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With the election of Iván Duque as new President in June 2018, Colombia should leave behind a period of relative slowdown, with certain economic sectors operating in a wait-and-see mode until the remote possibility of a leftist win had passed. In the end, Duque obtained a comfortable 54% of the vote, but his rival Gustavo Petro’s 42% – largely obtained by amassing the youth vote – is the largest a left-wing candidate has ever achieved in Colombia.

With the electoral period and associated political risk out of the way, economic and business activity is set to rise in the second half of 2018 with some companies and family-run conglomerates entering the market and the capital markets activity picking up with debt issuance, equity offerings and M&A deals. Plans for several infrastructure projects that had been put on ice due to the possible ramifications of the corruption scandal involving Odebrecht, are being re-activated. Fears have receded since the government was compelled (in February 2017) to terminate the contract for the $1.1bn Ruta Del Sol 2 highway project, after the Brazilian construction giant admitted paying a bribe to obtain the concession. The so-called fourth-generation (4G) public-private partnership (PPP) infrastructure programme is starting to come to a close since the National Infrastructure Agency (ANI) has awarded nearly all of the 33 planned road-concessions. Projects in the health and education sectors are being planned, as well as in urban transportation – most notably the prospective development of the Bogotá Rail Metro.

Despite economic challenges, such as high public debt and low productivity, Colombia is in an enviable position compared to other peers in the region. The Colombian peso has been one of the best performers in emerging markets, brushing off the volatility that has affected Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. Inflation is being kept within the central bank’s target of 3% plus/minus 1%. The economy has been recovering from the slump in oil prices of the last years and gross domestic product (GDP) for 2018 is expected to reach 2.5% and increase to 3% in 2019.

The Colombian legal market continues to register the advance of firms challenging the dominance of the so-called traditional big four full-service firms – Brigard & Urrutia, Gómez-Pinzón Abogados (GPA), Philippi Prietocarrizosa Ferrero DU & Uría and Posse Herrera Ruiz. If their standing remains to some degree undisputed, it is notable that their paths are increasingly divergent: Brigard furthering its claim to be undisputed "national champion"; the former Prietocarrizosa opting for the route of regionalization with the PPU project; PHR testing the waters of a relationship with Spanish firm Cuatrecasas; and GPA reorienting in the wake of the departure of former name-partner Eduardo Zuleta and also (in conjunction with its Chilean, Mexican and Peruvian colleagues), looking to increase the profile and activity of the regional Affinitas alliance. Among the chasing pack of international firms, led by Baker McKenzie S.A.S., are Dentons Cardenas & Cardenas and increasingly DLA Piper Martinez Beltrán both of which have thoroughly shaken up specific areas of the market with high profile hirings. Five members of Norton Rose Fulbright’s energy and natural resources department, led by Jorge Neher moved to Dentons Cardenas & Cardenas, including Hernán Rodríguez and Santiago González. Meanwhile DLA Piper Martinez Beltrán hit the headlines of the national press engaging the services of Juan Manuel De La Rosa from Baker McKenzie S.A.S., Felipe Quintero from Garrigues and José Miguel Mendoza a former head of the Colombian public utilities supervisor.

Garrigues and Holland & Knight continue to grow in new areas, whilst the joint adventure of CMS RodrĂ­guez-Azuero and Contexto Legal Abogados has been short lived, and the firms have parted ways.

In the local market, full-service mid-size firms such as Lloreda Camacho & Co., Palacios Lleras and Muñoz Tamayo & Asociados continue to abound. Whereas highly specialised firms and boutiques continue to boom with the likes of Suescún Abogados and Zuleta Abogados Asociados S.A.S in arbitration, Durán & Osorio Abogados Asociados in construction, Godoy Córdoba member of Littler Global in labour, OlarteMoure in IP, Ibarra Abogados in international trade and Archila Abogados in competition.

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