Bogota happy to do business with London: Colombia's Foreign Minister tells Colin Harding why relations with Britain are stronger than ever

THE woman described by a Foreign Office minister as 'symbolic of a new kind of leadership in Latin America' made clear that the admiration is mutual. Noemi Sanin, the Foreign Minister of Colombia, told the Independent: 'We like doing business with the British. We understand each other very well and your people adapt easily to our way of life.'

Colombia is at the cutting edge of a new British policy of developing closer relations with Latin America, where stable democratic government, steady growth and free-market economic policies have become the norm after decades of turmoil and stagnation.

When President Cesar Gaviria, who like Ms Sanin combines youth (he is 46, she 43) and good looks with a sharp political brain, pays an official visit to London in July he will set the seal on this rapprochement. Ms Sanin, a Conservative politician from Medellin with a background in law and economics, was in London this week to prepare the ground for the President's visit.

John Major chose Colombia for the first visit to a Latin American country by a serving British prime minister last year, and Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, followed soon afterwards. As a result of the Major visit, the two countries set up a bilateral trade commission, which is due to publish a report soon. Britain has a big trade deficit with Colombia, importing goods worth pounds 126m last year, and exporting only pounds 75.5m.

Much of the running at the Foreign Office has been made by Tristan Garel-Jones, the minister better known for his European responsibilities. But his fluent Spanish and extensive knowledge of the region have gone down well in Latin America.

Mr Garel-Jones points out that, although trade is still negligible, British investments in Colombia have grown rapidly in recent years. BP is committing some pounds 600m to the development of the huge Cusiana oilfield on the Casanare plains east of Bogota, which with proven reserves of 2bn barrels is the biggest oil discovery in the Americas since that in Alaska in 1968.

President Gaviria will be meeting representatives of the British private sector in London, hoping to build on the results of a trade mission to Colombia next month, subsidised by the Department of Trade and led by a senior British Gas executive.

Colombia feels it has much to offer; Ms Sanin pointed out that, for all its reputation for violence and corruption, Colombia enjoyed an average annual economic growth rate of 4.5 per cent thoughout the 1980s, has never had to renegotiate its foreign debt and kept inflation under control throughout this period. The minister drew attention to the huge privatisation programme being undertaken by the Gaviria administration, which includes openings for foreign investment in such fields as electric power, railways, roads, ports and banks.

British instructors have been training Colombian special forces in anti- drug operations for some time, and several new accords designed to strengthen the Colombian judiciary, which in the past has been notoriously susceptible to pressures from the cocaine cartels, will be signed when President Gaviria is in London. Ms Sanin stressed that Colombia was no longer a comfortable place for drug businesses to operate.

She also said that, although Anglo- Colombian relations had never been better, her country expected a more favourable deal for its exports, particularly coffee and bananas, from the European Community.

'We have opened up our own economy, like many other countries, and are very concerned that there are still areas that practise protectionism,' Ms Sanin said. This week the minister asked British government officials for their support in getting a dialogue going with the Community before new tariffs and quotas on banana imports from Latin America are implemented in July.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Hosting Support Agent

£17100 - £20900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Health & Safety Support Tutor

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Legal Assistant

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests