Colombia’s Trade Minister, Luis Guillermo Plata, is not afraid of a Venezuelan boycott of the China-Latin America summit, claiming the summit is about business, not politics.
In Hong Kong on the first leg of his China tour, Minister Plata said that he does not fear a boycott from Caracas of the third China-Latin America Business Summit, to be held in Bogota on 25 and 26 November.
“It’s not a political summit; it’s business. It is the decision of the private sector of each country whether or not they will attend. I hope many people from Venezuela come, from all parts of Latin America; we exclude no one and it’s magnificent that everyone is attending,” said Plata today.
The China-Latin America Business Summit is an important event on the Colombian agenda during this tour of China, which began today in the ex-British colony and includes stops in Peking and Dalian.
The Minister took this opportunity to relativize the freezing of trade relations between Caracas and Bogota.
“Suddenly this will oblige us to be faster and diversify markets faster,” he said.
“It is not easy to replace a business partner like Colombia – it can’t be done overnight,” Plata said. “But Colombia has begun a policy of market diversification. [This hasn’t been going on since only last week], but since 2002 when we began to negotiate trade agreements with Mercosur, Chile, Central America, the United States, Canada, and Europe.”
Direct foreign investment in China and other countries would not be inhibited by the current tension between Colombia and Venezuela, predicted the Minister.
According to his estimates, this year Colombia will attract between nine and ten billion dollars in foreign investments. This figure is lower than 2008’s record of $10.6 billion, but, says the minister, “that will remain an exceptional figure.”
“This year is nine per cent lower than the same period last year. Now, this fall is not very pronounced if you take into account that the whole world is in a financial crisis, and that investment has stopped. And on the other hand we are comparing this to the best year in Colombia’s history.”
Attracting Chinese investment is key to the Colombian delegation’s trip in order to smooth shifts in the trade balance, as 2008 along with previous years has been favorable to China. Last year they exported goods worth $4.549 billion to Colombia, and imported to the value of $443 billion.
Plata is leader of the Colombian delegation, composed of the president of the National Association of Businessmen of Colombia, Luis Carlos Villegas; the president of Proexport, María Elvira Pombo; and five businessmen. He said that “to [try to] compensate for the Colombia-China trade imbalance is unrealistic because China’s export supply is much higher than Colombia’s.”
However, he added, this could be offset by capital investments. Plata acknowledged that “Colombia is not yet a major investment destination for China,” and so the delegation would have their work cut out for them during their trip.
Plata noted that one of the major hurdles facing the delegation was bridging the gap “between reality and perception.
“In Colombia we are still struggling with a problem: perception and reality. The reality here has improved, yet there is a perception that we need more time to improve [when we already have].”