Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia, is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. With over 46 million people, Colombia is the 27th largest country in the world by population and has the second largest population of any Spanish-speaking country in the world, after Mexico.
Colombia is the United States' fourth-largest export market in Latin America behind Mexico, Brazil, and Chile. U.S. exports to Colombia from January through November 2011 were $13.1 billion, up 20% from the previous year. U.S. imports from Colombia from January through November 2011 were $20.9 billion, up 47% from 2010 due to high crude oil prices and the weak dollar. Colombia's major exports are petroleum, coal, coffee, nickel, cut flowers, and bananas. The United States is Colombia's largest trading partner, representing about 42% of Colombia's exports and 26% of its imports as of November 2011. Colombia is the United States’ sixth-largest supplier of crude oil (September 2011).
As the most industrially diverse member of the Andean Community, Colombia has five major industrial centers--Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, and Bucaramanga--each located in a distinct geographical region. Colombia's industries include mining (coal, gold, and emeralds), oil, textiles and clothing, agribusiness (cut flowers, bananas, sugarcane, and coffee), beverages, chemicals and petrochemicals, cement, construction, iron and steel products, and metalworking.
The trade weighted tariff rate is 8.9 percent, and statutory tariff rates for over 4,000 products have recently been lowered. The investment regime can be cumbersome but is generally transparent. Foreign investment receives national treatment, and 100 percent foreign ownership is allowed in most sectors. Private institutions dominate the financial sector, which remains well capitalized. Of the 12 domestic banks in operation, one is state-owned.
Property rights are generally respected, but infringements of intellectual property rights are common. The Inter-Sectoral Commission for Intellectual Property was created to coordinate agencies responsible for formulating and enforcing intellectual property laws. Despite improvements in fighting corruption and narcotics trafficking, concerns remain over criminal influence on the police, the military, and lower levels of the judiciary and civil service.
The Spanish sailed along the north coast of Colombia as early as 1500; however, their first permanent settlement, at Santa Marta, was not established until 1525. In 1549, the area was a Spanish colony with the capital at Santa Fe de Bogotá. In 1717, Bogotá became the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, which included what are now Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. The city became one of the principal administrative centers of the Spanish possessions in the New World, along with Lima and Mexico City.
During the pre-Colombian period, the area now known as Colombia was inhabited by indigenous peoples who were primitive hunters or nomadic farmers. The Chibchas, who lived in the Bogotá region, were the largest indigenous group.
The fourth largest country in South America and one of the continent's most populous nations, Colombia has substantial oil reserves and is a major producer of gold, silver, emeralds, platinum and coal.
Colombia has significant natural resources and its diverse culture reflects the indigenous Indian, Spanish and African origins of its people.
About 60% of Colombia's population are mestizos, and some one fifth are of European descent. Indigenous peoples, who account for only about 1% of today's population, live on the edge of some of the major cities and in remote areas. About 15% of the people are of mixed African and European descent.
The only South American country with both a Caribbean and a Pacific coastline, Colombia is bounded on the northwest by Panama, on the northeast by Venezuela, on the south by Ecuador and Peru, and on the southeast by Brazil.