x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Embassy to lift Colombia profile

After decades of civil strife, Colombia hopes to rebuild its international profile by strengthening trade and diplomatic ties with emerging economies.

After decades of civil strife, Colombia hopes to rebuild its international profile by strengthening trade and diplomatic ties with emerging economies. As part of that plan, the South American country would open an embassy in Abu Dhabi next year, senior Colombian officials said yesterday during a visit to the capital.

"It's not just energy or trade or politics, it's all three, and the private sector is also very important to us," said Luis Guillermo Plata, the Colombian minister of trade. Mr Plata, the energy minister Hernan Martinez and Luis Villegas, the president of the National Business Association of Colombia, are in Abu Dhabi this week on a trade mission. The Colombian foreign minister Jaime Bermudez will make an official visit next week to finalise plans for the embassy with the Government.

"Colombia was lost to the economic community for 30 years. Once our internal problems have been solved, the country should move up again," Mr Villegas said. "We are returning to a place we never should have left. It's the resurrection of a main player in Latin America." Mr Plata said Colombia started the process of "putting Colombia back on the map" five years ago, but this would be the first time the country had tried to build closer links with a Middle Eastern state. "The question we're responding to is where the growth is going to come from in the next 15 years."

The country was seeking to attract more foreign investment to spur development in several sectors of its economy including energy, agriculture and tourism, but energy would be the first to "gain traction" from the trade initiative, he said. Mr Martinez said Colombia was seeking about US$7 billion (Dh25.71bn) of financing for two large oil refining projects and another $7bn to $8bn of investment in nine power projects.

Ecopetrol, the Colombian state oil company, is seeking $4bn for a project to more than double the processing capacity of its biggest oil refinery at Cartagena to 160,000 barrels per day (bpd) from 70,000 bpd, and a further $3bn to modernise an older refinery at Barrancabermeja. The proposed power projects, totalling 4,300 megawatts of new generating capacity, would include seven hydroelectric developments and two thermal power plants that would respectively burn coal and fuel oil.

Hoping to offset declining output from its biggest oilfields with new production, Colombia has also opened up its upstream oil and gas sector to private investment in recent years. The government has taken a number of measures to attract foreign oil firms, including allowing them full ownership of oil ventures. The strategy appears to be working. After falling during the early years of this decade, Colombia's oil output has risen from a low of 551,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2004 to 618,000 barrels bpd last year. The country exports crude to the US and gas to neighbouring Venezuela.

The government has also instituted a plan to develop domestic biofuel production from sugar cane and palm oil. Colombia requires petrol to be blended 10 per cent with ethanol, and diesel fuel to contain 7 per cent biodiesel. The biodiesel blending target is scheduled to rise to 10 per cent by the end of next year, and 20 per cent by 2020. But the biofuel programme has proved controversial. Human rights organisations allege that paramilitary groups have forcibly evicted tens of thousands of Afro-Colombian farmers from their communally owned lands to make way for biofuel conglomerates, while environmentalists say Colombian rainforest has been cleared for palm oil plantations.

Mr Martinez said his government planned to introduce an internationally accredited certification scheme for new biofuel projects. @Email:tcarlisle@thenational.ae