Interview: María Ángela Holguín Cuéllar
Given recent free trade agreements (FTAs) with the US and the EU, is Colombia prioritising bilateral rather than regional trade agreements?
MARIA ANGELAHOLGUÍN CUELLAR: One does not preclude the other. Over the last few years, Colombia has negotiated FTAs, some of which have been ratified, and is currently negotiating bilateral trade agreements with the US, the EU, Canada, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), the Central American Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador), the Republic of Korea, Japan, Panama, Costa Rica, Turkey and Israel.
In parallel to this, we are committed to regional integration, having revived relations with our neighbours and strengthened contacts with the rest of the American nations. We work constantly on our relations with neighbouring countries to allow for the dynamic flows of our populations across borders. We have reached an agreement on the Mataje River Basin, a key maritime border with Ecuador. With Central America and the Caribbean, we have strengthened our cooperation in security as well as in cultural exchanges and the promotion of bilingualism. We have been very active in all regional and sub-regional mechanisms, such as the OAS, CELAC, Tuxla, UNASUR, MERCOSUR, the IberoAmerican Summit, and the Association of Caribbean States, to mention a few. We have deepened our relations with our partners in the US, Canada, EFTA, and the EU moving towards issues of development, trade, investment, energy, food security, infrastructure, innovation, science and technology, education, sustainable mining, etc. One of our key motivations in reaching out to traditional and new partners is to improve conditions for new opportunities for Colombians.
What objectives is Colombia pursuing in its first presidency of the Pacific Alliance?
HOLGUÍN: The Pacific Alliance is the result of pragmatism and hard work by the four nations who decided to take steps to consolidate their integration and improve their capacities to compete in the international system.
During Colombia’s 2013 pro-tempore presidency of the Alliance, we will focus on implementing all the agreements aimed at establishing an efficient and effective working framework to enhance cooperation, trade, investment and the movement of nationals between the member states, as well as reaching out to other regions and groups. We will be promoting the four members in a variety of arenas such as tourism, for which we will issue joint visas, as well as producing combined campaigns and packages.
The Alliance has begun establishing joint offices and embassies, so far in Istanbul and Casablanca. We opened an embassy in Ghana, which will soon be fully operational, to increase our presence in Africa, and we aim to do the same in Asia. We created a fund to increase support for small and medium-sized enterprises, the environment and technology. The Alliance has received numerous requests for membership and observer status. Costa Rica and Panama are observer-candidates and can become full members once they complete FTA negotiations with all four members. Other observer nations include Australia, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Paraguay, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the US and Uruguay.
How is Colombia pursuing commercial and investment relationships with other regions?
HOLGUÍN: Our Ministry supports the efforts of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism, and Proexport, which oversees investment and commercial policies and promotion. We have engaged in joint visits abroad, targeting emerging economies, to present Colombia’s opportunities for investment and trade policies. During these tours, we introduce portfolios of our energy and infrastructure sectors, which are key to promoting growth and social development. We have participated in meetings with delegations from East Asian, South American, Arab and African states and promoted exchanges with the business sectors of all these regions.
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