Colombia - Country Commercial Guide
Trade Barriers
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Tariff Barriers

Despite efforts to consolidate and simplify its tariff rate schedule, Colombia’s numerous economic integration agreements have fostered overlapping tariff applications. For example, a product may be subject to more than ten different duty rates depending on whether it comes from a member of the Andean Community, the Latin American Integration Agreement, or the Caribbean Community. U.S. products that qualify under the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) can enter the market duty-free.

Approximately 97 percent of the Colombian Harmonized Tariff Schedule (CHTS) products can be imported without an import license, but import tariffs and VAT still apply. Colombia’s harmonized tariff schedule book lists all applicable import duties. U.S. exporters can obtain a copy of the CHTS through the following firms:

Table 1: Colombia Harmonized Tariff Schedule (CHTS) Contact Information

Lecomex Ltda.

Legis S.A.

Calle 98 # 11B-48

Ave. El Dorado # 81-10

Bogotá D.C., Colombia

Bogotá D.C., Colombia

Phone: 571-610-9312 | 571-236-1367

Phone: 571-425-5255 | 571-425-5200

Fax: 571-610-7673

Fax: 571-425-5317

An additional tool is the U.S. Department of Commerce’s FTA Tariff Tool, which will provide the duty rate for a product qualifying under the TPA. You will need to know the first six digits of the Harmonized System code to search using this tool. Service Barriers Finally, although the TPA eliminated most barriers to U.S. exporters of manufactured products, several barriers for services still exist for U.S. professional services firms in Colombia. For example:

  • Only firms licensed under Colombian law may provide legal services; foreign law firms can operate in Colombia by forming a joint venture with a Colombian law firm and operating under the licenses of the Colombian lawyers.
  • Economic needs tests are required when foreign providers of professional services operate temporarily.
  • Residency requirements restrict trans-border trade of certain professional services such as accounting, bookkeeping, auditing, architecture, engineering, urban planning, and medical and dental services.
  • A commercial presence (office, branch, or subsidiary) is required to provide information processing services and to bid on Colombian government contracts.
  • Barriers to entry in telecommunications include cross-subsidies, the requirement for a commercial presence in Colombia, and an economic needs test.
  • In order to offer services, international banking institutions are required to maintain a commercial presence in Colombia through subsidiary offices.
  • Insurance companies are restricted from offering policies to underwrite risk on government-sponsored infrastructure projects due to Colombian regulations that do not recognize insurance policies as equivalent to bank guarantees.
  • Infrastructure projects with Colombian public entities may include unlimited liability in contracts, a practice that results in additional risks and which leads many U.S. construction and project management firms to avoid this market altogether.

Non-Tariff Barriers

Overly burdensome and unpredictable bureaucratic processes pose a challenge for many firms. For example, environmental licenses must be obtained to execute certain projects in sectors such as mining and oil exploration, and the process is often time-consuming, unpredictable, and can take several years to complete, with many licenses never being issued. Companies in these sectors must frequently go through a process called “consulta previa” in which indigenous and other ethnic minority groups must be consulted before projects can be carried out in their communities. This process can take several years to complete, and some projects are never approved. The “iniciativa popular”, or local referendum, is a mechanism used by some communities to oppose activities by companies in the extractive industries. The pervasiveness of informal and illegal mining and logging in Colombia and the environmental damage that accompany them, tarnish the image of the mining industry in general and generate resistance to legitimate mining concerns that adhere to environmental standards and labor regulations. 

Regulations and standards are another area of concern for U.S. businesses in Colombia. Regulations sometimes change without adequate notification given to the World Trade Organization, industry, and other relevant stakeholders. Moreover, the comment period normally required for stakeholders to voice their opinions on the proposed regulatory change can be insufficient, and comments might not be given adequate review by relevant Colombian authorities. In the area of standards, there have been proposals to adopt European standards at the exclusion of U.S. standards as well as proposals to require standards tests to be conducted by Colombian testing laboratories when no such laboratories exist in Colombia or when such tests have already been conducted at a certified lab in the United States. 

The government procurement process in Colombia remains a barrier for many U.S. companies as a lack of transparency and competitive bidding conditions in the public tender process have resulted in U.S. bidders being excluded from key projects such as infrastructure development and project management. The Colombian Government is making efforts to address this issue through the establishment of public procurement agencies such as Colombia Compra Eficiente (Colombia Efficient Procurement), which has implemented a transactional, online procurement platform called SECOP II that is intended to promote more transparency in the RFP process in public works projects.

Although the implementation of the Unified Portal for Foreign Trade (VUCE) has significantly streamlined the paperwork process for imports and exports, Colombia’s bureaucracy still constitutes a barrier to trade for both local and foreign companies. Pilferage in customs warehouses and robberies of trucks persists, but cases have decreased dramatically.

Colombian customs can detain shipments indefinitely because of improper tariff schedule classification, incorrect address, or even simple typing errors. When mistakes are made by the exporter or importer, the goods may be refused entry into Colombia and be returned at considerable expense to the exporter or importer. Colombian customs statutes provide for significant fines and penalties for light infringement of procedures and errors in freight forwarding documents by customs agencies (Agencias Aduaneras). U.S. freight forwarders and intermediaries are subject to the same sanctions and penalties as Colombia’s agents and brokers.

Consult the United States Trade Representative’s National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers.

Non-Tariff Barriers to Agricultural Trade 

Ethanol: The Colombian sugar industry has effectively lobbied the Colombian government to pursue protectionist measures, including an ongoing Counter-Vailing Duty case against U.S. ethanol and restrictive environmental standards designed to favor sugarcane-based ethanol over corn-based ethanol. For more information on U.S. agricultural trade with Colombia, see the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service page.

Import licenses issued by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MINCIT): Most agricultural product import licenses issued by the Ministry of Commerce are issued automatically and are “free”. However, there are several agricultural products that need pre-approval before the Ministry of Commerce will issue an import permit. These pre-approvals are regulated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) and the Ministry of Health and Social Protection (MHSP) through the issuance of a sanitary or phytosanitary certificate for imports.

Import Operations Observers: A 2004 regulatory measure issued by the Ministries of Finance and Trade allows import operations observers from private industry to participate in inspection processes at ports of entry. The observers are specifically allowed to support inspection officials to address “technical contraband” in identifying and understanding product quantities, weights, customs values, and harmonized codes for agricultural products. Observers representing the Colombian meat and poultry industry associations have hampered U.S. meat and poultry exports, causing delays in product nationalization.

Restrictions on U.S. Rough (or Paddy) Rice: There are no restrictions on the importation of paddy rice into Colombia except for the restrictions on volume based on the Tariff Rate Quotas defined by the TPA. The only requirements are phytosanitary certificate and the pre-shipment fumigation with Phosphine or Methyl Bromide. Shipments can be made into all Colombian ports.

Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures: Import requirements for live cattle include testing for several diseases such as Bovine Leukosis, Blue Tongue, and others. There have been several successful importations with a small number of animals less than five percent with positive laboratory results for Johne’s disease (Paratuberculosis) that have been retested with samples processed in the U.S. by the National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) and released from the quarantine.

Market access for bone-in beef products: Access for bovine meat and bone meal is still under negotiation with Colombian Institute for Agriculture (ICA). There is pending discussion related to the materials from animals imported from Canada. The MHSP issued resolution 4254 establishing the requirements for labeling foods derived from modern biotechnology and for identifying raw materials that are or may contain biotech events. In addition to the resolution, the GOC is developing a Technical Annex to supplement the resolution. The Annex may impact trade due to the potential for asynchronous approvals between biotech events approved for food and feed in the United States versus a new requirement for testing and approval for domestic use in Colombia.

Product Health Registration

All processed retail food items, including products imported in bulk for repackaging and retail use without further processing, must be registered and approved by INVIMA. The MHSP issued Resolutions 2674 and 71 establishing the risk classification for food products which determines the validity of the Product Registration (five, seven or ten years), but only for the applicant (exporter or importer) and the specified manufacturer. The product registration is valid only for the specifications (e.g., product description and size) mentioned in the registration. If another form or presentation of the same product is to be imported, the registering company needs to inform the MHSP regulatory authority, National Institute for Food and Medicine Vigilance (INVIMA) in writing of the new product.

The INVIMA registration of processed foods requires: (1) completion of the registration form; (2) obtainment of a Certificate of Legal Representation; and (3) obtainment of a Certificate of Free Sale stating that the products are approved for human consumption in the United States. This certificate needs to be issued by a U.S. government (state, local or federal) public health authority. Although not required, the INVIMA registration can be expedited if a description of the manufacturing process and a list of the ingredients is submitted, including any additives, preservatives, and colorings/dyes.

Importer Registration, Import Registration, and Import Licensing

Every Colombian importer must be registered with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade (MINCIT). U.S. exporters seeking to sell to a Colombian firm should ascertain that the Colombian importer has obtained the legal authority to import agricultural products by completing the MINCIT registration process.

Minimal Descriptions

Products entering Colombia shall comply with the minimal descriptions mentioned in Resolution 57 of 2015, issued by the National Tax and Customs Directorate (DIAN). The information requested in the resolution can be accessed from the product HS code and must be provided in Spanish. For certain products where translation is not applicable, the product must be registered in the original language.

Sanitary Permit

Products used as raw materials by the food industry or HRI sector in food preparation do not need an INVIMA registration, but they do need a sanitary permit from the ICA and must comply with the labeling regulations. ICA is responsible for the issuance of import SPS permits for animal products, fresh vegetables and fruits, grains, pet food, and agricultural inputs, including seeds. GM seeds for planting must be approved by the inter-ministerial National Technical Committee. The import permit details the zoosanitary and/or SPS requirements.

The request for the zoosanitary certificate issued by ICA must come with complete information to avoid delays and possible rejections. The ICA authorities specifically request: Port of Departure (e.g. Miami, USA), Destination (complete address and city in Colombia), and Trip (e.g. Miami to Barranquilla, if travel is direct, or Miami to Dominican Republic to Barranquilla).

The Colombian importer must first obtain the import permit from ICA before requesting an import license from MINCIT. The importer should provide the exporter with the ICA import permit so the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) can reference the permit with bilateral compliance agreements. The USDA then issues a sanitary export certificate referencing the requirements in ICA’s import permit. No shipments should be loaded and transported without the submission of the sanitary permit.

For ICA approval, the product must:

  • Be free of disease.
  • Be inspected by an ICA veterinarian upon arrival in Colombia. Usually, the shipment is inspected at the port by both INVIMA and ICA to verify the compliance with the import regulations and sanitary requirements.
  • Be inspected by USDA prior to its shipment and include the USDA health export certificate.
  • Come from a USDA inspected facility that is registered with INVIMA.

Health Certificates

The health certificates must be issued by a competent authority involved in food safety regulation, including federal, state and, in some cases, municipal entities. The health certificate must state that the food products in the shipment are suitable for human consumption. Products referred to as “high risk” in Article 3, Decree 3075 of 1997 need to present the certificate of the: FSIS and/or FDA.

For those groups of foods and raw materials that are not considered “high risk”, INVIMA requires the following documentation/information to be included with the shipment: suitability of the product for human consumption; manufacturer’s name; name of the exporting country; product name; and batch identification. Such information can be obtained through the Certificate of Free Sale issued by the competent authority and supported with a manufacturer’s quality statement and/or analysis certificate that identifies the product names and batch or lot identification.

Export Establishment Registration

Colombia and the United States have an agreement that provides import eligibility of meat and poultry products with a packaging origin from any USDA federally inspected establishment. The GOC will only recognize those establishments that are listed in the USDA FSIS Meat and Poultry Inspection Directory. As well, beef products must also originate from establishments approved under the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Export Verification Program (EV) In order to register with INVIMA, exporting establishments must provide the following information:

  • Address
  • Country of Origin
  • Email address
  • Establishment Name
  • Establishment Number
  • Products that will be exported to Colombia

Additional Sanitary Registration Requirements

U.S. exporters should be aware that sanitary registration must also be obtained for pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, household insecticides, and similar products. The registration with INVIMA must be obtained before exporting the products to Colombia and the procedure takes between three to six months. Colombia requires sanitary registration for both locally manufactured and imported products.

For more information contact:

National Institute for Food and Medicine Vigilance (INVIMA)

Deputy Directorate for Licenses and Registry

Carrera 68D # 17-21 Bogotá DC, Colombia

Phone: 571-294-8700

Fax: 571-294-8700 ext. 3930


For more information and help with trade barriers, please contact:

International Trade Administration

Enforcement and Compliance (TANC)