Colombia will open trade office in Jerusalem, President Duque says
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Colombia will open trade office in Jerusalem, President Duque says

Announcement comes during event to mark ratification of bilateral free-trade agreement with Israel signed 7 years ago — the Latin American country’s first in the Middle East

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu participated, via videoconference, at a event marking the ratification of a free-trade agreement between Israel and Colombia, August 10, 2020 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Netanyahu participated, via videoconference, at a event marking the ratification of a free-trade agreement between Israel and Colombia, August 10, 2020 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Colombia will open a trade and innovation office in Jerusalem, the country’s president announced Monday.

Ivan Duque made the announcement during a videoconference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu marking the ratification of a free-trade agreement between the two countries.

The new mission will help Colombia “consolidate the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” he said.

Netanyahu welcomed Duque’s announcement, saying Colombia — the third-largest economy in Latin America — was joining other countries on the continent that have already opened similar offices in the capital.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu will continue to work toward the goal of encouraging additional countries to open representations in Jerusalem,” his office said in a statement.

Currently, Brazil and Honduras have trade offices in the city. Guatemala has an embassy in Jerusalem.

Other countries that have trade and/or defense offices in the capital include the Czech Republic, Hungary and Australia.

In his speech, Netanyahu celebrated a “historic moment in the relationship” between Israel and Colombia, citing Duque’s plans for the Jerusalem office as well as the ratification of a free-trade agreement, which was signed seven years ago and had been awaiting final approval by the Colombian parliament.

The agreement is Colombia’s first FTA with any country in the Middle East and will allow 97 percent of Colombian goods to enter the Israeli market without tariffs.

“These decisions create a platform of cooperation between us that will bring our partnership, our friendship, our brotherhood — as you said — to new political and economic levels,” Netanyahu said.

“Israel is a hub of global innovation. Colombia is one of the strongest economies in Latin America. It has a strong academic base, a strong scientific base, and I think that cooperating, the cooperation between us will make both of us stronger. We also have a strong partnership on security as well. Ivan, your leadership in the fight against terrorism sets an example for the rest of Latin America.”

Colombia considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

Duque has been the country’s president since 2018. As a candidate, Duque, of the right-wing Democratic Center party, said he wanted to improve good relations with Israel, even openly mulling the idea of moving his country’s embassy to Jerusalem.

At a March 2018 campaign event he said that if elected, he would not rule out “the possibility of placing the diplomatic seat in Jerusalem.” Duque also said he wanted to “maintain the best possible relations with the State of Israel.”

Those comments from Duque garnered a harsh backlash from his opponents on the campaign trail, with most other candidates rejecting the position.

Questioned about his statement days later, Duque said he supported a two-state solution and wanted his eventual government to contribute to peace efforts. “Colombia cannot stir up hatred in the Middle East,” he said.

Colombia has been one of Israel’s closest friends in Latin America, with close political, military and economic ties. In August 2018, Duque’s predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos, surprisingly decided to recognize a Palestine state days before leaving office, making Colombia the first country do to so.

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