Volume 44, Number 174,
July-September 2013
Colombia: Commercial Integration
and Trade Imbalances in the Pacific Basin
Jaime Torres

Colombian exports to the Asian Pacific Basin also grew rapidly during this time period (24.6% annually), increasing the share of the total from a scarce 2.8% from 2000-2002 to 8.6% in 2010. Of these, 77% of exports are of primary products: oil, coal, iron-nickel and coffee. The global commercial balance produces a deficit for Colombia, annually exceeding 5 billion dollars over the past three years. There is thus a typical inter-industry relationship between Colombia and Asia, whereby one country exports the primary products (77% of the total) and imports industrial products (88%), a similar commercial pattern to that with the United States and Europe in the twentieth century. The majority of East Asian countries also maintained this pattern during that time period, but thanks to intense and continued industrialization processes and technological innovation, their commercial structures have changed radically.

Figure 1. Colombia and Countries of the Asian Pacific. Commercial Balance,
Total 2000-2010
Source: Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism of Colombia, statistics, calculated by the author.
<https://www.mincomercio.gov.co/publicaciones.php?id=10422>, consulted on June 29, 2012.


Trends in the commercial balance between Colombia and the Asian Pacific Basin point to a growing deficit. By 2010 and 2011, Colombian exports spiked based on new contracts for sales of coal and crude oil, aimed at a growing number of these Asian nations. This dynamic has been supported by favorable global prices and a commercial offensive undertaken by the Colombian government to broaden trade with the Pacific and compensate for a future decline in sales to the Venezuelan market. In this effort, private multinational mining companies,1 as well as the state enterprise Colombian Oil Company (Ecopetrol), have taken the initiative to enter these new markets. Some other large business consortiums, such as sugar leaders or various companies producing chemicals and foods, have also made efforts with still marginal values, but they are opening the door to establish lasting markets. The export presence of small and medium-sized Colombian companies is almost non-existent in Asia, indicating that the openness of foreign markets in far away and non-traditional zones exceeds the present capacity of the immense majority of these enterprises, which will require targeted strategies with state support and/or cooperation if they hope to contribute in a significant manner to Colombian exports.

In other areas, it is clear that up until now, large consortiums are better able to exercise efficient commercial competitiveness in trade between Colombia and the Asian bloc, confirming the “new theory of international commerce” (Krugman and Obstfeld, 2010), in the sense that “inter-monopolistic competition” dominates the majority of global markets (and emerging markets), while a large swath of small and medium-sized producers and exporters are relegated to marginal roles or excluded altogether.


The main Colombian exports to the Asian Pacific are:

  • Oil, coal, iron-nickel and coffee (primary products) and
  • Fuel oil and other oil derivatives, metallurgical coke and chemical products

Imports in the region include:

  • Industrial products (88% of the total imported in the three-year period of 2009-2011)

Exports grew rapidly in 2010 thanks to crude oil (862 million dollars) and thermal coal (661 million dollars), sales that did not exist in this region in 2007. Products such as coffee, oil derivatives and iron-nickel made up the next representative volume (1.209 million dollars in 2010) and maintained the export presence achieved in previous years.

1 Thermal coal exports are dominated by the company Carbones del Cerrejón, owned by the major mining consortiums bhp Billiton, Strata and Anglo-American, from Australian, British and US capital, respectively, as well as Drummond Ltd. from the US and Glencore International, of Swiss origin. In oil, the standouts include Pacific Rubiales Energy from Canada, the US companies Occidental Petroleum Co. and Chevron Petroleum Co., as well as subsidiaries of Shell and British Petroleum Co., from Holland and England, respectively. The owner of the only nickel exporter, Cerramotoso, S.A., is bhp Billiton of Australia.

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Published in Mexico, 2012-2018 © D.R. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 194 July-September 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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