Korea, Colombia work toward FTA

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Korea, Colombia work toward FTA


President Lee Myung-bak, center right, and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, center left, at the presidential Blue House in Seoul yesterday. [AP/YONHAP]

Upgrading the bilateral relationship between Korea and Colombia to a “strategic cooperative partnership,” leaders of the two countries agreed yesterday to join forces in a massive energy project and work harder to conclude a free trade deal before the end of this year.

At a summit at the Blue House yesterday, President Lee Myung-bak and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos discussed a wide range of issues, including efforts to expand the two countries’ economic relationship.

“Korea and Colombia both have pending free trade agreements with the United States,” Park Jeong-ha, Lee’s spokesman, said yesterday. “At the summit, the two leaders expressed hope that their FTAs with the United States will be ratified as soon as possible and agreed that they will work jointly together for the progress.”

The two countries also agreed to conclude negotiations on a Korea-Colombia FTA before the end of this year. Four rounds of talks have taken place. Bilateral trade between the two was $782 million last year.

Lee and Santos also agreed to develop a joint strategy for long-term cooperation by establishing a high-level policy consultation body between the two governments and a conference of businessmen.

The highlights of the summit were agreements between the two leaders to deepen their cooperation with regard to natural resources and energy development programs as well as infrastructure construction, science and technology and broadcasting and communications. Five memoranda of understanding were signed between the two governments yesterday.

“Through those MOUs, Korea expects to participate in Colombia’s national development projects, scheduled to take from 2010 till 2014,” the Blue House said in a statement.

Among the five agreements, an MOU on cooperation in Colombia’s “Look Asia Project” and another on resources and energy development were of particular importance as they involve large-scale development projects in the resource-rich South American country.

According to the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, the Look Asia Project, estimated to worth about $10 billion, is a plan to develop oil fields in Colombia’s eastern area and to build pipelines toward the Pacific Ocean. Construction of a port to export oil and a refinery are also included in the project.

The ministry said the Colombian government has encouraged Korean companies to participate in the country’s projects. As Colombia wants to diversify its oil exports, which are currently focused on North America, the ministry has proposed the project to expand its oil exports to Asia, including Korea, China and India.

Korea heavily relies on oil from the Middle East, and the government sees the project as a way to diversify its import sources.

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Korea and Colombia. Colombia was the only country in Latin America to send troops to fight in the Korean War.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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