For years on end, the Colombian Ministry of Finance (MinHacienda), during its various tax reforms, has tried to follow the lead of the educated world and place extra taxes on drinks that are high in sugar — the ones that 99% of academics will testify as to leading to all manner of health issues.
However, up until 2022, they all failed. They were previously often included within a long list of proposals and, once those proposals hit Congress, the sugary drinks would be among the proposals that were dispatched as soon as possible.
Politicians found it far more advantageous to listen to the lobbyists from the drink companies as opposed to health experts trying to protect the next generation from the ills of diabetes and more As most private companies are major donors come election time, it is easy to imagine the politicians weighing up their long term career prospects.
But last year, President Gustavo Petro finally succeeded to get taxes imposed on sugary drinks. And last night, the Constitutional Court ruled (8-0) that, as of November 1, your path to chubbiness is going to cost a little bit more.
In a perfect world the tax would 20% tomorrow. But, sadly, it will be introduced in increments through 2025.
Incredibly, in a country awash with violence and poverty, this was considered a matter for the Constitutional Court.
The excuse was that the law impinges on free trade. The reality is that the beverage companies worry more about profits than free trade — or the population’s health.
This is typical of Colombia: A company will go to any ends to protect profits. Perhaps, instead of wasting time and money on lawyers, they should have spent their cash on R&D for new healthier products.
More generally, Colombia’s courts spend far too much time discussing irrelevant matters and defending the corrupt. There are other priorities.
The tax is expected to raise $720 million USD annually by 2025 and, hopefully, these funds will be poured into educating the population as to the utter dangers in so much of the food and drink they consume. This should be concentrated in the poorer neighborhoods because it is they, especially on the coast, who suck down full-sugar sodas as if it was the very nectar of life itself. The rich are lucky as their children are well educated to the dangers. My own children’s friends would prefer to die of thirst than chug on a full sugar drink — but that is very much income related. Hopefully, if the more needy need to pay extra for their sugary fix, they may now reach a little further along the shelf for the now-cheaper alternative.
So now we have a tax that should have been imposed a decade ago and which should never have reached the highest court in the land. Will it get appealed? This is Colombia so who knows? There are many upstanding beverage companies here that will now hopefully get the message and adjust their product line.
As for the ones who only do high-sugar drinks and can’t adjust their production line?
Hopefully, they made enough for their retirement. They won’t be missed.