Colombian foreign minister voices optimism over inking bilateral EPA

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

Following a meeting last September with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda referred to the South American country as “a neighbor” of Japan only separated by the Pacific.

Now the countries are working to further shrink the distance by strengthening bilateral ties, most notably in the economic field.

“We’re optimistic about (finalizing) the economic partnership agreement” between Japan and Colombia, visiting Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin told The Japan Times in an interview Feb. 23.

The foreign minister was in Japan to attend a joint study on a bilateral EPA, which President Santos and Prime Minister Noda agreed on launching last September.

“Japan is an important market for Colombia,” Holguin said, adding that there are no significant divisions at the ongoing study sessions. Preliminary studies could wrap up and discussions could move forward as early as the first half of this year, she added.

Colombia has enjoyed healthy economic growth in recent years thanks to ample foreign investment, tops among Latin American nations.

Holguin said this was possible because the government was able to cut the crime rate, including a 95 percent drop in kidnappings.

“In Colombia, we now have the opportunity to grow and develop and try things we never did,” Holguin said, touching on how the country’s oil production has grown substantially and will soon hit 1 million barrels per day.

Against this backdrop, Holguin said Colombia is pursuing an Asia-oriented policy and raising its presence in the Asia-Pacific region. The country opened an embassy in Indonesia last August and has set up trade offices elsewhere, such as Singapore.

“We are very open to investment opportunities” from Japan and Asia, the foreign minister said.

Meanwhile, Holguin said Colombia, a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council, is also eager to collaborate with Tokyo on global issues, including the eradication of narcotics-trafficking as well as bringing stability to the Middle East.

“There are many fields we can work together,” she said.

However, on the topic of reforming the U.N. Security Council, Holguin said Colombia does not support expanding the permanent membership, which Japan has promoted itself as a candidate to join along with India, Brazil and Germany.

Reform may be required to handle certain global issues, Holguin said, but it should come in the form of increasing the nonpermanent members of the Security Council or possibly extending their terms from the current two years.

Colombia next month will be hosting the Summit of the Americas for the first time.

Holguin said the country will aim to show leadership and try to reach solid agreements on regional concerns, including education, infrastructure, poverty, and natural disaster and security issues.