Under the new administration of President Ivan Duque Marquez, Colombia is steadily moving toward peace and development, said the country’s top diplomat during a visit to Korea last week.
Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo Garcia said that Bogota looks for greater collaboration with Seoul ahead of the potential visit of its leader next year.
“The Colombian government attaches great significance to our bilateral relations that were elevated in 2011 to the ‘association of strategic cooperation,’” he told local journalists at the Colombian Embassy in Seoul on Dec. 18.
During a meeting with Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, the two sides exchanged ideas on a broad range of issues, and agreed to work on a future visit of Duque to Korea in the second half of next year.
South Korea is the only Asian nation with which Colombia has a free trade agreement, noted the Colombian envoy, conceding that more work can be done to improve the sanitary approval process for Colombian agricultural produce.
Bogota and Seoul entered into a free trade agreement in 2016. Afterward, bilateral trade topped $1.25 billion last year, according to the diplomatic mission. The accord eliminates tariffs on over 200 products with enhanced health and environmental standards and efforts to remove nontariff barriers.
Last year, Colombian exports to Korea -- mainly coffee, flowers, other agricultural products, shrimp, pitahaya (or dragon fruit) and coal -- reached $457 million, while Korean exports to Colombia -- such as electronics, cars and heavy construction equipment and materials -- reached $791 million, the embassy said.
According to Colombian Ambassador to Korea Juan Pablo Rodriguez Barragan, the bilateral ties since 2016 have focused on the five key areas of regional development, transportation and mobility, information and communication technology, industrial development and addressing a post-conflict environment.
The Colombian minister’s visit here, meanwhile, focused on strengthening cooperation in infrastructure, creative industries, security, electronic government and public transparency. In particular, he elaborated to the Korean side on ongoing and future projects in his country, including those related to the Bogota Metro construction, agribusiness, smart city development and cybersecurity.
On Dec. 11 in the Peruvian capital of Lima, the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Korea International Cooperation Agency and member states of the Pacific Alliance held the first Republic of Korea-Pacific Alliance Cooperation Forum, aiming to tap into new areas of mutual cooperation. Comprising Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru -- free trade agreement partners with Korea except Mexico -- the institution represents a rising economic bloc in Central and South America facing the Pacific Ocean and an emerging market for Korean businesses. The alliance’s commercial foreign policy includes strengthening ties with Asian economic powerhouses.
Korea, currently an observer state, is in the process of negotiations to become an associate member, joining Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Singapore.
“The Korean side expressed support for Colombia’s desire to join the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum,” the foreign minister said, adding that Bogota and Seoul -- members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development -- will enhance cooperation in areas of mutual concern.
“Our relations are very special due to our participation in the 1950-53 Korean War,” he noted, referring to Colombia’s dispatch of 5,000 troops, with 213 killed in action and 448 wounded. The war was the first foreign armed conflict the South American nation participated in.
In July in Incheon, a memorial park for Colombia’s fallen and veteran soldiers of the war was inaugurated with the assistance of Asiana Airlines, the Colombian Army, Korea’s Ministry of Patriots and War Veterans and the Republic of Korea Army’s 17th Infantry Division.
The minister expressed appreciation to Seoul for supporting Duque’s policy of implementing the peace process involving the now disbanded guerilla organization Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, as well as Bogota’s support for the denuclearization of and peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Holmes Trujillo met with Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, and both agreed to continue technical cooperation between the Unification Ministry and Colombian Agency for Reintegration, covering professional development, an economic partnership, information systems and the institutionalization of cooperation channels.
He also met with representatives of the Korean International Cooperation Agency, Export-Import Bank of Korea and Colombia-Korea Parliamentary Friendship Association at the National Assembly.
By Joel Lee (email@example.com