights.