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Colombia hailed as trade partner for UK as it prepares for Brexit

Published 02/11/2016

Colombia's president Juan Manuel Santos during a UK-Colombia business breakfast meeting at Buckingham Palace in London
Colombia's president Juan Manuel Santos during a UK-Colombia business breakfast meeting at Buckingham Palace in London

The UK must set its sights on boosting trade with emerging economies as it leaves the European Union, Theresa May said after talks with Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos.

The Prime Minister restated her ambition of the UK being a "global champion of free trade" as it prepares for Brexit, with countries like Colombia offering new opportunities.

Following the talks with Mrs May in Downing Street, Mr Santos said Colombia was ready to "pursue new opportunities" with the UK as the Brexit process unfolds.

Mrs May said the UK has been the third largest foreign investor in Colombia over the past decade and the trading relationship was worth £1 billion last year.

She said: "As the UK prepares to leave the EU, I am determined that Britain should become the global champion of free trade, and that means boosting trade with fast-growing economies like Colombia.

"I want to see even more British companies and investors taking up the opportunities that Colombia offers.

"And I want Colombian businesses to see the UK as a leading hub for finance, innovation, research and development."

The talks at Number 10, on the second day of Mr Santos's state visit to the UK, saw the announcement of a new oil and gas partnership.

The two leaders also announced a new double taxation agreement to help businesses and employees in both countries.

And the Prime Minister promised £1 billion in UK export finance to encourage investment in healthcare and energy projects.

Bringing together the cities of Aberdeen and Barranquilla, the new oil and gas partnership will share best practice in areas like regulation, supply chain development and training.

The Prime Minister and president also discussed how the UK can support efforts to secure a lasting peace agreement in Colombia, following last month's referendum which narrowly rejected Mr Santos's deal to end conflict with Farc guerrillas.

Mrs May promised a further £7.5 million to support efforts to remove landmines and the international monitoring mission in Colombia. The UK will also invest up to £25 million in urban development, agriculture, services and transport, which Mrs May claimed could improve the lives of more than three million people affected by the conflict and create export opportunities worth around £6 billion for British firms.

She also promised advice on the peace process, based on the UK's own experiences in Northern Ireland.

Mr Santos, who welcomed the "key role" played by the UK in the search for peace, highlighted the business opportunities available in his country.

Colombia, along with Chile, Peru and Mexico, is in the Pacific Alliance free trade bloc and represented "a huge opportunity for British business".

"As the UK negotiation process with the European Union unfolds, we stand ready to pursue new opportunities to consolidate our status as trading partners," he said.

Energy Minister Nick Hurd signed an agreement with Colombia for a £20 million joint-funded bio-economy research programme to develop new drugs, medicines, fertilisers and pollution-tackling products.

Mr Hurd described the agreement as "a significant moment in our relationship giving our world-leading researchers and scientists the opportunity to work closely with Colombian counterparts tackling global challenges, addressing developmental issues and unlocking the full potential of Colombia's biodiverse geography".

The Colombia Bio programme will tap into economic and scientific opportunities in isolated regions affected by the long-running conflict with guerrilla groups in the country, he said.

The UK has already pledged to provide £45 million to tackle deforestation in Colombia.

Following the signing ceremony at London's Natural History Museum, the Colombian delegation was presented with a picture of a new species of ringlet butterfly discovered in the Amazon by a team led by the museum's Bianca Huertas and named the Peace Butterfly - Magneuptychia pax - in recognition of the country's ongoing peace process.

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