Colombia is wary of China’s growing investor interest, despite the need for new economic partners due to the lack of progress on a U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), a U.S. diplomatic cable released on Wikileaks revealed earlier this month.
In a March 30, 2009, cable to Washington released by the whistleblower website, the charge de affairs of the U.S. embassy in Beijing, Dan Picutta, outlined Colombia’s suspicion of China’s motivations for investing and fears of their lax labor and environmental standards.
According to Picutta, Alejandro Ossa, Beijing director of Proexport, a government aligned agency that promotes Colombian exports and tourism abroad, suspected that Chinese interest in Colombia is driven primarily by a desire to expand their influence in Latin America. The magnitude of this objective is noted by China entering into deals without a strong economic benefit and without making many demands, unlike the U.S.
Ossa also said that Colombia resents that human rights issues have been a major impediment in the U.S.-Colombia FTA, while many believe that human rights were largely ignored during Secretary Clinton’s visit to Beijing.
Colombia is interested in Chinese investment particularly in infrastructure, chemicals, automobile plants and consumer electronics, the Colombian official told the U.S. embassy. Bogota is less interested in mining and hydrocarbons because they are “suspicious of China’s environmental and labor practices and unwilling to make concessions on those fronts,” revealed the cable.
Colombia is not willing to enter into a FTA with China because the two countries’ products compete. Additionally, Ossa told Picutta that Colombia is not “willing to be walked all over” by China “like Africa and Venezuela.”
Despite the Latin American countries’ apparent reluctance, former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe hosted the third China-Latin America Entrepreneurs Summit in November 2009, a signal of Colombia’s interest in “beefing up its economic relations with China,” according to Ossa.
Chinese investment grew 114.4% in 2009 when the cable was written. 2010 statistics have not yet been released.