Colombia Needs a Business-Friendly President

By Carlos Gutierrez

On June 17, Colombians head to the polls to elect a new president. Coming on the heels of a long and difficult negotiation with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla organization, this election presents a historic opportunity for voters to elect a new leader dedicated to long-term economic stability in the fourth largest economy in Latin America,

With more than a 20 percent lead in recent polls, Ivan Duque, a young technocrat, is favored to beat former mayor of Bogota, Gustavo Petro. Regardless of the outcome, the next administration will face a sluggish economy, high inequality and insecurity, and mistrust in the country’s political institutions, a growing problem in many democracies.

To truly reinvigorate Colombia’s economy, the new president should make free-market and pro-business policies a priority.  

I have been traveling to Colombia for over 35 years, with Kellogg Company, as U.S. Secretary of Commerce, and in my current role as chair of a global strategic advisory firm. I have always admired the Colombian people’s entrepreneurship and resolve. Colombia has come a long way from a near-failed state in the 1990s. Colombia is now the number two exporter of flowers in the world, ranks third in coffee exports, and last year welcomed a record number of tourists. Colombia’s recent accession into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) officially puts it in a league with the strongest economies in the world.  

Unleashing Colombia's potential is not solely the government’s responsibility. The private sector can, and must, help actively address the nation’s most pressing economic and social challenges. Business investment in agribusiness in remote areas will contribute to economic development and job creation. Modernizing infrastructure in underserved communities will require public and private sector commitments. A rising middle class will continue to demand more from its government in areas like education, healthcare, and security – all sectors in which industry can serve as a reliable partner.

After the June 17 election, I, and the global CEOs I work with, will be looking to Colombia’s incoming leadership to demonstrate commitment to business-friendly policies including regulatory certainty and transparency, openness to trade, and improved security.  Colombia needs to reform its energy sector. It should prioritize and promote investments in infrastructure and innovation, modernized manufacturing capabilities, agroindustry and services. A diverse economy will protect Colombia against external shocks and, more importantly, it will provide economic opportunities for its citizens. Such initiatives will help Colombia reclaim its place as the region’s investment darling and generate essential new sources of revenue.

Colombians have many reasons to be proud of their country. They have shown a longstanding commitment to democracy and rule of law. The country’s sound macroeconomic management and strong social indicators have stood out for decades. But the country still has enormous untapped potential. Its next president would do well to prioritize the promotion of a more peaceful, and more prosperous, Colombia.  

Carlos M. Gutierrez, a former U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Chief Executive of Kellogg and Secretary of Commerce, is co-chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global business advisory firm.