The Economist

Bridging the gaps

September 15--A creaking transport network is holding back Colombia’s growth. How fast can Juan Manuel Santos improve it?, 246458

15 de septiembre de 2011

ARTICULATED lorries must take turns to pass one at a time over the narrow steel bridge spanning the Sumapaz river in the town of Melgar, south-west of Bogotá, Colombia’s capital. The bridge carries the main road from the Pacific port of Buenaventura to central and northern Colombia. Transporters loaded with Great Wall pickups coming from China cross paths with coking coal on its way to the United States, Peru and Mexico. This bottleneck will be eased later this month, when a 4.5km (2.8-mile) dual-carriageway bypass with wider bridges will open. But across the country the “monumental backwardness” of Colombia’s transport network—as Juan Martín, president of the Colombian Infrastructure Chamber, puts it—is perhaps the biggest obstacle to economic growth.

The costs of Colombia’s deficient infrastructure—which came 79th of 139 countries’ networks ranked by the World Economic Forum—are massive. Moving goods from inland cities to a port can be more expensive than shipping them from the port to a market halfway around the world. Gerardo Duque, a lorry driver, says driving the 410km from Bogotá to the south-western city of Cali can take 14 hours “on one of the better routes”. As a result, exporting a standard shipping container costs $1,770 in Colombia, against $1,480 in Argentina. Luis Carlos Villegas, the head of the national industry group, likens the infrastructure deficit to a 10-15% tax. And government planners say that resolving it could raise annual GDP growth by a full percentage point.
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