By Carlos Vargas
CARTAGENA, Colombia, April 16 (Reuters) - Colombia’s government has cut its economic growth forecast for 2015 to between 3.5 percent and 4 percent, Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas said on Thursday, down from its previous estimate of 4.2 percent due to the sharp fall in oil prices.
Colombia’s economy has grown faster than most South American peers in recent years, helped by improving security that has drawn billions of dollars in foreign investment, but the halving of oil prices last year has slashed income from its top export.
Cardenas, speaking at a gathering of pension funds in the coastal city of Cartagena, said oil price volatility meant it was not feasible to set a single target figure for economic expansion this year until first quarter growth was calculated.
“It’s a reality that the economy is exposed to a very strong shock from oil prices. The prudent thing is to speak of a range of between 3.5 percent and 4 percent for the growth of the Colombian economy before giving an exact estimate again,” he said.
Global crude oil prices have tumbled from around $106 per barrel last June, to around $55.
The central bank estimates, separately, that the economy will grow around 3.6 percent and in the minutes of its monetary policy meeting last month, it said this could be lowered.
The lower figure did not come as a surprise after President Juan Manuel Santos gave the same lower 3.5 to 4 percent growth estimate last week. It was also the government’s second cut to its original 2015 growth forecast of 4.8 percent.
The economy of the Andean country, with a large coal mining and coffee sector, grew 4.6 percent last year and has expanded at 4 percent or more every year since 2010.
Colombia is Latin America’s fourth biggest oil producer with output of around 1 million barrels per day. (Writing by Peter Murphy; Editing by Lisa Shumaker & Shri Navaratnam)