Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was in Miami on Monday, prospecting for foreign investment as his country puts an era of drug violence and guerrilla conflict behind it.
Santos came to Miami with three key members of his economic team — Finance Minister Mauricio Cárdenas, Luis Fernando Andrade, president of the National Infrastructure Agency, and Clemente del Valle, president of the National Development Finance Co. — to take part in a private Goldman Sachs investor conference on Colombia at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
Making his first U.S. trip since winning reelection on June 15, Santos noted at a later news conference that “practically half the country is ripe for investment.” He said Colombia had a very ambitious development agenda that added up to investment opportunities of $26 billion. Santos will be sworn in to a new four-year term on August 7.
As Colombia’s political environment has stabilized, economic growth has increased. Stephen Scherr, chief strategy officer for Goldman Sachs, said that he had “every expectation that the market will respond positively” to Colombia’s overtures for foreign investment.
Cárdenas, who will continue as finance minister, said economic policy during Santos’ second term would have a “social emphasis’’ and an effort would be made to include the poorest Colombians in economic development.
Colombia is South Florida’s second most important trading partner after Brazil. Last year, trade between the Miami Customs District and Colombia totaled $9.34 billion, 5.3 percent lower than the previous year. The Miami district accounted for more than 23 percent of all U.S. trade with Colombia in 2013.
Among Colombia’s top exports to South Florida are gold, fresh-cut flowers, gasoline, and platinum. Its top imports from the Miami district were cellphones and related equipment, computers and civilian aircraft and engines.
Although Santos has said his election win over former Finance Minister Iván Zuluaga has given him a mandate to speed up the peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, he declined to talk about a specific timetable.
“We have learned that setting deadlines is counter-productive,’’ Santos said. But he said he was hopeful that the ongoing peace negotiations with the FARC might be concluded by the end of the year.
On a lighter note, Santos said he was proud that FIFA had awarded its Fair Play prize to the Colombian team during the recently concluded World Cup. Santos said the award was especially meaningful because it also represented “a fundamental part of what we want in the country, to change the culture.... to have clean play in respect to institutions.’’