By Frederik Balfour
May 6 (Bloomberg) — Colombia, blocked from signing a free- trade deal with the U.S., must focus on building economic and political relationships with Asian countries to secure its future, Vice President Francisco Santos said.
“I think Colombia should really shift most of its economic and diplomatic bureaucracy towards India, China, Singapore and Indonesia,” the outgoing vice president said yesterday in an interview in Hong Kong. Countries without a presence in the region are going to “miss the bus,” he said.
Santos spoke after visiting India and China, where he sought to lure investors deterred by the country’s reputation for drug-related violence and kidnappings. Colombia is seeking to bolster trade relations after a 2006 agreement with the U.S. remains stalled in Congress.
The U.S. House rejected a request for action by President George W. Bush on the trade deal in 2008, marking the first time Congress hasn’t taken up and passed a trade accord submitted by a president. President Barack Obama opposed the accord during his election campaign, but has since vowed to seek approval of a modified version.
Democrats such as Representative Phil Hare of Illinois and unions such as the AFL-CIO federation have opposed the accord, saying Colombia President Alvaro Uribe’s government tolerates murders of labor leaders and hasn’t pushed to improve worker rights.
“Bogota is safer than Detroit or Baltimore in terms of homicides,” said Santos, 48, who was abducted for several months in 1990 by cocaine drug-lord Pablo Escobar. “Most people who are kidnapped are freed alive, you see the problem really diminishing.”
Uribe has slashed kidnappings by 93 percent to 213 abductions last year compared with 2002, when he took office. Colombian cocaine production last year was 60 percent less than in 2002, because “drug traffickers in Colombia know that they have a very hostile environment and have moved outside,” Santos said. Both Santos and Uribe will leave office in August after a new team is voted in.
Santos said he was surprised during his visit to Asia by the extent of interest from India in Colombia. Indian motorcycle maker Bajaj Auto Ltd. plans to build an assembly plant in Colombia, he said, without providing further details. Executives at Bajaj could not be reached for comment.
Mining and Oil
Colombia is courting Asian mining and oil companies, according to an April 8 report from the Colombian Investment Promotion office. The country has attracted investments from Indian state-owned Oil & Natural Gas Co. and state-controlled China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. or Sinopec, which purchased Colombian oil company Omimex de Colombia Ltd. in 2006, for $800 million. Santos said the joint venture now produces 30,000 barrels of oil per day.
In August last year Sinochem International Co. paid $876 million to acquire UK-based Emerald Energy with oil exploration rights in Colombia, according to the Colombia Investment Promotion Office. Oil exports to China grew almost 500 percent to $364 million last year the export agency said.
Colombia is hoping to woo more investment from Chinese companies in bidding for 225 oil exploration blocks scheduled for June, said Alejandro Ossa, a commercial counselor with the Colombia Investment Promotion Office in Beijing. The final leg of a global roadshow soliciting tender bids for the oil properties will take place in Shanghai from May 10 to 16.