BARRIO (Business Insider) – Colombia’s top export is about to shift from oil to cocaine, according to a recent note from Bloomberg Economics.
The shift comes as Colombian President Gustavo Petro keeps a lenient policy towards the coca crop industry in place that dates back to 2013, when the cocaine industry generated just $2.2 billion in export revenues, according to Bloomberg estimates.
Fast forward to 2022, and Colombia’s cocaine industry generated an estimated $18.2 billion in export revenues, just behind oil export revenue of $19.1 billion. With the country’s oil exports dropping 30% in the first half of this year, and its cocaine industry still growing steadily, Bloomberg estimates that 2023 will be the year when Colombia’s cocaine revenues outpace revenues from oil.
Colombia, which is the world’s largest producer of the drug, has seen its cocaine production jump to its highest level since 1991. The country produced 1,738 tons of the drug in 2022, with a total street value of $193 billion.
“From a purely economic standpoint, higher cocaine production and exports have supported short-term activity, domestic demand and external accounts,” Bloomberg economist Felpi Hernandez said.
Instead of attempting to eradicate coca bush farms, as it did in the past, the Colombian government is instead targeting exporters and laboratories that turn the coca leaf into cocaine. That’s led to a surge in crop yields for coca bushes in the past few years, with 230,028 hectares of the plant being cultivated in 2022.
As the country’s drug war shifts from the growers to the producers, the growers are getting more efficient.
“More bushes are reaching their full potential. Producers are also investing in irrigation and fertilizers to boost output and productivity,” Hernandez said. “The average crop yield rose steadily from 4.3 tons of coca leaves per hectare in 2013 to 7.0 in 2020.”
Colombia’s illicit cocaine business represented 5.3% of the country’s GDP last year, Hernandez estimates.