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Korea, Colombia agree to seal trade deal this year

President Lee Myung-bak and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday agreed to seek an early conclusion of a free trade agreement and to develop bilateral relations beyond economic interests.

The two leaders agreed to upgrade their half-century-old ties to a “strategic cooperative partnership,” a diplomatic term that refers to ties that are close enough to cooperate on security, global issues and other topics beyond economic exchanges.

“We are pressing related ministries to accelerate negotiations for an FTA between Korea and Colombia,” Santos was quoted as saying during the summit meeting by Lee’s spokesperson Park Jeong-ha.

Comparing Korea’s status in the Asia Pacific region to Colombia’s in South America, Santos said he took pride in the fact that Colombia fought on the South’s side in the 1950-53 Korean War, according to Park.

Lee thanked Bogota for its support of Seoul in many international agenda and promised to make efforts to help Colombia join the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Santos thanked Lee for the support for Colombia’s APEC membership and asked him to pay a visit to Bogota next year.

Santos, on a three-day official state visit to Korea, visited the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas and the United Nations Command headquarters, attended a luncheon meeting with Korean business leaders, a Colombia investment promotion session, a meeting with National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae and a visit to industrial facilities in southeastern part of the country. Santos is the third Colombian president ever to visit South Korea and the first since 1996.

“More than anything else, the two countries agreed in today’s summit talks to conclude free trade agreement negotiations within this year so as to expand their political alliance forged in blood to an economic alliance,” Cheong Wa Dae said in a statement.

South Korea will take part in a multi-billion-dollar project to develop new oil mines, facilities and shipping centers in Colombia, the Seoul government said Thursday.

Under the joint project likely to be worth up to $10 billion, the two countries will develop new oil fields in Colombia’s eastern Llanos grasslands, along with a pipeline to Colombia’s western coast for shipments to South Korea and other Asian markets, according to the Ministry of Knowledge Economy.

Colombia is said to have oil reserves of 1.9 billion barrels, but nearly all of its daily production of 267,000 barrels is currently exported to the United States.

“Knowing that Colombia is working to diversify markets for its oil, the ministry proposed the project that will help increase shipments to Asia by developing new oil fields, a pipeline, refinery and seaports,” the ministry said in a press release.

The countries on Thursday signed a memorandum of understanding, under which South Korea will soon form a working group of government officials and representatives from private companies to set up detailed plans for the project by November and launch a joint feasibility study with Colombia before the year’s end, according to the ministry.

Three South Korean companies, including the state-run Korea National Oil Corp., currently own stakes in 10 oil development projects in Colombia.

Another MOU was signed on the sidelines of the Lee-Santos summit, under which South Korea will help improve Colombia’s electric power supplies. Colombia is currently working to increase its electricity production from 13.5 gigawatts to 16.2 gigawatts by 2014, according to the ministry.

By Kim So-hyun and news reports (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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