Colombia offers a full range of sales channels to consumers, with various distribution methods depending on the type of product offered. These methods range from traditional wholesalers selling to traditional shops which then sell to the public, to more sophisticated methods, such as large department stores and hypermarkets located in malls, which are increasingly popular outlets.
While most imported items, especially capital equipment and raw materials, are still purchased through agents and distributors, some large domestic manufacturing companies import these items directly. Furthermore, some major distributors, wholesalers and end-users are opening purchasing offices and warehouses in the United States and contacting suppliers and manufacturers via the Internet, thus avoiding intermediaries in Colombia.
Consumer products from around the globe are available in Colombia at acceptable price levels. Under-invoicing of goods (usually of Chinese origin) and contraband articles sold at deep discounts remain a problem for legitimate retailers. Colombian customs restrict Chinese-origin goods that pass through the Panama Canal to a single port of entry: Barranquilla. The Colombian government has attained encouraging results in its effort to reduce contraband. Free trade zones and bonded warehouses are commonly used for imported merchandise and processing of export-oriented goods.
Modifications to the Free Trade Zone legislation took effect in November 2007 and offer interesting benefits. The eventual implementation of the MUISCA (the name was chosen by the Colombian Customs Agency in honor of pre-Colombian tribes) electronic customs system will address contraband and invoicing issues.