Colombian Minister of Finance Juan Carlos Echeverry said he is studying ways to stem a rally by the peso this year that has outstripped gains by every other currency.
Colombia should use a “diverse set of instruments” to halt the gains, protect jobs and help bring the unemployment rate below 9 percent by the end of the year, Echeverry said, without specifying what steps the government was considering.
“My first task is to maintain Colombian jobs,” Echeverry said during an interview on Friday in Cartagena, where he was attending a meeting of business leaders at the Summit of the Americas. “If the exchange rate stays too strong for too long then definitely I am worried. Definitely, I think we can do more.”
The peso has strengthened 9.2 percent this year to 1,775.5 per US dollar, more than all 171 currencies tracked by Bloomberg and compared with a 1.3 percent gain for Brazil’s real.
Central Bank of Colombia President Jose Dario Uribe said on Friday that he would like to see a weaker peso too, while Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has repeatedly complained of the damage the stronger currency is inflicting on the Andean nation’s manufacturers and farmers.
Brazil, which has a jobless rate of 5.7 percent, half of Colombia’s 11.9 percent, has increased import tariffs to defend local industry and raised taxes on foreign investment to weaken the real. Last month, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff extended a 6 percent tax on foreign loans and bonds issued abroad to include lending with a maturity of as much as five years, to shield Brazil from what she called a “monetary tsunami.”
Colombia’s government has kept its economy more open because it is benefiting from record levels of foreign investment and credit growth of more than 20 percent. Echeverry expects GDP to expand 5 percent or more this year, after increasing 5.9 percent last year, its fastest pace since 2007.
The peso has rallied after policy makers raised interest rates nine times since the start of last year, bucking a global trend for lower borrowing costs.
The central bank has since taken action to weaken the currency, vowing to purchase a minimum US$20 million daily in the spot market until at least Aug. 4.
The government is also avoiding bringing US dollars into the country to ease pressure on the peso. State oil company Ecopetrol SA will make its first two dividend payments for last year to the government this month and July in pesos and the following two abroad, Echeverry said.