New President, New Business, New Hopes, September 2010

Joni AlWindi, Cali, Colombia
Multilingual, social and business entrepreneur from Sweden with experience in Colombia since 2003. Living and working in Cali, Joni is dedicated to global development through quality education and international business for all.

New President, New Business, New Hopes, September 2010

The elections are over. No president was declared on the first election day, but as very much expected after a most intriguing final between the two most popular candidates on July 20. With a sudden clear majority, the winner was Juan Manuel Santos, former defense minister and defender of Uribe’s Democratic Security. The second voting round didn’t receive nearly as much attention as the World Cup, but the election of Juan Manuel Santos as new president of Colombia marks an important milestone for all Colombians. He has been seen as an enemy by both Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, but thanks to among other things his diplomatic speaking skills, Colombia is now breathing fresh air both in the political sphere and in the business sphere. Exactly how fresh this air is and how long it will last remains to be seen, but for sure is that Colombia’s new government attracts positive energy and attention to many important issues not only for Colombia but also for the entire Latin American region.

Despite the madness of cutting the diplomatic relations completely with Colombia, two days after the election of Juan Manuel Santos, Hugo Chavez opened up for dialogue again right after Santos had been sworn in on August 7. Chavez didn’t show up for the presidential possession, which the majority of Latin America’s presidents participated in, but he did accept and attend with great spirit a personal meeting on Colombian grounds between the two presidents three days later, three years after his last visit to the country. The meeting now took place in the beautiful coastal city of Santa Marta, and maybe this was destined to symbolize greatness, since this was the very city where Simon Bolivar, the liberator of both Colombia and Venezuela, died in 1830.

Re-established relations with Venezuela will not only help the many Colombian exporters, to whom Venezuela has an outstanding debt of 800 million dollars – a major cause of up to 500 000 jobs lost – but the indirect effects of loosened tension between the two countries will give more space for external politics and expanded relations with other fundamental actors in the Americas as well as in other continents. (Source: Semana)

Despite this bilateral crisis, Colombia’s Trade Minister Guillermo Plata says the country is targeting exports of a record breaking 40 billion US dollars this year. Having lost 70% of the exports to Venezuela has had the positive consequence that business leaders have looked more intensely for other markets to diversify their exports. A total increase of 22% in exports is expected by the end of 2010. While manufactured and agricultural goods are down 4.5% due to the Venezuela problem, commodities like oil, coal, coffee and ferronickel have driven exports more strongly. Products that used to be sold to Venezuela have been redirected to Central America and the Caribbean and China has taken over the position as Colombia’s second largest trading partner after the US. (Source: MercoPress)

As mentioned in the previous column article, the former president Alvaro Uribe’s pro-business policies took the country a long way during his two presidencies, leaving office with an impressive approval rating of well above 70%. Juan Manuel Santos does not seem to have anything less in mind than to help continuing the development through pro-business governance, increased and diversified to as many new markets and continents as possible. Before starting his presidency, he initiated a traditional but uniquely prioritized tour around Europe to develop international relations with the leaders of the UK, Germany, France and Spain, focusing the dialogues on foreign investment, trade and the environment.

Significant advances in finding new markets and commercial partners were initiated with the Free Trade Agreement with the European Union being signed on May 18, and the one with Canada finally being approved in the parliament on June 21. Trade Minister Plata believes the latter is a ‘catalyst to move forward the FTA with the United States’ that remains to pass congress. (Source: ColombiaReports)

Since before, Colombia has deeper trade regimes established with Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico and has been working to deepen trade ties with numerous global powers, including India, Russia and China. Whereas Colombia also hopes to be admitted to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the latest news come from Brazil and its president Lula da Silva, who just signed eight new cooperation agreements with president Santos in terms of business, border development and safety.

In light of Colombia’s 200th year of independence, the country finally seems to be well on track towards emerging as one of the new big developing economies attracting attention from the global market. For many, it doesn’t come as a surprise but as a joyful confirmation of great progress that the latest acronym for high potential emerging markets, CIVETS, where C stands for Colombia, has arisen in the financial news world as a possible or even likely replacement to the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) phenomenon. Colombia and the other CIVETS countries have ‘large and young populations, diversified economies, relative political stability and decent financial systems’ free from ‘high inflation, trade imbalances or sovereign debt bombs‘ (sources: The Economist, HSBC, FT, Reuters, DailyMarkets). This news, adding to everything else written in the previous paragraphs, makes it safe to say that new hopes have reached this country of everlasting potential, hopes of a better future, more jobs, more development and more happiness for all.

With this I’ll say ,hasta luego’ and look forward to writing more specifically next time about the everyday life over here, the reality of small businesses and about the country’s amazing advancements and applications of Information and Communication Technology.

With greetings from Colombia,

Joni AlWindi


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