Interview: President Juan Manuel Santos
What are the country’s economic priorities following the peace agreement?
PRESIDENT JUAN MANUEL SANTOS: The peace agreement with FARC creates great growth opportunities for the economy. We will be able to better develop rural areas and can also expand the depth of our agricultural capacity. The treaty also advances the enormous tourist potential that Colombia possesses throughout its entire territory, and companies will be able to explore markets and areas that were previously closed. It has been demonstrated that countries that achieve peace agreements have significant economic benefits. Colombia will be no exception. The dividend of peace for Colombia, according to several independent studies, could be between one and two additional GDP growth points.
Colombia is successfully facing the challenge of making the transition from an oil-rich economy to a diversified economy. This will bring equal opportunities to all Colombians, including the members of FARC, who will enter into a programme of reincorporation into the civil and economic life of the country. Furthermore, Colombia is going through a real revolution in its infrastructure. The country is in a construction phase, and the economic benefits of these investments will be recognised for many years. Infrastructure projects, particularly the 4G road concession programme, are structured in such a way that private sector investment resources multiply and those of the public sector complement them with long-term planning.
How is Colombia progressing in its goal to become Latin America’s most educated nation by 2025?
SANTOS: Since the beginning of my tenure we have worked to improve the coverage and quality of education. Our commitment is clear and proven. Free education until grade 11 was decreed, and we made education the first item on the national budget, above all other sectors. We have made significant progress in areas such as the extension of the school day to enrolling more children — a strategy that seeks to keep students longer in educational facilities, known as Jornada Única. Today in Colombia more than 690,000 students can attend school eight hours per day.
In the latest Programme for International Student Assessment, a test which aims to evaluate education systems, Colombia was one of only three countries out of 71 to improve in all areas. Access to higher education rose from 37% to 50%, and we expect this number to reach 57% by 2018. We are implementing a very ambitious infrastructure plan to solve the deficit of schools throughout the country, by which we aim to build in four years what would normally be built in 80 years, a total of 30,000 new classrooms. Likewise, we are working on excellence programmes for our teachers, expanding bilingualism throughout the country and delivering more than 2m computers and smart tablets with internet connections for students.
How can the public and private sector work together to implement the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?
SANTOS: Colombia is an environmental powerhouse, with the most biodiversity per sq km on earth. We had the honour to co-lead the Sustainable Development Objectives part of the Agenda 2030, and are committed to their implementation. In addition, peace is a great enabler of private investment in renewable energies and sustainable development. Colombia has five areas of focus namely, biodiversity, climate change, sustainable production and consumption, conservation of the seas and water management.
In the tax reform implemented earlier this year we created green taxes to discourage the use of fossil fuels and plastic bags. We are also fulfilling part of our commitments to the COP21 UN Conference on Climate Change, which set out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C.
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