[INTERVIEW] Colombian ambassador aims to boost exports to Korea to $1 bil.

Colombian Ambassador to Korea Alejandro Pelaez Rodriguez talks about enhancing bilateral relations during an interview with The Korea Times at the Embassy of Colombia in Seoul, March 5. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

Colombian Ambassador to Korea Alejandro Pelaez Rodriguez talks about enhancing bilateral relations during an interview with The Korea Times at the Embassy of Colombia in Seoul, March 5. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

‘For over 70 years now, Colombia, Korea have enjoyed very close relations’

By Kim Hyun-bin

Colombian Ambassador to Korea Alejandro Pelaez Rodriguez said the free trade agreement (FTA) between the two nations has great potential for the agricultural and industrial sectors of his country, expressing an aim to reach $1 billion in exports to Korea in the near future.

“In that FTA, Colombia sees the possibility to export agricultural products and food processed products mainly but not exclusively. The agricultural and industrial sectors stand out as winners of the FTA with Korea,” Ambassador Rodriguez said during an interview with The Korea Times on March 5, noting the substantial growth in Colombian exports to Korea through the impact of the FTA, signed on Feb. 21, 2013.

“Colombian export products of these sectors went from $79 million in 2015, the year prior to the entry into force of the agreement, to $175 million in 2021, with an average annual growth of 14 percent. Trade is actually the most powerful platform you can create a diplomatic relationship,” he said.

While acknowledging the progress, Rodriguez expressed optimism about the prospect of expanding exports further.

“For me, a good number or the goal that we should achieve in a very short time should be exports of at least $1 billion,” he emphasized.

Rodriguez also stressed the need to diversify Colombian exports, identifying potential areas such as processed foods and tropical fruit. He highlighted the efforts of the commercial sector to identify new products to enhance the commercial basket.

On the Korean side, Rodriguez acknowledged the significant advantages gained from the FTA. He noted the prevalence of Korean products in Colombia, particularly in sectors like public transportation and home appliances.

“Today, if you go to Colombia, you are going to be amazed, for instance, about taxis in Colombia. The public transportation in Colombia is mainly Korean. I would say that easily 90 to 95 percent of the taxis today in Colombia are Hyundai or Kia.” he said. “Every single house in Colombia has at least one Korean home appliance, either a TV set or a mobile phone.”

Rodriguez acknowledged the challenges posed by physical distance but emphasized the potential for bilateral cooperation and opportunities on both sides.

“Well, distance is definitely a challenge, and it’s something that you cannot help whenever I speak with a CEO, with an entrepreneur, with a guy who’s running a startup. This is the issue that arises at first,” he said.

Despite the distance, the ambassador pointed out various opportunities for collaboration, particularly in light of Colombia hosting the COP 16 later this year, which he believes will open doors for business and consultancy services, especially in biodiversity.

“Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, where, for instance, the cosmetics industry can find ingredients that are not available here in Korea,” he said, highlighting potential partnerships in forestry, renewable energy and infrastructure development.

Discussing potential areas for collaboration between Korean and Colombian SMEs, Rodriguez said, “Startups and technological solutions here in Korea have an opportunity in Colombia. No doubt if you do or open the space for joint ventures for partnerships.”

The ambassador also highlighted the Korean food sector’s interest in entering new markets, considering Colombia’s sizable population and openness to new flavors, suggesting opportunities for processed food exports.

“The K-food sector is at thi moment interested to conquer new markets and Colombia is a market that has the same size as Korea, nearly 50 million people, and it is a market that is open for new flavors,” Rodriguez said.

Moreover, the ambassador identified the electrical and medical appliances sectors as promising areas for collaboration, citing the increasing demand for new technologies driven by the shift toward green energy sources.

Medellin, Colombia / Courtesy of PROCOLOMBIA

Medellin, Colombia / Courtesy of PROCOLOMBIA

Diplomatic ties

The ambassador provided an insightful overview of the longstanding diplomatic relations between Korea and Colombia. Spanning more than 70 years, these relations have matured into a multifaceted partnership that includes cooperation, cultural exchange, economic ties, and mutual support in critical projects.

Rodriguez emphasized the enduring bonds between the two nations, rooted in a shared history that dates back to Colombia’s participation in the 1950-53 Korean War.

“For over 70 years now, Colombia and Korea have enjoyed very close relations that stem from an everlasting brotherhood after the participation of the Colombia battalion in the Korean War,” he said.

Highlighting the evolution of bilateral relations over the past 62 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties, Ambassador Rodriguez outlined four key pillars that characterize the relationship between the two nations.

The first pillar he mentioned is cooperation, describing Colombia as a strategic partner for Korea across various domains including culture, economy and politics.

“Colombia is a strategic cooperation partner with Korea in the cultural side, in the economic side and in the political side,” he said.

The second pillar emphasized by Ambassador Rodriguez is cultural exchange, which he considers a vital aspect of public diplomacy. He highlighted the active exchange of activities between both countries, including initiatives such as participating in movie festivals and showcasing Colombian culture at events like book trade fairs.

He noted the growing popularity of Korean cultural expressions among Colombians, particularly among the younger generation, citing K-pop and K-dramas as examples.

In terms of education, Rodriguez praised Korea as a destination for Colombian students seeking high-quality education, especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs. He highlighted the increasing interest in studying in Korea and the growing number of students learning Korean through institutes like the Sejong Institute’s branch in Bogota.

“We consider cultural and public diplomacy a very important matter and we work a lot in order to be as active as possible and in order to share our culture here in Korea,” he said.

Economic ties form the third pillar of the bilateral relationship, with a focus on investment, tourism and trade. Ambassador Rodriguez noted Colombia’s efforts to attract investments from Korea, positioning the country as a nearshoring destination to serve all of the Americas. He highlighted Colombia’s strategic location, strong commercial legal framework and industrial base as factors that make it an attractive destination for Korean investors.

The fourth pillar, according to the ambassador, is mutual support in critical projects that contribute to the future development of both countries. He cited examples such as Colombia’s support for the Busan World Expo and Korea’s assistance in the Cadaster project, which aims to facilitate rural reform based on data.

Reflecting on his experience in Korea, Rodriguez expressed admiration for Korean culture and cuisine.

“Korea has been one of the best experiences of my life,” he shared, mentioning his fondness for Korean barbecue and ‘galbitang,’ a beef rib soup, as his favorite dishes.

 

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