Imagine waking up in a Marriott or a Decameron hotel, opening the curtains to a modern city skyline, stepping outside your door for breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts or Juan Valdez, taking a rapid-transit bus to your meeting, grabbing a burger at Johnny Rockets or El Corral, and picking up a new scarf at Gap or Arturo Calle.

This sounds like a typical day for an American business traveler, but this isn't a story about America. This happens every day in today's Colombia. Just a decade ago, few would have believed that Colombia would become one of the most dynamic economies in the world. But, what seemed improbable then is now a reality.

Colombia is the third-largest economy in the region, home to nearly 50 million consumers and a rising middle class with significant economic mobility. With gross-domestic product growth over the past four years estimated at close to 5 percent and the lowest inflation in decades, Colombia — soon to become a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development — has fast become a major regional power.

During the third quarter of 2013, the Colombian economy grew 5.1 percent, fueled by the dynamism of construction and agriculture. The implementation of the largest infrastructure plan in our country's history will increase the potential growth of our economy.

Our economic growth, coupled with a progressive policy agenda, has increased the well-being of our citizens and created a more inclusive society. Health-care coverage is universal, and life expectancy has dramatically moved up. Between 2010 and 2013, Colombia had a significant reduction in poverty rates, lifting around three million citizens to the middle class.

Unemployment has been continuously decreasing during the past 40 months, reaching a record low of 8.5 percent last November. Over the past three years, the Colombian economy has raised the real minimum wage, while creating nearly 2.5 million jobs, expanding a dynamic middle class that offers enormous opportunities for companies around the world.

A simple example illustrates the vibrancy of our market. As a result of rising available income, more than a third of Colombian households own a pet. The pet-care market is estimated to grow at 13 percent per year; according to industry data, the market for pet foods grew from $68 million in 2008 to $400 million in 2013.

Since 2003, foreign direct investment in Colombia has increased sevenfold, and investment responds for about 30 percent of GDP. Our market is increasingly attractive to investors because of our strong adherence to the rule of law and our independent institutions that guarantee a stable macroeconomic environment within a framework of fiscal sustainability.

As a result, leading U.S. companies such as Starbucks, Hyatt Corp., IBM, Google, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, JW Marriott, Gap and others are investing in our country. Colombian investment abroad is also growing rapidly.

Strengthening international trade has been important for growth. Last year, we signed trade agreements with three new countries and concluded negotiations on a regional pact with Chile, Peru and Mexico — the Pacific Alliance, an integrated market of 210 million consumers and a GDP of nearly $2 trillion.

The Free Trade Agreement with the United States, implemented only one year ago, has already created significant opportunities for U.S. and Colombian businesses to reach both markets. Colombia is Florida's second-largest trade partner globally; last year, exports from Florida to Colombia exceeded $3 billion, a 50 percent increase over the past five years.

Colombia has come a long way. However, significant work remains to be done in order to become a developed country in the next generation. President Juan Manuel Santos is creating a substantial package of reforms in the judicial, political and rural sectors, which will accompany a peace negotiation with illegal groups in order to achieve the long-lasting peace that our country needs to reach its full potential.

Colombia is firmly on the path to sustained progress and prosperity. I invite Florida businesses to seize the new opportunities in Colombia and continue playing a key role in this shared success story.

 

 

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December 4, 2013- Op-eds - A New Alliance for Progress and Peace

Sometimes it is easy to forget that the bond between the United States and Colombia goes well beyond the familiar issues that have been recycled in headlines over the course of decades. Our strategic relationship is a remarkable story of friendship and respect between two democracies with shared values and mutual interests.

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December 3, 2013- Op-eds - Colombia’s Opportunity for Lasting Peace

The opening decades of the 21st century have witnessed the dawning of a new Colombia. The nation has turned the tide on a long-running terrorist insurgency to achieve a level of security and stability that has given birth to one of the region’s most dynamic economies. Colombia moved from isolation to regional leadership.

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July 14, 2013- Op-eds - The Next Big Free-Trade Breakthrough

This quaint colonial town, nestled in the mountains three hours north of Bogotá by car, is a favorite retreat for city slickers who want to slow down. Ubiquitous red-tile roofs peek over high, white-washed walls as local women in ponchos and fedoras tread across ancient cobblestone streets. Time seems to stand still. But on the last weekend in June this was the site of the eighth ministerial meeting of the Pacific Alliance, the most important trade liberalization effort in the Americas that you've never heard of.

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When President Barack Obama came into office, one of his priorities was to push forward and implement the U.S.-Colombia trade promotion agreement. The agreement celebrated its first anniversary on May 15. That’s good news for Texas, which has the highest dollar amount of U.S. exports to Colombia. The U.S. and Colombia have had a strong relationship for decades. Over the past five years, our friendship has truly blossomed.

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Colombia and Peru are fast approaching the final stages of ratification of a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union. It is a major agreement that offers a bridge for ever-widening relations and commerce between South America and the Union. And in our age of globalization such a bridge is very necessary.

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At an early age, I saw how important small – and medium – sized businesses are to the fabric of the Latino community. … Latino businesses – like all American Businesses – have so much to offer. All they need is a fair opportunity to succeed.

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For the last four years, both the Colombians and supporters in the United States have waited for the U.S. congress to ratify the Free Trade Agreement. The Congress approved the FTA on October 23, 2011 and this week, the agreement comes into force. Free trade in goods, services and investment will be introduced gradually over fifteen years.

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The May 15 entry into force of the U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement (FTA) marked a significant accomplishment for both countries, but it is the beginning, not the end, of the effort to bring the benefits of open trade to Colombia and to position the country to compete effectively in the global economy.

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During the past decade, a remarkable transformation has taken place in the Western Hemisphere. Across the region, countries are doing more than they ever have before to advance peace and security within and beyond their borders. … I recently had the opportunity to visit three countries that demonstrate this progress during my first trip to South America as the United States Secretary of Defense.

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May 7, 2012- Op-eds - Colombia FTA Becoming A Reality

After a long journey from conception to gestation, the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will become a reality on May 15. The accord will render clear benefits for both sides. Colombia remains the third largest market in Latin America for U.S. exports and the second most important for small- and medium-sized firms.

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April 27, 2012- Op-eds - Summit Coverage With The Wrong Focus

It was a gratifying moment when President Obama joined Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos two weeks ago at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, where the U.S. leader acknowledged the tremendous progress that Colombia has made over the past decade in restoring peace, security and prosperity. Colombia is proud of its progress and is grateful to the United States for its continued support.

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April 25, 2012- Op-eds - U.S. Foreign Policy, Close To Home

The United States cannot afford to keep putting Latin America on the back burner as it focuses the bulk of its attention on Asia,Europe and the Middle East. The Western Hemisphere holds significant strategic interest for the U.S. — as well as enormous promise. … Colombia has become a security success story ... they embraced a smart strategy and had the courage to fight the drug cartels and the narco-terrorists of the FARC. Out of that struggle, Colombia has emerged as a security exporter with robust government institutions and a successful free-enterprise system.

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As elected leaders of both political parties search for solutions to create jobs and get America's economy moving, they acted last year on one particularly important investment in our future by approving the Colombia free-trade agreement. The president highlighted the agreement this past weekend at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, and he should have.

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March 9, 2012- Op-eds - Latin America's Beacon Of Change

Next month, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will host the sixth Summit of the Americas. Every Latin American leader except Cuba's - 32 altogether - will attend to discuss an ambitious agenda of regional cooperation. The event could mark the high point of Santos' 19-month-old presidency. External perceptions of Colombia have improved markedly over the past decade, reflected in rising foreign investment and exports, both of which reached their highest levels ever in 2011.

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Colombia is a land of culturally rich colonial cities, lanky skyscrapers, pristine beaches, dense Amazon jungle, snow-capped Andean and Sierra Nevadan mountains, archeological ruins and home to author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And, I should add, in my view, a country ripe with intriguing potential investment opportunities.

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The presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile did a smart thing the other day, which could save Latin America a lot of time, money and insufferable speeches in the future: they held the region's first virtual summit. The four leaders, who are preparing to launch a free trade bloc in June that will be known as the Alliance of the Pacific, met March 5 behind closed doors via video-conference.

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The recent passage of the long-delayed Colombia, Panama and South Korea free trade agreements (FTAs) is projected to significantly increase U.S. exports and create tens of thousands of new U.S. jobs by immediately eliminating nearly all tariffs on most U.S. goods and services.

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January 7, 2012- Op-eds - Colombia Is A “Can Do” Country

Tired of political gridlock in Washington? Of this parade of ludicrous presidential candidates? Want to go to a country where people still believe that they can take on big challenges? Try Colombia.

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Last week, in Merida, Mexico, the leaders of Chile, Mexico, Peru, and Colombia met to affirm their shared commitment to economic integration,growth, and competitiveness…. It seems that while the United States’ key partners in Latin America were meeting to discuss critical economic and trade issues, America failed to pay much attention. America’s disregard, however, makes little sense. With a total population that exceeds 200 million, the nations of the Pacific Alliance account for 34 percent of Latin America’s gross domestic product and 50 percent of Latin America’s total trade. In fact, trade in the four alliance countries is higher than that of the already two-decades-old Mercosur trade bloc.

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While Saturday’s summit that created a Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (CELAC) in Venezuela drew big headlines, a little-noticed meeting of five Latin American Pacific rim countries two days later will have a much greater impact on people’s lives, and on the region’s economic future. Unlike the CELAC summit, which was full of poetic declarations of regional unity but created no concrete mechanisms for economic integration, the summit of the Alliance of the Pacific — made up of Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico, with Panama as an invited observer country — and held Monday at the Mexican city of Merida made a series of concrete agreements that could turn it into the largest and most ambitious economic bloc in the region.

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These are just the most recent, highest profile moves we’ve seen in Colombia, a country with the fourth largest economy in the region. Overall, we’re seeing about half a dozen quality tech startups launch here every year. Some are local plays and some are companies from other countries in the region. Venture funding has been scarce, but new initiatives such as Startup Weekend, international accelerator the Founder Institute and a corporate venture fund from telecommunications firm Telefonica could help improve this situation.

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November 15, 2011- Op-eds - Learning from Colombia

And 10 days ago…I was fortunate to meet the man who was largely responsible for transforming Colombia from a country torn apart by armed conflict into a secure and stable nation with attractive investment opportunities. Colombia is the third largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, after Mexico and Spain, with a population of 46 million. In terms of economic output it is probably on a par with South Africa. Alvaro Uribe Vélez, 59, was the president of Colombia from 2002 to last year.

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November 1, 2011- Op-eds - An Emerging South American Tiger

The long, tiring debate over the FTA—which began five years ago, when the agreement was first completed—showed that popular perceptions of Colombia are stuck in a time warp. Not only has the country become a much safer and less violent place than it was in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, it has also become one of the most promising economies in the Western Hemisphere. Last year, veteran Latin America correspondent Mac Margolis described Colombia as “a prospering dynamo,” noting that foreign direct investment (FDI) increased fivefold—and per capita GDP doubled—between 2002 and 2010. For that matter, the country received more than $7 billion worth of FDI during the first six months of 2011, an increase of 91.4 percent over the equivalent period in 2010. As the Wall Street Journal reported in mid-September, Colombia is one of six developing nations that “are being touted as the next generation of tiger economies.” Known by the acronym CIVETS, this group also includes Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, and South Africa.

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October 27, 2011- Op-eds - Free Trade Can Lift Labor Standards Abroad

The passage this month of free trade agreements may be a victory not only for President Obama, but also for workers in Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Although the anticipated economic consequences of these agreements are small, these pacts also offer a mechanism for improving workers’ rights in partner countries.

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October 29, 2011- Op-eds - Bipartisan Trade Agreements All About Jobs

Job creators across Wisconsin have come out in strong support of these agreements because they will open the door to many markets that were once nearly impossible for U.S. businesses to compete in. Wisconsin companies have had to jump extra hurdles in order to ship goods to Colombia, Panama or South Korea, but thanks to these trade agreements they will be able to conduct business on a more even playing field. This will not only benefit the diverse industries that rely on selling their goods overseas, but will also help the many Wisconsinites who are struggling to find work.

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October 30, 2011- Op-eds - Free Trade Is A Victory for All Sides

That will be happening because of the recent passage of free-trade agreements between the United States and South Korea, Colombia and Panama. The agreements are the latest triumph for economic conservatives like the Club for Growth, who believe that free people making free-market decisions is best for everyone regardless of their nationalities.

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Friday’s quiet signing of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Colombia, Panama and South Korea by President Obama not only marks important progress in opening markets for U.S. products and services, but it also marks a rare moment in bipartisanship. And it’s good news for the struggling U.S. economy as our manufacturers and service providers can now compete on a level playing field abroad with the Europeans and Canadians.

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October 23, 2011- Op-eds - Free Trade Is A Great Deal for Iowa

Pending free-trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea probably didn'tgenerate a lot of thought among Cedar Valley businesses, but they should. These are potentially big deals precisely because of Iowa's reliance on two areas of keen interest in all of those countries: agriculture and manufacturing.

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Congratulations to Congress on passing the three free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama last week. Not because they’re going to necessarily directly help U.K. companies, but because each of those FTAs are a long awaited confirmation to America’s trading partners that she is committed to free trade.

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