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Import regulations and customs duties  - Distribution - Transportation of goods - Standards - Patents and brands

Import regulations and customs duties

All the imported goods have to be registered with the Ministry of Foreign Trade (Mincomex) on a form called "Registro de Importacion", that can be bought for a 21,500-peso worth (about USD 11). Most of the products are automatically authorised to be imported if this form is presented (imports under the "Registro" procedure). There is nevertheless a certain number of goods (especially agricultural products) that are subject to license (imports under the " Licencia " procedure).
Import authorisations (automatic and licensed) are valid for 6 months, except for the following products: capital goods: 12 months; perishable foodstuff: 2 months. The goods have to be demanded at the Customs before the expiry date of the license.
Beside that, some products are subject to phytosanitary measures and the importer should be registered with a certain number of organisations: the Instituto Colombiano Agropecuario for plants and animal products, the INVIMA for medicines, medical underwear, cosmetics and the Ministry of Transports for all types of vehicles. Some farm products can be imported only when they get the visa from the Ministry of Agriculture, and as long as the importer also buys identical local products. According to the local conditions, it is also possible that the Ministry does not permit the import of certain products during a given period.
The import of vehicles, pneumatics, second hand clothes, violent toys is forbidden. The import of weapons is strictly limited to the army.
ProductVisa Ministry of agriculturePreliminary recording
animal originX
Fats and oilX
Animal foodX


Customs duties
Colombia applies the Harmonised Customs System. Customs duties are calculated Ad valorem on the CIF value. The customs duties system (4 rates) was fixed within the Andean PACT and is applicable to Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela. Bolivia is authorised to use 5% and 10% rates, and at the moment Peru is benefiting from an exemption.



Regulations governing payments
There is no exchange control in Colombia.


The Colombian government, under the supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Trade introduced an attractive policy for foreign investors especially in the distribution sector. This economic opening favoured the enthusiasm of Colombians for the imported products even if this trend mainly concerned the social class possessing a high purchasing power.

The Business to Consumer (B to C) market
The most important commercial zones are Santafe, Bogota and its region, Medellin, Cali, Bucaramanga and Cartagene.
The traditional distribution, symbolised by local groceries and other small shops called "tiendas", witnessed the arrival of modern distribution networks copied from western models: supermarkets, hypermarkets, shopping centres. Nowadays, these new circuits cover 60% of the distribution landscape. Foreign groups such as Casino, Makro and Carrefour established in Colombia in previous years, Wal-Mart, world leader of the distribution, also scheduled its next establishment in Colombia. Please note that food consumer habits prefer purchasing local products due to local culinary peculiarities.

The Business to Business (B to B) market
Although the import in Colombia, except for a sale to the State or to a governmental body, does not require to go through an agent or a partner, it is recommended to book the services of a third party knowing the local import procedure. To elaborate a contract of import or distribution with a local company, it is always advisable to look for a legal assistance.


Transportation of goods

By road
The road transport is the most important means of goods transport in Colombia nowadays. It has increased by 95% over the 1986 - 1997 period. In 1997, 90 million tons of goods transited on the country's roads. The total road network at the end of 1997 was 126,000 km out of which only 15,000 km were tarred.
To improve this network, the government set up an investment programme, in which the private sector would invest more than 2,200 million dollars. The economic planning and the co-ordination for transport policies is carried out by the Ministry of Transports.

By rail
Railway transport remains little developed in Colombia. However, it enables routing certain foodstuffs to ports located in the Caribbean islands and the Pacific rim. Currently, only 1,665 km enable railway goods transport which amounted to 1,450,000 tons over the year 1996. The national company Ferrovias has not the monopoly of the lines exploitation anymore, given that the Colombian government started a process to open the sector to private capitals, in exchange of a 30-year concession of the railway lines considered as profitable, especially the connection Bogota - Atlantic Rim.

By sea
Inland waterway transport is the only means to forward freight to certain remote regions or to the bordering countries. Its low cost and respect for the environment make it an ideal means of transport. However, the authorities neglected it for a long time making a large number of ways unnavigable. A program of rehabilitation is in process with, just like the railway sector, a privatisation of the management and the maintenance of waterways. The main network is composed of 7,800 km of ways and transported 5.5 million tons of freight (3% of the total freight) and 4.1 million passengers in 1997. The axis made of the Magdalena river is very important for commercial traffic, in particular for the transport of Loma's coal in Cartagène's port.
The management of the Colombian ports was partially privatised in 1993 which considerably improved their efficiency. In 1998, 74 million tons of goods transited via Colombian ports: a 12% increase as compared to 1996. The Atlantic rim concentrates the major part of the country's exports mainly via Cartagene's ports (general cargo boat), Covenas ( petroleum) and Puerto Bolivar (coal). On the other side, the port of Buenaventura on the Pacific Rim concentrates 50% of all imports.

By air
135,000 tons of freight were dispatched through Colombian airports in 1999. That represents an 12.9% increase as compared to 1998. 3 airports: Barranquilla, Bogota and Cali concentrate 60% of the international freight. Just like numerousf other sectors, a process of airports privatisation started in 1996 especially to the Barranquilla and Cartagene's airports.
The national airline company is Avianca, the internal flights are insured by the companies called Aces and Sam.


The organisation responsible for setting of standards and the normalisation of the production is the Colombian Institute of Technical Standards and Certification (ICONTEC). This organisation is an active member of the ISO standards and International Electrotechnics Commission (ISC).
The standards set by the ICONTEC are optional. The Government, through the National Council of Standards and Qualities, can certify them for safety, health, and environment.

Patents and brands

The competent body concerning industrial property is the Great estate management of Industry and Business (Superintendencia de Industria y Comercio).
Colombia signed the Agreement of Paris concerning the protection of industrial property and the agreement which establishes the World Intellectual property Organisation (WIPO). The country did not adhere to the PCT, on the protection of patents but the Congress is currently debating on this matter.
Since January, 1994, the regime of industrial property is more interesting after the decision 344 of the Agreement of Cartagene came into force. This decision strengthened the legal protection of patents and trademarks in all the countries of the Andean block.

Texts currently applying to patents/brands

  Text Date entered into law Period of validity Comment
Patent Patent Law On 1997 period of validity of 20 years


Last modified in 2006 - ongoing update
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