Meeting yesterday in Quito, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño and his Colombian counterpart, María Ángela Holguín, reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen their countries’ bilateral relationship and to work together on issues of common concern.
Upon arriving in Quito on Wednesday morning, Minister Holguín greeted the Ecuadorian public, saying she felt “truly at home.”
During the meeting, which lasted nearly six hours and was also attended by other government officials, Holguín and Patiño focused largely on border issues, including deepening police and military controls to reduce the flow in gas and oil contraband, promoting development and tourism and facilitating free trade.
Criticizing the truce agreement reached two weeks ago by Colombia and Ecuador’s heavy transport associations—which ended a 60-day blockade of goods transport over claims by Colombian truckers of “unfair competition”—Holguín affirmed that “it is the governments of Ecuador and Colombia who establish transit norms.” Patiño agreed: “Transport organizations are not the ones who define the mechanisms, norms, or, worse, sanctions” on the transit of goods.
Ministers Holguín and Patiño also discussed infrastructure and energy, including expanding the Rumichaca Bridge (the principal passage between Ecuador and Colombia), developing a new point of connection at the International Bridge of San Miguel, and collaborating on a geothermal project. They confirmed that President Santos will meet with Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa next Monday, in addition to Ecuadorian business leaders. His visit will be the first by a Colombian head of state to Ecuador after the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries in November 2009. Relations had been severed in March 2008 after Colombian security forces conducted a deadly attack against a FARC camp on Ecuadorian territory.
Minister Holguín also brought to Quito Colombia’s ratification of the treaty establishing UNASUR, making it the last country to do so.
Colombian Foreign Affairs Minister María Angela Holguín and her Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolás Maduro, agreed on Monday to a three-month extension of bilateral trade preferences in the hope that a permanent agreement will be concluded by the end of January 2012.
During a joint press conference in Bogotá’s Palacio de San Carlos, the officials said the extension was approved so as not to impede trade flows while details for the broader deal are being worked out. "We agreed that we will extend the preferences while negotiating the deal, which is on track...we hope it will be ready this year," said Holguin. The ministers also announced that Presidents Juan Manuel Santos and Hugo Chávez will meet next month in Caracas.
Commerce between the two neighbors collapsed in 2009 when Venezuela froze trade relations to protest a military agreement between the United States and Colombia. The overall relationship has improved since President Santos took over for former President Alvaro Úribe in 2010.
This is the second time tariff preferences have been extended since they expired last April, following Venezuela’s withdrawal from the regional trade bloc Comunidad Andina de Naciones (CAN).
Re-establishing relations with neighboring Venezuela will be a “priority” of the Santos government, says Maria Ángela Holguín, Colombia’s incoming foreign minister.
Following a meeting with Foreign Minister Jaime Bermúdez, Holguín stated that the President-elect had maintained an interest in re-establishing relations with Venezuela throughout his campaign. “For that to happen,” she stated, “there is a need for respectful and transparent dialogue, in which we are already engaged.” Holguín also confirmed that an invitation to Santos’ inauguration had been sent to President Chávez.
Relations with Venezuela had deteriorated in 2009 after Colombia signed a pact with the U.S. granting access to seven military bases around the country. Venezuela viewed the agreement as a threat to sovereignty in the region. Recently, however, it has signaled a desire to mend relations with Colombia.
Holguín also announced details of Santos’ upcoming Latin American tour. Beginning July 22, the President-elect will travel to Mexico, Panama, Chile, Argentina, and Peru to meet with each country’s head of state.