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Marí­a Ángela Holguí­n Cuéllar

COLOMBIA - Diplomacy

At the Table

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Colombia

Bio

Marí­a Ángela Holguí­n Cuéllar is a graduate of Political Science and has two decades of public and private sector experience. She has held high positions in the government, including at the Office of the President of Republic, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Office of the Inspector General of the Nation. As part of her broad professional experience in the diplomatic field, Maria Angela Holguin has held, among others, the positions of Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia and Deputy Minister (1998), Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Colombian Mission to the United Nations (2004—2006), Ambassador of Colombia to Venezuela (2002—2004), and Commercial Attaché of the Embassy of Colombia in France (1992). In addition, she was Coordinator for Colombia of the IADB Assembly and Inter-American Investment Corporation (1997), and Executive Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Regional Conference on Early Childhood (1997).

"We certainly need to continue our bilateral and regional engagement with all countries."

What was the significance for Colombia of the Sixth Summit of the Americas celebrated in Cartagena in 2012?

The Sixth Summit of the Americas gave us the opportunity to propose to the countries of the region to concentrate on advancing the achievements of the two hemispheres, mainly integration and comprehensive development. Our proposals were widely supported by member states and became a concrete action plan for the Americas in the coming years. The Cartagena Summit will also be remembered as the first continental meeting to hold, at the highest level, an open and frank exchange of views on the most divisive issues on the Americas’ agenda. In Cartagena, the hemispheric political dialogue gained a new dimension. Among others, and as a result of it, the OAS is preparing an analytical study on the region’s current antidrug policy and on existing alternatives to give more strength and effectiveness to our fight against this scourge.

What have been your Ministry’s major accomplishments over the past two years and what are your priorities for 2013?

Over the past two-and-a-half years, we have implemented a policy of reaching out to new partners in Central Asia and the Pacific as well as expanding the thematic issues and areas of exchange and cooperation with our traditional partners. Likewise, we have focused on two social programs with economic impact in small municipalities bordering our neighboring countries. These are the Border Plan for Prosperity and the Children and Youth Opportunities Program. Our priorities for 2013 are developing these approaches both with our traditional and new partners, enhancing our work in Colombia’s territories in the Caribbean basin, strengthening our cooperation with Central America and the Caribbean, reinforcing our partnerships with Latin American countries, and consolidating the Pacific Alliance as a pragmatic partnership that will bring major benefits to all the economies involved.

“We certainly need to continue our bilateral and regional engagement with all countries.”

How would you assess bilateral relations between the US and Colombia and in what areas is there more potential for cooperation?

We have had, for many years, a special relationship with the US. Our successes in combatting major global challenges in Colombia are also their successes due to the commitment and cooperation of successive US governments. During this administration, we have sought to expand the agenda items for dialogue and exchange. From an almost monothematic agenda, we have now strengthened our areas of cooperation in the agriculture and energy sectors as well as in science and technology and the environment and sustainability. They are all essential for our development and the creation of prosperity.

What has been the most important change in Colombian society in recent years?

Since the beginning of my tenure, I have strived to highlight the positive environment of our new reality and the opportunities it can offer both Colombians and the world. This is a challenge, as there is a problem of perception within the international system related to our past realities, which we have able to overcome in many aspects. But indeed, the major challenge is for Colombians to feel they are on an equal footing with nationals of any other countries, after having been stigmatized for so many years. This change in our own attitude is essential in order to explore new regions and markets and feel confident about our strengths in human capital, as an investment destination, and also the quality and competitiveness of our industries.

What role has Colombia played in promoting regional cooperation and development?

In terms of cooperation, we have focused on offering programs in security matters and counter-narcotics to Central America and the Caribbean. International organized crime, with all its ramifications, concerns and affects us all; thus, the need to strengthen the capacities of all nations if we, as an international community, want to achieve successful results in the near future. We have extended this cooperation to some African countries afflicted with similar challenges.

What are Colombia’s priorities in the region?

We certainly need to continue our bilateral and regional engagement with all countries as well as with the sub-regional and regional organizations. Notwithstanding the efforts undertaken in the various mechanisms, we will focus our attention on the full implementation of the agreements and sectorial commitments derived from the Pacific Alliance. This pragmatic approach of the Alliance and its vision to engage with third nations and organizations in the Asia Pacific offers the opportunities Colombia needs to continue with its engagement in Asia and with the international major economic, political, and financial currents.

Currently, Colombia has eight FTAs with 15 countries. What are your prospects for FTAs with other nations in 2013?

Colombia has a network of FTAs, ADTs, and BITs that allows us to reach out to 1.5 billion potential consumers all over the world. Apart from the FTAs that we have with Latin American countries, we have agreements in force with the US, Canada, and EFTA-Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Soon, we will complete the ratification process of the agreement with the EU, which was approved by the European Parliament in December 2012. We have concluded negotiations with the Republic of Korea and we are currently negotiating with Japan, Costa Rica, and Israel.

What role do you envision playing in Latin America?

We want to be a constructive member of this region and provide opportunities for engagement. We have worked with all the countries, acknowledging our potential and competitive advantages for success, and we will remain committed to this policy. Latin America has it all and we want to empower our region to become more competitive in order to foster growth aimed at improving the lives and livelihoods of all our citizens.

© The Business Year – April 2013

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