Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister, or (Tánaiste in Irish Gaelic Tanistry) and Minister of Business, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar spent St. Patrick’s Day in Colombia as part of a five-day visit to forge a tighter bond between the two countries. The visit is the second ministerial level visit since Ireland opened its Colombian Embassy in Bogotá’s Santa Barbara neighborhood In 2019.
During the trip, Varadkar met with Colombian President Ivan Duque, and accompanied by Irish Ambassador to Colombia, Fiona Nic Dhonnacha, reached several agreements on security, education, and commerce.
Irish companies such as Smurfit Kappa, Planet Payment, Mainstream Renewable, and Irelandia Aviation already have a strong presence in Colombia.
“Colombia is a key partner for Ireland in this region. The visit of Deputy Prime Minister Varadkar confirms the interest in deepening our political and economic relations with Colombia, and takes place in the context of the recent launch of our Irish Strategy for Latin America and the Caribbean,” said Ambassador Nic Dhonnacha. ““Both countries are experiencing a very positive post-pandemic economic recovery, and this visit will allow us to explore more opportunities for trade and investment in the future.”
The Colombia-Ireland Business Network Launched
During the visit, the two countries launched a bilateral business network, with 20 initial corporate participants from both countries, in a ceremony attended by Vradkar (above left), Colombian Vice President and Foreign Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez (above center), and the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, María Ximena Lombana (above right).
“Today we had the opportunity to launch a network uniting Irish companies that are doing business here in Colombia. This includes companies that are great in different industries such as financial services, fintech, agritech, aviation, construction, engineering, education, life sciences and digital health, as well as food, beverage and other digital technologies,” said Vradkar, indicating that his government expects the business network to grow in the coming years as trade relations expand.
“We hope to see more imports from Colombia, including coffee and other products, and we look at the potential of working together on renewable energy,” he said.
“Ireland is a country that has come a long way in terms of technology and its economic growth has been amazing. During the year of confinement, it was one of the only countries that had positive growth and all thanks to the fact that it has a very solid economy based on innovation and knowledge,” added Vice President Ramirez. “For Ireland it is important to identify business opportunities in Latin America and, what better than having Colombia as a platform to be able to produce, to develop a greater presence of Irish companies, hopefully throughout the region and throughout the hemisphere.”
“Today we have new investment channels. And, today, Ireland is present in the paper sector of our country but linking it to the concept of the circular economy, where producing-conserving and conserving-producing are not a motto, but a reason for being and where we see Irish companies that perform in this sector, improving in-depth all practices, not only in reducing emissions, but also avoiding environmental damage,” said President Ivan Duque in a speech.
“It has been an extraordinary visit and I am convinced that we are going to see the strengthening of our relations at all levels.”—Tánaiste Leo Varadkar
“It is very important to highlight the role that Ireland plays in Fintech…but above all where we are accessing technologies that have been developed in Ireland. And that transfer of knowledge means a lot to us. In terms of energy transition, Ireland has been accompanying us in the goals that we have defined to be a carbon neutral country in the year 2050 and to be a country that reduces 51% of greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2030, but also we have received accompaniment and support so that this year we can declare 30% of the national territory as a protected area. And I deeply value the presence of Irish companies in this transition towards non-conventional renewable energies, where there are already players and many more will come. And now, also, we appreciate the interest of Irish companies in what will be the strategic route of green hydrogen in Colombia,” Duque continued.
Bilateral Educational Opportunities
A memorandum of understanding was signed between the Colombian Institute of Educational Credit and Technical Studies Abroad (ICETEX) and Ireland’s Department of Continuing and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science that facilitates the sharing of experience and practices “regarding the design of the educational system; the exchange of pedagogical practices and information; the strengthening of relations between educational institutions; and the inclusion of the arts in a transversal way in the curriculum from initial education and secondary education,” among other topics.
“This agreement with Ireland will open up opportunities for more Colombian students in Irish territory; but we also hope that it will allow us to have exchanges so that more Irish citizens are in our country and can contribute to our great objectives such as bilingualism,” said President Duque.
Solidarity with Ukraine
Varadkar praised President Duque for his leadership regarding the situation in Ukraine and in the attention to migrants. “I particularly want to recognize the leadership of the President, who has been the leader in Latin America who has come forward the most on these issues to defend democracy and the sovereignty of the territory of Ukraine. We thank him very much for that leadership. All of us in Europe are very grateful for the solidarity that Colombia has offered in response to the crisis in Ukraine.”
President Duque added: “I want to emphasize, and I am deeply honored, that today, Ireland and Colombia also work for humanitarian purposes and the unrestricted defense of democracy. Colombia has been the strongest and clearest voice in this entire Latin American and Caribbean environment, rejecting this cruel, inhumane attack that violates international law and sovereignty that Russia has committed with Ukraine. We condemn it and express our voice in all instances of multilateralism. Today we are through our participation in NATO as a strategic partner supporting humanitarian action.”
The Venezuelan Crisis
Varadkar said that “Colombia has also shown a humane approach by welcoming its neighbors from Venezuela…Giving temporary status to Venezuelan migrants is something we consider a lot in Ireland, as we are opening our doors to Ukrainians. And I think we have to take into account the humanitarian response of Colombia with the Venezuelans who have had to flee the dictatorship.”
Duque agreed, saying: “I want to emphasize that we are supporting European countries in migration management issues, since Colombia has become a benchmark in the management of 1.8 million Venezuelan migrants who have come to our country due to the opprobrium and dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro.”
Varadkar signed a letter of intent with Colombian President Ivan Duque to formalize cooperation between the Irish and Colombian police force in the fight against international crime, and to facilitate the exchange of information between the two Atlantic nations.
Duque also said that progress was being made in resolving double-taxation issues between the two countries, and he hopes the two countries may finalize an agreement soon. On this, he called for urgent action by the Colombian congress.