What are the main elements of Colombia's bilateral relationship with Belgium?
In the commercial field, there is the longstanding relationship with the Port of Antwerp as the main European destination for the export of bananas and other exotic fruit grown by Colombia, in addition to the role of the port as the world's main storage hub for coffee, Colombia's trademark product. Other solid bilateral links include the permanent activities in Colombia of the two Belgian giants DEME and Jan De Nul, as their dredging services are vital for the optimal operations of many Colombian maritime ports. We are interested in the new project of Port of Antioquia in the Gulf of Urabá that also requires some dredging, and there Jan De Nul seems already to be engaged. Dredging is one of our main assets. In addition, AbInbev, of Belgian origin and with headquarters in Leuven, has been a longtime investor and job provider in Colombia. One important aspect of our bilateral relations concerns the large group of Colombians who have studied in Belgium, many of whom occupy important positions in Colombia today. We have found that keeping in close contact with them is highly beneficial, as some of our new projects have been based on our alumni's ideas.
What opportunities exist for business development, and where does the diplomatic body identify opportunities, and what is being done to make these into reality?
In 2018, the Belgian diplomatic mission signed with Transport Minister Ángela María Orozco a memorandum aimed at the intensification of our bilateral cooperation specifically around the Colombian railway sector. The aim is to contribute to the development of an environmentally friendly, multimodal network. As a global pioneer in railway transport since 1835, Belgium will follow closely the new sectoral legislative framework in Colombia, hopefully giving a firmer ground to new investors in this field. Our embassy also follows closely the involvement in Colombia of Belgian investment funds, be it in renewable energy and efficiency, sustainable agriculture, ecotourism, reforestation, or fair trade. We stand ready to give advice and facilitate contacts at the highest level, so as to assist our investors in making the right decisions.
What are some recent achievements in the diplomatic partnership between the two countries?
As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2019-2020, Belgium has taken an active part in the preparation of the quarterly briefings regarding the peace process in Colombia, definitely a highlight of our recent diplomatic relations. Our embassy was called to report more extensively on all that has been done in Colombia in order to assure that the peace process was moving forward, and to provide input for Belgium's interventions in New York. During our membership of the Security Council, our country has also been tasked with the presidency of its working group on children and armed conflict and, in particular, with its special report on the situation of vulnerable children in Colombia. On the basis of the conclusions of the report, we organized a special event in 2020 in Bogotá with the participation of Colombian authorities so as to give the right follow-up to the conclusions of the report.
What lessons from Belgium's economic experience are interesting for Colombia and vice versa?
The most interesting aspect about Belgium for Colombia remains our participation in the EU's Common Trade Policy, the oldest endeavor in the European construction's history. This means that the main commercial interests of each member state regarding export markets are defended by the EU in the framework of its Market Access Strategy, which has proven useful with respect of some punctual trade barriers that we experience with Colombia. Thanks to its GSK and Pfizer production facilities, Belgium remains the largest provider of vaccines to Colombia, an item that figures permanently as number one on our bilateral exports list and is now of vital importance in the fight against COVID-19 as well as other infectious diseases.