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Colombia continued to suffer the effects of a slow economy and its GDP was lower than projected in 2016, due to continuing low oil and commodity prices and depressed demand from China for raw materials. It is however expected that Colombia’s economy will pick up in 2017 and 2018 thanks to stronger external demand and a pick-up in agricultural production as the impact of the cyclical El Niño effect lessen once more.

The construction, infrastructure and financial services sectors remain key economic drivers, especially since consumer spending still shows signs of weakness, a circumstance exacerbated by high inflation and an unfavourable dollar exchange rate. A drop in export-generated revenue was another negative. In this scenario, it remains to be seen how the corruption scandal involving Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht will affect the country, although President Santos’ immediate addressing and acknowledgement of the issue undoubtedly had a positive effect in limiting the fallout from a scandal that has shocked many by its scale.

Public expenditure is expected to play a vital role in boosting demand, in a pre-election year. The Central Bank has taken action in an effort to control higher-than-expected inflation, raising interest rates in early 2016, but cuts have resumed even though inflation remains above the target range, and it is expected that this policy will continue. Structural reforms in health, education and infrastructure sectors, and the reduction of levels of informal employment constitute long-term challenges if the country wishes improve its competitiveness. Fiscal consolidation is also a necessary step and the government has introduced comprehensive tax reforms in an effort to increase revenue, stimulate growth and address social challenges.

In terms of the legal market, the dominance of the traditional ‘top four’ – Brigard & Urrutia, Gómez-Pinzón Zuleta, Posse Herrera Ruiz and Philippi Prietocarrizosa Ferrero DU & Uría (formerly PrietoCarrizosa) – is perhaps, no longer to be taken for granted, with Baker McKenzie S.A.S. in particular, claiming a place at the top table. The arrival (and/or consolidation) of other international firms, including Dentons Cardenas & Cardenas, DLA Piper Martinez Beltran, Garrigues, Norton Rose Fulbright and most recently, CMS Rodríguez Azuero Contexto Legal Abogados, has hiked competition for qualified and experienced talent, and is increasingly altering the dynamics of the local market. Nevertheless, there remains a significant number of high quality local firms with particular strength in a range of market sectors, including Lloreda Camacho & Co., Sanclemente Fernández Abogados S.A., Durán & Osorio Abogados Asociados, Palacios Lleras and Muñoz Tamayo & Asociados; and specialist boutiques Zuleta Abogados Asociados S.A.S, Suescún Abogados, Archila Abogados, Godoy & Hoyos Abogados SAS and Ibarra Abogados, among others.

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