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Colombia strengthens ‘blood’ brotherhood with Korea

Korea Herald, Seoul

Colombia strengthens ‘blood’ brotherhood with Korea

22 July 2012

By Robert Lee

The Korea-Colombia Free Trade Agreement will be a win-win opportunity for both economies and help further strengthen the “brotherhood” forged through blood during the Korea War, the Colombian Ambassador said Tuesday.

Jaime Cabal expects the FTA to take effect as early as March after the two countries finish domestic procedures including securing parliamentary approval for the deal.

The Colombian government hopes to receive confirmation from its congress by this December and implement its first FTA with an Asian country, according to Cabal.

The two countries concluded negotiations on June 25 during President Lee Myung-bak’s state visit to Colombia, agreeing to eliminate tariffs on major trading goods within a decade.

Once ratified, the FTA with the fourth-largest economy in Latin America will also be Korea’s third on the same continent. Colombia’s gross domestic product was an estimated $331.6 billion in 2011 and the country has a population of over 46 million according to the World Bank. Korea’s FTAs with Chile and Peru took effect in 2004 and 2011, respectively.

Even before FTA talks, trade between the countries has sky-rocketed over the past ten years and has still seen strong growth in recent years. And both sides believe the numbers are only going to grow.

“We are optimistic that we’re going to increase our exports maybe 25 percent each year,” Cabal said during an interview with The Korea Herald.

“We (Colombia) are going to get a better position with produce like coffee, flowers, fruits, meat and dairy products.”

The ambassador is also looking at their abundance of natural resources to up their trade. Colombia is rich in natural resources including oil, natural gas, coal and nickel. Its daily crude oil production is estimated to be around 800,100 barrels, the fourth-largest among Latin American countries. The country is also the fourth-largest producer and exporter of coal.

Cabal noted that Korea’s automotive sector is well established in the Colombian market. Korean cars are imported with a 35 percent tax, a number which will fall by 3-4 percent every year, according to the ambassador.

In 2001, bilateral trade between the two countries numbered at a little over $268 million while in 2011 trade was recorded at just shy of $2 billion, according to the Korea International Trade Association. After the bilateral FTA talks began, the trade volume between the two countries doubled from $922 million in 2009 to $1.82 billion in 2010.

As of June this year, Korea has exported over $813 million while importing some $218 million from Colombia.

Both countries are also going beyond just economic interest, hoping to strengthen the ties developed over half a century ago.

Colombia is currently evaluating its military force to assess what equipment it needs, according to the ambassador.

“For purchase, we are looking for military equipment like tanks,” said Cabal, hinting at the possibility of Korean firms filling the order. Korea has been growing in a variety of arms exports including its indigenous K1 and XK2 tanks.

Korea has been looking to boost its arms export to the South American region. Last year Korea announced that it would give a decommissioned 1,200-ton destroyer to Colombia, in hopes of boosting arms trade.

Colombia is the only Latin American country among the 16 states that sent combat troops to fight in support of South Korea during the first major armed conflict of the Cold War era.

It dispatched some 5,100 troops and a frigate-level warship. Of them, 163 were killed in action while 448 were wounded with 28 listed as prisoners of war, according to government data.

The Colombian Embassy is also leading the charge to grow a cultural relationship through music, literature and photography to name a few areas.

“We are doing our best to bring in Korea different cultural expressions two or three times a year,” said Cabal.

To mark the country’s 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties with Korea, the Colombian Embassy hosted 25 young dancers from the Barranquilla Carnival, one of the largest carnivals in the world.

The ambassador also sent out a clear message to potential investors in Korea.

“Korea has to take advantage of these opportunities in infrastructure as other countries are doing,” said Cabal adding that Spain, Italy, Japan and China already have extensive investments Colombia.

Colombia still has dire needs in infrastructure, with a lack of roads, bridges, housing, public transportation and ports, according to the ambassador.

“Korea has to move more quickly because the business is there, the opportunities are there but they have to go look for them.”