Luis Diego Monsalve Hoyos, Colombian ambassador to China.
China Today (CT): In recent days we have seen the efforts carried out by the Chinese people in their battle against COVID-19. What do you think of the measures that have been applied in the country to fight this epidemic?
Ambassador Luis Diego Monsalve Hoyos (LDMH): Colombia praises the efforts that the Chinese government has carried out in fighting COVID-19, especially regarding its commitment towards finding a prompt solution and its determination in implementing a series of effective measures to contain the virus. In our country, we have born witness to China’s responsible and efficient actions, providing all the necessary assistance to its nationals as well as foreigners.
China has done a remarkable job in this arduous task, and Colombia has expressed its support at all levels. In fact, Colombian President Iván Duque sent a message to President Xi Jinping and the Chinese people, highlighting the resolute efforts and measures undertaken by the Chinese government.
My message to the Chinese government and its people on behalf of the Colombian government is that we are closely following what is happening, backing all the immense efforts that are being carried out, and as good friends, we are behind you.
CT: How are Colombians in Wuhan and Hubei doing? Have you spoken to any of them?
LDMH: We are in contact with 15 Colombians living in the province of Hubei and we know they are all safe. I have had the opportunity of talking with a few of them, and we are trying our best to provide all the assistance they may need and to support them in the current situation.
The Colombian Pavilion at the second China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai. Diversifying the export basket is one of the tasks ahead for Colombia to boost its trade with China.
CT: Although the fight against COVID-19 has occupied most people’s attention, February also marked the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Colombia. How do you see these four decades and what would you say is the main challenge ahead for the current administration?
LDMH: My view is quite positive, and I can firmly say that after 40 years of friendship, the relationship is stronger than ever. On a political level, President Duque’s recent visit to China — the only one he has made to a country in Asia — is the greatest proof of our commitment towards strengthening bilateral relations. On that occasion, both countries’ heads of state agreed on a joined blueprint that lays foundations for a common future.
From an economic perspective, bilateral commerce has been steadily increasing. There is also great news in terms of investment, as there are currently more than 80 Chinese companies operating in our country and Chinese firms recently secured some of the most important projects in the infrastructure and energy sectors, such as the construction of the Bogota’s subway.
In terms of cooperation, we have been working to boost areas that are vital to the development of both countries, like agriculture, e-commerce, and transportation, among others, as well as promoting educational and cultural exchanges between peoples of China and Colombia.
Nonetheless, there are still some areas we must continue to work on, and which we will tackle during my term as the ambassador. For example, we must increase exports in fields beyond the mining and energy sectors, especially of agricultural products, so that we can reduce trade deficit; increase investments in infrastructure, energy, and telecommunications; establish Chinese companies in Colombia in the agro industrial, automobile, and technology sectors; expand the flow of students and tourists between both countries; and deepen ties between local authorities through the establishment of sister cities and joint projects.
CT: What changes have prompted a greater increase of Chinese investment in Colombia?
LDMH: This has been one of the primary focuses of our government and of my work as ambassador. The increase is the result of a favorable environment for investment, backed by political, macroeconomic, and legal stability. Companies can feel secure about the investments they have made, knowing that they are safe and can bring in great profits in the future. At the same time, the increase of Chinese investment has also been the result of greater political ties between both governments, which have resulted in greater attention in the private sector.
Finally, it can also be attributed to the joint work between the Embassy, our agency for the promotion of exports and investments (ProColombia) and Chinese companies which have been willing to engage in all the investment processes, enabling them to better comprehend the laws, conditions, and competitive advantages that our country offers.
The booth for food from Colombia at the second CIIE in Shanghai in 2019.
CT: During his visit to China, President Iván Duque said that 85 percent of Colombia’s exports to China came from oil derivatives, which is why diversifying the export basket remains one of the main tasks ahead. Nowadays, Chinese consumers can buy Colombian bananas, coffee, flowers, and more recently, Hass avocados. How has the process of diversifying Colombian exports to China taken place?
LDMH: This is indeed one of the areas that concern us most, and to which we are paying great attention. We want to increase the variety of exported products, especially agricultural products, so that we can reduce the trade deficit of almost US $6 billion. We have been working to increase the volumes of products that are already well-known in China, such as coffee and flowers, as well as expanding the market for products like bananas, and of course, Hass avocados, for which we recently obtained the entry clearance
We will continue to push for more Colombian products into the Chinese market, and we hope that we will be able to bring products like beef, pork, Tahiti acid limes, and blueberries to more dinner tables across China.
CT: Another interesting point that President Duque mentioned was the possibility of opening a direct air route between the two countries. What are some of the plans to increase the number of Chinese tourists?
LDMH: A direct air route would undoubtedly boost commerce and tourism between the two countries, and both governments are working to establish the necessary framework and agreements that such a project would require.
Colombia is aware of the great potential of Chinese tourism, especially if we bear in mind that out of the more than 140 million Chinese that go abroad every year, only 16,000 come to our country. Chinese people are increasingly willing to explore more places across the world, and we believe that it is time for them to start enjoying the great attractions that Colombia and the rest of Latin America can offer.
In order to reach this goal, we have been working on several aspects: multi-destination packages that include other countries in the region; promotion through familiarization trips and influencers; tailored trips; better training in services aimed at the Chinese market; specific actions like academic and business trips, seminars, and others; and a specific selection of some destinations such as Bogotá, Cartagena, and the Coffee Belt region, among others, that are aligned with the preferences of Chinese tourists.
CT: To date, 19 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have decided to take part in the Belt and Road Initiative. In his visit to China, President Duque said he was willing to hold conversations on this subject. What is your view regarding this initiative driven by China?
LDMH: Colombia is interested in this initiative, has been following its progess closely, and has been working on the proposal from inside, as well as exchanging views with the Chinese government. As President Duque said during his visit to China, the plan is to bring forward a strategy between Colombia and China in the short, medium, and long term, which is in line with the Belt and Road Initiative, and obviously, with our own notions of development.