Interview: María Ángela Holguín
To what extent is Colombia benefiting from its membership in the Pacific Alliance?
MARÍA ÁNGELA HOLGUÍN: Colombia, together with the other members of the Pacific Alliance (Mexico, Peru and Chile), works with conviction and commitment to strengthen this pragmatic economic and trade integration mechanism. In recent years, the Pacific Alliance has been able to contribute to the socioeconomic transformation of its member states and achieve tangible and significant results in modernising our countries and in the welfare of our citizens. The four member states combined constitute the world’s eighth-largest economy and a population of 210m. Thanks to regional integration policies, our citizens now have the opportunity to overcome poverty, increase their income and obtain a higher level of education.
How can Colombia diversify its foreign trade?
HOLGUÍN: Colombia currently has trade agreements with most OECD countries; all Latin American ones; the US, Canada and the EU; the European Free Trade Association; and, since 2014, South Korea. We are also in the process of negotiating an economic partnership agreement (EPA) with Japan. Through these agreements, we hope to open new markets across the globe, promote foreign investment, and improve our domestic productivity and global competitiveness. In conjunction with the OECD, we have established a road map for our accession, which we hope to complete in the coming years. This will raise the living standards of our citizens and aims to position Colombia at the same level as high-income economies. To achieve greater economic integration, Colombia will continue to implement strengthening policies to consolidate its international relations. We will continue to cooperate with our traditional partners, with whom we already have free trade agreements, in order to improve our export competitiveness. Across the globe, specifically with the signing of the free trade agreement with South Korea, we have created closer links with Central Asia and Asia Pacific, providing new markets for our businesses and citizens in regions with high growth and development potential. It is true that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in response to recent economic uncertainty, has revised some of its priorities. However, our foreign policy priorities remain largely the same: serving our citizens; ensuring their welfare by diversifying the range of possibilities and trade opportunities with our partners; deepening relations with new partners in Africa, Central Asia and the Asia Pacific; and promoting the interests of Colombia in regional and multilateral forums.
What potential is there for new strategic agreements with other Asian countries?
HOLGUÍN: In 2014 we ratified a treaty with South Korea, an important partner and friend of Colombia. Our agriculture and agro-industrial sectors have benefited positively from this. We are now negotiating an EPA with Japan, and in the coming months we will undertake a feasibility study with China to identify sectors and benefits in the event of a closer trade relationship with the world’s second-largest economy. Some of the cooperation topics discussed with China include education, agriculture, trade, culture and the financial sector, as well as finalising agreements to enable important infrastructure projects.
How do you assess regional relations on security?
HOLGUÍN: Colombia works side by side with other Latin American and Caribbean countries to strengthen their institutional capabilities and combat transnational problems like the drug trade. Our multilateral cooperation has a positive impact, not only on individual countries in the region, but also on the international community as a whole. In response to specific requests, we have extended our cooperative efforts to include some countries in Africa and Asia.
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