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Colombian state visit: PM and President Santos' press statements

Prime Minister Theresa May and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos gave statements during the President's historic state visit to the UK yesterday.

Prime Minister’s statement

I am delighted to welcome President Santos to Downing Street this afternoon, on the first state visit by a Colombian President to the UK. Of course, it is not your first visit to London – I know you have fond memories of your time studying and working here.

Colombia is one of Britain’s most important partners in Latin America, and this visit provides an opportunity to strengthen the ties that have existed between our countries for more than 200 years.

Our discussions today have focused on 3 key areas: our bilateral relationship, Colombia’s peace process; and how we can work together to confront shared challenges. Let me say a few words on each.

Bilateral relationship

First, on our bilateral relationship.

Following decades of growth, Colombia is Latin America’s fourth largest economy and home to some of the continent’s leading businesses, from retail to construction to aviation.

And British businesses have invested in that economic success – the UK has been the third largest foreign investor in Colombia over the past decade and our trading relationship was worth £1 billion last year.

It’s a relationship that benefits both sides. For example, last year, Lloyds of London opened an office in Bogota in a move that will bring over £130 million in additional revenue to the UK insurance sector.

Today, we have agreed that we want to build on this solid base.

As the UK prepares to leave the EU, I am determined that Britain should become the global champion of free trade, and that means boosting trade with fast-growing economies like Colombia.

I want to see even more British companies and investors taking up the opportunities that Colombia offers.

And I want Colombian businesses to see the UK as a leading hub for finance, innovation, research and development.

Today we are supporting those efforts with a new partnership in the oil and gas sector; £1 billion in export finance to encourage investment in rural healthcare and renewable energy projects; and a landmark tax agreement to provide greater certainty for businesses and employees in both countries.

Peace process

We have also discussed the contribution that peace makes to prosperity, and vice versa.

And I want to pay tribute to the President’s relentless and resolute efforts to reconcile and rebuild his country. It is thanks to his unwavering commitment to overcome obstacles on the path to peace that Colombia is now on the brink of an agreement that would end the devastating conflict that has stoked half a century of tragedy.

We know from our own experiences that peace-building takes time, perseverance and patience.

The United Kingdom will remain a steadfast supporter of President Santos and the Colombian people as they work to secure a final and lasting peace agreement.

We will support efforts on the ground with a further £7.5 million to fund demining projects and the ongoing international monitoring mission.

We will continue to provide practical advice based on our experience in Northern Ireland, with a new programme focused on education and policing.

And we will help to rebuild the country by investing up to £25 million in urban development, agriculture, services and transport – improving the lives of more than 3 million people affected by the conflict and creating export opportunities worth around £6 billion for 2,500 British businesses.

Find out more about UK support for the peace process.

Shared challenges

Finally, we have discussed how both our countries can work together to address the shared global challenges we face.

From organised crime and counter-narcotics, where longstanding co-operation between our law enforcement agencies is helping to disrupt the illicit drugs trade.

To anti-corruption, where I welcome Colombian efforts to establish a register of beneficial ownership.

And climate change, where we are working together to meet the international commitments made in Paris, particularly by stopping deforestation in the Amazon and through a new joint research project to make the most of Colombia’s vast biodiversity in a sustainable way.

Conclusion

To conclude, we have had an excellent meeting. A peaceful, prosperous Colombia is in both our interests, and I look forward to working with you, Mr President, to forge an even stronger partnership in the years ahead.

President Santos’ statement

Let me start by thanking Prime Minister May for hosting me and my delegation today. This state visit represents the consolidation of a strategic relationship between Colombia and the United Kingdom.

Over the years, our countries have built a strong partnership, reflected in a broad bilateral agenda that ranges from co‑operation to tackle transnational crime, the promotion of free trade and investment, to the preservation of the environment for future generations.

Since the beginning of the negotiations with FARC, the United Kingdom has been a strong supporter of the search for peace in Colombia: by sharing its experience of the Northern Ireland peace process, by exercising its leadership in the UN Security Council, or by contributing to the planning for the implementation of post‑conflict strategies. The UK has played a key role every step of the way.

Today, I have expressed my gratitude to Prime Minister May on behalf of almost 50 million Colombians, not only for what the UK has done but for your commitment to continue working with us to reach the end of the conflict, and to build strong foundations for the construction of peace in the future.

In this task, the role of private initiative will be of great importance. That’s why Colombia and the UK will continue to promote our bilateral trade and investment.

To that end, we have signed this morning an agreement to prevent double taxation, that will benefit thousands of companies and individuals doing business in both countries.

Colombia is undergoing a massive process of transformation and modernisation, which offers a wide range of investment and business opportunities to British companies.

In a regional context, Colombia with Mexico, Chile and Peru constitute the Pacific Alliance, a free trade bloc that represents the world’s eighth largest economy and a huge opportunity for British business.

As the UK’s negotiation process with the European Union unfolds, we stand ready to pursue new opportunities to consolidate our status as trading partners.

A good business environment, one that increases social prosperity, requires security, rule of law and transparency. Colombia and the UK will build on their longstanding partnership on security to work together in strengthening the rule of law and combating corruption.

Robust joint action against organised crime, including co‑operation in cyber security, and improving the effectiveness of our criminal justice policy will be a key priority in our common agenda.

We’re also building on our active co‑operation to preserve the environment for future generations.

Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. In partnership with the UK, we are working on reducing deforestation and preserving vulnerable ecosystems for generations to come.

In yet another ambitious initiative, Colombia and the UK have agreed to co‑fund a new joint scientific quest to discover large areas of unexplored ecosystems, inaccessible for decades because of the armed conflict in Colombia.

With the Colombian bio‑programme, we’ll not only be able to gather more knowledge on those vital ecosystems, but we will also have the ability to use them in a sustainable way to develop new biotech‑based products like medicines or cosmetics.

We have also agreed to bring our academic communities closer together, to do more joint investigations and scientific co‑operation and production.

The UK will continue to be a top destination for Colombian students in pursuit of world­‑class postgraduate and technical education, to develop the skills that the new world economy requires. This afternoon, we will sign an agreement that will facilitate Colombian and British students in the process of recognition of higher education diplomas obtained in each country.

Colombia and the United Kingdom are like‑minded democracies that share fundamental values and co‑operate across a broad range of issues. Above all, we see in our bilateral co‑operation a great source of opportunities and common benefits for our respective citizens.

Today, we have set a roadmap that will guide our common agenda for the coming years.

I can say with great confidence and gratitude that our partnership is stronger than ever. Thank you very much.

Q&A

Question

President Santos, Britain is on its way out of the European Union, as you know. Many believe that that will see us well on the outside of the European Union’s single market. If we are on the outside of the European Union’s single market, what impact would that have on Colombia’s view of the UK as a business partner?

And Prime Minister, plainly a partnership with Colombia is always welcome; many would say, however, that in the UK the biggest looming economic risk is rising inflation, and the impact that will have on people’s living standards. How concerned are you about rising prices?

Prime Minister

First of all, if I can respond and just say a word about the question that you posed to President Santos. Because you made an assumption about what the relationship of the UK will be with the EU once we have exited the EU, and of course what we are doing is we are negotiating a deal, and we will be negotiating the best possible deal for businesses here in the UK to continue to trade with and operate within the single European market. I am ambitious for what we can achieve in that deal.

Of course, as we look over the coming months and years to the point at which we exit the EU, we have had more positive economic indications, more positive economic results over the past few weeks than some had predicted. Of course, we want to look ahead to the issues that will arise in the future. I’m very clear, as I have been from the moment I first stood outside this building as Prime Minister, that I want to ensure that we see the benefits of a growing economy being shared across the whole of the country: benefits for everyone, an economy that works for everyone.

But, in doing that, of course, it’s good that we’re able to welcome deals, such as the Nissan agreement to continue and to bring 2 new ranges to Sunderland. That means over 40,000 jobs and the supply chain will now be more secure, and be protected into the future. But also look for the opportunities we have with countries like Colombia, not just in the sort of trade agreements we can have, but actually in encouraging British businesses to be exporting to Colombia, and that 2-way trade that’s important to both of us.

President Santos

I like to see the positive side of things, and, in this case, we see enormous opportunity to enlarge our relations with the UK, both in trade and in investment. Quite frankly, the trade figures are very small compared to what they could be, so we see this as a great opportunity to enlarge our trade, and to make even a more ambitious agreement, and to attract more investment both ways. We were talking, for example, about the financial sector, the insurance sector: the potential to grow in Colombia is immense, and we see this as an opportunity.

Question

Prime Minister, the most important topic in Colombia right now is the peace process, especially after the narrow victory of the ‘no’. This has left the people really divided. So, what would be your piece of advice to the political leaders of Colombia, like President Santos, but also former president Uribe, who led the campaign for the ‘no’, so that they can reach a new agreement fairly quickly and avoid further division?

And secondly, you have been the third largest foreign investor in Colombia, but last year you came down to eighth. Can we expect, after this visit, that the UK will again invest more in Colombia, and in what sectors?

Prime Minister

Well, first of all, in relation to the peace process, the United Kingdom has always felt that it’s very important that this process comes through to a positive conclusion, in terms of a peace agreement. And we have supported, and, as President Santos said, stood alongside Colombia in this, including the work we have done in the United Nations. So, I would hope that that renewed effort on the peace process will lead to an agreement, which I think will be to the benefit of all Colombians.

On the issue of investment: yes, we have had significant investments in Colombia. I think, as the President has just said, what we want to do, looking ahead, is to be increasing those opportunities and the take-up of investment opportunities both ways, and also trading opportunities. I have set up a new Department for International Trade here in the UK. Our Secretary of State had a very good meeting with the Colombian trade minister, and what we want to see is not just us setting up new trade agreements, but actually encouraging businesses to see markets like Colombia as markets in which they should be investing and should be exporting to.

President Santos

And can I mention what you just asked on the peace agreement, and the polarisation of the country, and the ‘no’ vote winning by a small margin. Right after the results were known, I immediately called for a national dialogue that has been going on for the last 4 weeks. We have met all the representatives of the groups that voted ‘no’. I personally have met more than 40 sectors of the ‘no’ vote, and we made a tremendous effort.

All my negotiators, my ministers, are approaching the other part, the ‘no’ vote, to see what are their concerns, what are their preoccupations, and what are their proposals. We have received more than 500 different proposals that we have studied, we have analysed. And we are building a new agreement, and we hope to have this new agreement very soon. At this very moment, we are building and we are negotiating this new agreement with even the sector of former president Uribe. They have been meeting for the last 2 or 3 days, and I’ve said to my negotiators, ‘Sit down and try to cover all the agenda, all the points that they bring to the table. I don’t want one single point – there’s no theme that is rejected. Everything can be discussed.’

And what we want, what the country needs is every Colombian to be on board because everybody said before the plebiscite that they wanted peace. And this is something that I think, if it’s true, then we can have this great opportunity to unite the country around a new peace agreement.

Once we have this new peace agreement, I have various alternatives. The most common one, and the one that our constitution has in its books, is to take the agreement to Congress. I have the alternative of calling a new plebiscite. The constitutional court, in its ruling about the plebiscite, said very clearly that, if we have a new agreement, I could take the new agreement to the people through a new plebiscite. There are other procedures that are contemplated in our constitution, like, for example, asking our municipalities – we have more than 1,100 – in a sort of open discussion with each municipality to see if they want to approve or not the agreement. So, I have various alternatives. I will take that decision once we have the new agreement.

And I hope that it will be very soon, and that this will allow us to unite around this new agreement, which is what the country needs, and I think it’s in the benefit of former president Uribe, and the benefit of my government, but especially in the benefit of Colombia.

 

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