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Colombia levies higher tax on sugary drinks, junk foods

AFP – Colombia began levying a tax on sugary drinks and ultraprocessed foods, a policy designed to reduce soaring rates of obesity.

The tax, approved by Congress at the end of 2022 and upheld by the Constitutional Court in the face of multiple legal challenges, will scale up from 10 per cent through the rest of 2023, to 15 per cent in 2024 and on to 20 per cent in 2025.

“This is not to take money from you. This is so that you choose healthy foods and improve the health of the Colombian people,” Colombian President Gustavo Petro posted on his account on X, formerly Twitter.

Products high in salt and trans fats, like cold cuts, chocolates and puffed grain cereals, are affected by the new tax as well as sodas, processed juices and energy drinks blamed for worsening diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The sugar industry in Colombia employs 286,000 people, and after the new tax was approved sugar barons hit back with multiple lawsuits.

But the Constitutional Court this year ruled that the tax “does not infringe principles of equality, economic freedom or free markets”.

In 2015, some 56 per cent of Colombian adults between 18 and 64 years of age were overweight, according to official figures.

Several other Latin American nations have levied taxes on sugary drinks as a public health policy. Mexico imposed a MXN1 surcharge on each litre of sugary drinks in 2014, and Ecuador followed suit in 2016 and Peru in 2018 with their own higher taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages.

Sodas on display at a convenience store. PHOTO: AFP
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