President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia began on Monday a two day visit to London. During his visit the Colombian leader will meet the Queen, Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and other senior Ministers to discuss how the UK and Colombia can strengthen their bilateral ties.
The visit comes as President Santos continues with wide-ranging domestic reforms aimed at improving the penal system, increasing security and returning land to those left dispossessed by internal conflict.
The Foreign Office sees the visit as an important part of the step change the UK wants to see in its relationship with the wider Latin America region.
“It is a great pleasure to welcome President Santos to the UK at such a pivotal moment in our bilateral relationship, and with Colombia embarking on many positive reforms. I know he has long-standing links to this country, but this visit marks his first here as President.
“We cannot, and must not, shy away from the past, and there are still problems to be dealt with. The UK stands ready to help, and I would encourage Colombia to continue its progress in prosecuting those involved in human rights abuses and in showing a new, more progressive country to the world.”
“President Santos has shown his determination to transform Colombia, and we now want to broaden and deepen our relationship into new areas. This is why we have this week committed to doubling our two-way trade by 2015.
“The UK’s relationship with Colombia is already close, and has been for many years. We want President Santos’s visit to signal the start of a new and progressive partnership.”
As well as attending a trade forum with a large business delegation, President Santos will sign agreements on education, and give a Canning Lecture at Mansion House: a year after William Hague became the first Foreign Secretary to do so.
In his speech the Foreign Secretary had committed the UK to engaging more closely with Latin America, and to increasing its diplomatic presence in the region.
“Despite Colombia’s strong economic credentials, at present it is only the UK’s fifth largest export market in Latin America. There is so much more potential to be realised across the whole spectrum of sectors”, said FCO officer Minister Jeremy Browne.
“I hope that the visit of President Santos will lead to an enhanced relationship in our important traditional areas of cooperation, like counter-narcotics and human rights, but also in those areas where we have made a good start but need too more, like trade, economic policy, education and climate change.
“I want our businesses to think of Colombia when they are choosing export markets. I want our universities and research institutes to make Colombia a priority for their international outreach. And I want Colombia to think of the UK as a partner of choice”.