BOGOTA – Japan has agreed to strengthen its ties with the Pacific Alliance, a forum for economic cooperation comprised of Colombia and three other Latin American countries, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after talks with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
The two leaders also agreed Tuesday to “accelerate negotiations” toward concluding a free trade agreement, Abe told a joint news conference.
The Pacific Alliance was created in June 2012 between Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Chile. Japan has observer status with the group, which it sees as having potential as a supplier of natural resources and foodstuffs.
“We hope to make a major advance in the relationship between Japan and Latin America” through cooperation with the Pacific Alliance and other groups, said Abe, the first Japanese prime minister to visit Colombia.
Santos said Japan and the Pacific Alliance “maintain complementarity.”
The agreement to speed up bilateral FTA negotiations was reflected in a joint statement issued after their talks. Japan and Colombia began FTA negotiations in December 2012 but have failed to narrow differences over removing or reducing tariffs.
In the statement, Abe and Santos “reaffirmed the importance of free trade” and “confirmed the aim of accelerating the negotiations to reach an agreement as soon as possible.”
At the news conference, the Colombian president called Japan his country’s most important Asian investor and said necessary steps are being taken toward implementing an investment accord.
Japan has completed its domestic procedures for an investment deal and the matter now rests with Colombia, Abe told a meeting with local business representatives in Bogota later in the day.
In the statement, the two leaders welcomed bilateral cooperation in the field of intellectual property, including the early start of the Patent Prosecution Highway pilot project, which is designed to expedite the process of acquiring patents, the statement said.
Abe expressed support for Colombia’s policy of building a fiber-optic network with the help of Japanese firms.
The prime minister and Santos agreed on the need to reform the U.N. Security Council and to show “respect for the rule of law,” according to the statement.
Abe is likely to have raised the issue of respect for the rule of law due to Japan’s concerns over what it views as China’s growing assertiveness at sea and in airspace in its claims to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, known as Diaoyu in China.
Abe said he briefed Santos about the Cabinet decision to re-interpret the Constitution to enable the right to collective self-defense.
“With the security situation getting increasingly severe, no nation can maintain and achieve peace and safety alone,” Abe said.
Santos said he shares a desire for peace.
Abe is on a tour of Latin America that has already taken him to Mexico as well as Trinidad and Tobago. He will travel to Chile and Brazil before returning home Monday.