If the ongoing peace talks between Colombia’s government and the country’s main rebel group FARC resulted in a negotiated end to Colombia’s 49-year armed conflict, then investment in the country from Europe would increase significantly, according to former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.
Speaking on Wednesday at a conference in Paris organized by Proexport Colombia – the body that promotes the country’s industries abroad – de Villepin said that Colombia now has responsible politicians who want to open the door to international markets.
A free trade agreement (FTA) between Colombia and the European Union (EU) came into force on August 1. It came just over a year after the FTA with the United States, which took effect on May 15, 2012. The FTA with the US has been controversial, blamed by farmers during nationwide protests in August and Septemebr as being a root cause for the lowering of prices that resulted in them selling some of their crops for a loss.
Colombia and Peru are the only countries in The Andean Community – a customs union comprising Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador – who have signed FTAs with both the EU and the USA. The Andean Community has almost 100 million inhabitants. By way of contrast, the EU has some 503 million inhabitants.
‘Business Matchmaking Forum’ in Paris and Frankfurt
The Proexport event at which de Villepin spoke – called a “Business Matchmaking Forum” – has brought together 250 Colombian and European companies in the cities of Paris and Frankfurt to “provide Colombian entrepreneurs with the opportunity to leverage the free trade agreement… for agribusiness, apparel, and manufacturing products,” according to the event website.
“The context is the FTA between the EU and Colombia,” said Camilo Martinez, head of Proexport Colombia in France. “Colombia represents an enormous opportunity… it needs to develop its ports, airports, rail network, as well as kilometers and kilometers of roads.”
Indeed, infrastructure is one of the key themes of the Proexport event. A group of technicians from Colombia’s transport ministry has travelled to France in order to study the urban transport systems in Paris, Lyon and Marseilles.
Colombia’s Vice-Minister for Infrastructure, Javier Hernandez, will meet on Thursday with 20 investors from companies like BNP and ALSTOM to present projects relating to Colombia’s infrastructure.
According to economics website Portafolio, the Colombian government plans to increase investment so that it reaches $10 billion in 2014 and $30 billion by 2021. Portafolio also estimates that Colombia has increased its exports by five times in the last few years.
‘Colombia is now an attractive place to invest for EU companies’
Martinez claims that Colombia is now an attractive place to invest for small and medium-sized European businesses thanks to the appearance of a burgenoning middle class interested in finer products like “wine and cheese.”
The United States has traditionally been Colombia’s main business partner, but the EU – particularly western European countries like France, Spain, Germany and the UK – is now becoming a major player in Colombia’s economy. In 2012, Colombia’s exports to the EU increased by 2.1% compared to the year before. In 2012, the EU’s imports totaled $5.75 billion.
The European Commission forecast at the time of the FTA agreement in August that Colombian imports to the EU will increase by nearly 10% in the next few years, adding 1.3% to the country’s GDP growth.
Indeed, the president of Proexport, Maria Claudia Lacouture, claimed to have identified 818 Colombian products with “export potential” towards the EU.
Colombia is the third-largest economy in South America after Brazil and Argentina, and is the world’s fourth-largest provider of exotic fruits and second-largest provider of cut flowers.
The government are currently involved in peace talks with rebel group FARC in Havana, Cuba. On November 18 they will have been running for a year. While an accord has been reached regarding land reform, no agreements have been made on the issue of the FARC’s political participation, drug trafficking, the practicalities of the end of the armed conflict and the rights of the victims.