CARTAGENA, Colombia – U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Friday wrapped up a two-day visit to Colombia, where he expressed hope that the bilateral relationship that has grown in recent years will not be weakened after President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January.
“I view Colombia as the keystone, literally the keystone, to hemispheric prosperity,” Biden said at the inaugural session of a U.S.-Colombia Advisory Council meeting that brought together at least 70 business leaders and executives from both countries.
Delivering a speech in this northern city just two days after Colombia’s Congress approved a historic peace accord between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group, Biden said the most difficult part of the peace process – the implementation phase – was just beginning.
Biden, in what will almost certainly be his last visit to Colombia as vice president, said some members of Trump’s team want to withdraw from the world but that the council’s members can influence the incoming president by defending the need to continue close diplomatic and trade ties.
On the campaign trail, Trump slammed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) linking the U.S., Canada and Mexico, as well as other existing and proposed trade deals, as job-destroying and has pledged to put America first in the country’s dealings with other nations.
The United States’ free-trade agreement with Colombia was signed in 2006 under President George W. Bush’s administration and took effect six years later.
This year, Obama also asked the U.S. Congress to approve $450 million in economic assistance for Colombia under a new framework known as “Paz Colombia” (Peace Colombia).
He touted that more than $100 million boost in aid as a continuation of “Plan Colombia,” a long-standing U.S. initiative to help the Andean nation in its war on drugs.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who also attended the gathering, said his country had reached a new dawn and said the private sector and the United States both had a critical role to play in forging a peaceful and prosperous future.
“The U.S. has been the most important country for Colombia in terms of trade,” and Bogota intends to continue strengthening those relations in this new stage for the Andean nation, Santos said.