Colombia - Commercial Guide
Selling to the Government

Discusses the legal requirements for selling to the host government, including whether the government has agreed to abide by the WTO Government Procurement Agreement or is a party to a government procurement chapter in a U.S. FTA. Specifies areas where there are opportunities.

Last published date: 2019-10-13
Many governments finance public works projects through borrowing from the Multilateral Development Banks. Please refer to Project FinancingSection in “Trade and Project Financing” for more information.

Government entities, institutions, and commercial enterprises must follow the provisions of Law 80 of October 31, 1993, which regulates purchases made and contracts entered into by the government and state industrial and commercial enterprises.

Under Law 80, Colombian government contracting agencies must select contractors through a public competitive bidding process, typically found on Colombia Compra Eficiente’s website. There are a few exceptions to this rule, which are clearly established in Article 24 of Law 80.

The following are some exceptions for a direct contracting procedure:

(1) Contracts for minor amounts: minor amounts are expressed in multiples of the established Colombian legal minimum monthly salary (currently about US$ 270 without the additional benefits and/or compensation pay). A minor amount may range from 25 minimum monthly salaries to 1,000 minimum monthly salaries, depending on the annual budget of the contracting entity. For instance:
(a) If the annual budget of the contracting entity is less than or equal to 6,000 minimum monthly salaries, it is allowed to acquire goods and services under direct contract that do not exceed 25 minimum monthly salaries in value;
(b) If the annual budget of the contracting agency is equal to or exceeds 1,200,000 minimum monthly salaries, under direct contracts it may purchase goods and services that do not exceed 1,000 monthly salaries in value;

(2) Loan agreements: inter-agency administrative contracts, professional, scientific and technological services, and evident emergencies and;

(3) Non-award: Whenever bidding is not awarded for reasons such as: lack of proposals submitted, when the bids do not meet the terms of reference or specifications, when there is only one bidder, when products originating in or destined to agriculture or livestock breeding are offered through legally organized commodities exchanges, and in contracts executed by state (government) entities for the rendering of health services.

In July 2007 the Colombian government issued Law 1150 which is an amendment to Law 80. The following are the most important changes to Law 80:

(1)   Sets out four principles for contracting with the government via: (i) public tender, (ii) short list (iii) competitive examinations and (iv) direct contracting.
(2)   Provides that the specifications should include the methodology for risk sharing within the contract.
(3)   Develops the principle of objective selection, stating the criteria of how the contractor will be chosen. It eliminates experience, financial capacity, and organizational capacity as requirements for selection. These conditions will be taken into consideration for scoring purposes.
(4) Expands the possibilities of checking the conditions of the bidders through a National Bidders Registry (Registro Unico Empresarial or RUE).
(5)   Requires the application of sound fiscal and functional principles when contracting with the State in addition to the rules already established by the State.
(6)   Sets parameters for extension or adding up to 60 percent to concession contracts for public works regardless of the amount of investment.

Foreign individuals or companies not domiciled in Colombia or foreign private legal entities without a branch in Colombia that are interested in government contracts must appoint an agent or legal representative, domiciled in Colombia, who is duly authorized to bid on and execute the contracts as well as to represent the foreign enterprise in and out of court. They also must provide a copy of their registration with the corresponding registry in their country of origin and submit documents proving their constitution or incumbency whichever is the case. This law applies to direct sales or international tenders.

The FTA’s Government Procurement Chapter provides significant opportunities for U.S. companies to supply their goods and services to the Colombian government with strong procedures that apply to the conduct of the procurement. At the same time, the agreement’s government procurement rules ensure that certain U.S. business sectors – such as small businesses or textile companies bidding on Department of Defense procurement – continue to receive the same protections they have in other agreements, and also ensure that U.S. environmental and labor safeguards will be maintained. For more in depth information refer to the U.S. Trade Representative’s U.S.-Colombia Trade Agreement webpage.

As a general rule, all individuals and legal entities wishing to enter into contracts with state entities must register with the chamber of commerce in their jurisdiction in order to be qualified, classified, and rated in accordance with the provisions of Law 80.

Although Law 80 has made the government contracting system more dynamic, Colombia is still not a signatory to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) though they act as an observer to the GPA. There have been frequent, legitimate complaints of a lack of transparency and rule changes during the award of major government contracts.

Colombia is still struggling to refine the requirements of Law 80, which calls for open bidding in public tenders. Attempts are being made to amend the law to clarify procedures. Despite the law, transparency, fairness, and truly competitive bidding conditions in many tenders remain uncertain. The Colombian government is also resorting to auctions for the purchase of high tech or complex equipment or medicines. These factors continue to be significant market access barriers. U.S. companies interested in public sector contracts should obtain legal counsel in Colombia and contact the U.S. Commercial Service for assistance and possible advocacy.

Colombian military contracts above a certain amount (more than US$ 1 million for equipment and more than US$5 million for ammunition) require the foreign company to offer an “offset” proposal. Contact the U.S. Commercial Service for further information about this requirement.
Because of the FTA U.S. firms are given national treatment and for all federal government tenders the U.S. companies are required to be treated the same as Colombian companies bidding on the tender.

Multilateral Development Banks (World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank)
The Commercial Service maintains Commercial Liaison Offices in each of the main Multilateral Development Banks, including the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. These institutions lend billions of dollars in developing countries on projects aimed at accelerating economic growth and social development by reducing poverty and inequality, improving health and education, and advancing infrastructure development. The Commercial Liaison Offices help American businesses learn how to get involved in bank-funded projects, and advocate on behalf of American bidders. Learn more by contacting the Commercial Liaison Offices to the World Bank.