Colombia reaches out for Thai investments
Thailand is firmly in the sights of Colombia as the Latin American country reaches out to Asia and Southeast Asia in particular to boost trade relations, ambassador Andelfo Garcia told The Nation.
“This will be the first major event between the two countries aimed at deepening the trade relationship and we’re excited about moving forward,” Garcia said.
After closing in 1999 because of the economic crisis, Colombia reopened its embassy in Thailand in 2013, with Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angella Holguin Cuellar visiting Bangkok the same year.
“It took us some time to understand how everything works here. But now, I think, we have the momentum going,” Garcia said.
A delegation of ProColombia, the institution of the Colombian government in charge of promoting foreign investment, exports and tourism, is visiting Bangkok to explore investment opportunities.
Juan Carlos Gonzalez, president of Investment Promotion, will chair the ProColombia delegation and speak on “Investment Opportunities for Thai Companies in Colombia” at Plaza Athenee Hotel tomorrow.
Colombia is one of the 30 largest economies in the world with a GDP of about US$380 billion (Bt13.64 trillion), and has been consistently among the fastest-expanding economies in South America.
With five embassies in Southeast Asia – Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia – there is a proactive outreach to Asean, especially with the upcoming Asean Economic Community.
“In the course of my meetings with businesses on both sides, I see potential for greater investment on both sides and even joint ventures. Like Thailand, Colombia is also strong in auto parts manufacture but there is room for complementarity.”
At present, Colombia’s exports to Thailand account for only about 1 per cent of its exports to the Asia-Pacific compared to almost 10 per cent to Singapore and 9 per cent within Asean compared to Singapore’s 76 per cent. “There is enormous scope for much more,” says the ambassador.
“Since last year, we’ve been promoting the idea of organising focused business trips. Now, we’re planning to have big business groups like CP and Central visit Colombia to explore opportunities,” he added.
Bilateral trade amounts to only $300 million. Thailand mostly exports auto parts, machineries and electronics products, while Colombian exports to Thailand are mostly oil, leather, precious stones and emeralds. But the ambassador said Colombian coffee and wine would soon be tapping a niche market here with exclusive Colombian-coffee cafs also in the pipeline.
“Colombia is doing well despite the plunge in oil prices, although our rate of growth may not keep pace with the earlier years,” Garcia said. Oil makes up more than 20 per cent of Colombian GDP.
“In spite of the setback due to the oil price, Colombia will still grow 3 per cent, making us the best performer in South America,” Garcia said.
Minister for Tourism and Sport Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul will be signing a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in wellness tourism with Colombia on the sidelines of the World Tourism Organisation General Assembly in Medellin this month.
“This MoU is a result of almost a year of negotiations. We have a lot to learn from Thailand in tourism,” Garcia said, adding Colombia receives some 5 million tourists compared with Thailand’s 25 million-plus.
“We’re also looking at the possibility of encouraging more tourism to both countries. Although, cost does become a factor because of the distance, I think it’s possible to promote niche tourism,” Garcia said.
Colombia is allowing visa-free travel to Thai nationals with a US or Schengen visa.
“We can liberalise it further in the future,” the ambassador said, adding, “Although Thais travelling to South America are a small number, we’re working on eliminating visa requirements for ordinary passport holders.”
Last week, a delegation from Colombia visited leading private hospitals in Bangkok to learn about the medical facilities here and medical tourism.
“A private company is building Colombia’s largest private hospital with about 1,000 beds in Bucaramanga, one of our biggest cities. They were highly impressed with what they saw and learnt a lot here. And I think the Thais were very generous in sharing information, ideas and giving them advise. We’re looking to attract medical tourism from the US and Latin America,” Garcia said.
This year, Thailand was given observer status in the Alliance of the Pacific, a primarily economic grouping of four of South America’s east-coast countries – Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.
From Asean, Singapore is the only other country with observer status.
“The group functions on the principles of open economy, investment-friendly and liberal economic policies,” Garcia said.
He revealed that the alliance was in talks with Asean to forge closer connections.
“We can be mutually complementary and a bridge between two major regions of the world. And together, we could become the world’s third-biggest economic grouping,” he said.
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