Fri. Sep 30th, 2022

By Jaime Ortega Carrascal I

Bogota/Caracas, (EFE).- Colombia’s dynamic commercial relationship with Venezuela, a pillar of good neighborliness that has eroded in recent years due to political tensions, is being strengthened again with the reopening of the border announced for the 26th of this month.

Despite ups and downs in recent decades, bilateral trade reached a record $7.2 billion in 2008, but the deterioration of relations has reduced trade figures by more than 90%.

In 2013, when President Nicolás Maduro came to power as the successor of Hugo Chávez, trade fell to 1,846 million dollars, in 2017 it fell to 116.4 million dollars and last year it was 268.6 million dollars, according to the National Administration Department of Statistics (DANE), of Colombia.

This reality must change with the full reopening of the 2,219-kilometer border, which has been closed to traffic since August 2015 when Maduro, under the pretext of a campaign against alleged paramilitaries, expelled more than 20,000 Colombians from the Venezuelan side.

The decision was followed on February 23, 2019 by the severing of diplomatic and consular relations ordered by Maduro amid tensions with then Colombian President Ivan Duque over his support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Change with the arrival of Petro

A woman transports goods on the Simon Bolivar Bridge (border crossing between Colombia and Venezuela) in Cucuta (Colombia). EFE / Mario Caicedo

However, the arrival of Gustavo Petro to the Colombian presidency not only opens up the possibility of re-establishing those relations, starting with the appointment of ambassadors, but also the possibility of fully reopening the border next Monday.

Petro and Maduro put their feet on the accelerator and the Venezuelan president said on September 9 that he calculated that with the reopening of the border “we can reach 2,000 million dollars in commercial exchange”, while the Colombian ambassador in Caracas, Armando Benedetti, predicted that in a certain period 10,000 million dollars which he did not specify.

“It is not like before, the situation has changed, how beautiful it is to have good relations with Colombia and to be able to speak honestly, claim the glorious history that was born from the sword of our liberator Simón Bolívar”, thinks Maduro, inspiring its hero. That is the freedom that both he and Petro revere.

In the merger, the two countries also agreed that the Maduro government would take control of Monomeros Petrochemical Company, based in Colombia and a subsidiary of state-owned PDVSA, which has been run by opposition parties led by Guaido since 2019.

pending work

Two women walk past a produce stall on the Simon Bolivar Bridge in Cucuta, Colombia EFE / Mario Caicedo

Despite the enthusiasm of the parties, experts warn that there is still a long way to go because the obstacles of the past seven years and the crisis in Venezuela have left problems that need to be solved, a logistics, immigration, customs, phytosanitary and security. Nature, among others. , so that bilateral trade can flow again.

“What is coming now is the re-opening of borders, but on the issue of bilateral trade, the legal framework that will govern it is yet to be defined,” said Ifeke, president of the National Association of Foreign Trade (Analdex). Colombia, Javier Diaz Molina.

The leader recalled that Venezuela is no longer part of the Andean Community (CAN), from which it withdrew in April 2011, and as a result the zero tariff exchange that previously existed between the two countries no longer exists.

“You have to see what the legal framework is, if you are going to work through Aladi (Latin American Integration Association), if there will be a complementary agreement, a partial scope agreement. That definition must be given in order to have clarity about what the rules of the exchange game look like,” explained Diaz.

Analdex’s president added that good intentions are not enough, since the economic reality of Venezuela, which has been in crisis for years, must be taken into account.

“Venezuela, from 2013 to 2021, has reduced its gross domestic product by 75%, so today’s Venezuela is not the same as it was in 2008 (…) Today’s Venezuela is a quarter of what it was in 2008,” he said..

Payment method

A woman looks at merchandise on the Simon Bolivar Bridge in Cucuta, Colombia. EFE / Mario Caicedo

Díaz explained that the legal framework for payment must also be defined, since Venezuela still owes many Colombian exporters merchandise that was purchased more than ten years ago.

Colombia’s trade minister, Jerman Umana, recently said the debt, which has reached $1.3 billion, is currently about $300 million and work is being done to ensure it is paid on time.

Meanwhile, in Kukuta and other border towns that live off the trade, people are anxiously waiting for the normalization of the flow of people and goods between the two countries.

Ifeke, regional director of the Colombian Federation of Road Freight Transporters, said, “We hope that the reopening is not symbolic but real (…) It’s a rekindling of relationships that have been severed but fraternity and solidarity live on.” , Leonardo Mendez

Web version: Juanque Ochoa

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