Shared Responsibility: The Future of UK/Colombia Relations

Speech by Minister for Latin America Jeremy Browne delivered in Colombia on 09 August 2010

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Jeremy Browne

I apologise for not speaking Spanish and for being a bit taller than the previous speaker.

I am delighted to be here this morning and I completely understand why Minister Bessudo needs to go see the president. When the president calls, you have to go see the president. And I hope they have a fruitful discussion on whatever it is they are discussing. It is a great opportunity and privilege to be here with you this morning to talk about this vital topic for our new government.

We have two coalition governments - in my country and in this country.

So instinctively we already know that things work better when people work together.

So it is appropriate that we are here today and we are representing two countries that have a long history of working together- and know the value - of working together on a big range of issues.

In recent years, we have referred to one strand of our bilateral relationship - the fight against drugs - as a “shared responsibility”.

But I think that the term “shared responsibility” is an accurate description of our current relationship not just in terms of drugs but across a whole important range of other political and policy priorities. By continuing our long tradition of partnership and co-operation the United Kingdom and Colombia can work together to tackle some of the greatest challenges of our time: climate change, foremost among those, but also promoting global economic prosperity as well as drugs and crime.

Climate Change

I believe that by working together we can have a decisive impact in shaping and delivering a better future for the citizens of both the United Kingdom and Colombia.

Prime Minister David Cameron wants this government to be the greenest ever and to take a leading role in the world; and the UK remains committed to an ambitious and comprehensive climate change deal negotiated through the UN and so we want significant progress to be made at Cancun later this year.

Colombia has a history of global leadership on climate change and an excellent track record of making positive changes domestically. We all heard President Santos’ commitment to protecting the environment on Saturday and I have seen and heard for myself how Colombia is drawing up a low carbon development plan; businesses are engaging in a low carbon economy and how the press and wider public are engaged on climate related issues.

In his speech President Santos set out his vision for Colombia to be an international leader. It is clear to me that Colombia is already a leader internationally on climate change and has the potential with the new team to take that even further.

The UK is delighted to see the impact that Colombia has on the international stage by vocally pushing for an ambitious climate change deal and the achievements they have made domestically are equally impressive. I hope that you, the Colombian government and all of the people of this country will boast about your achievements - demonstrating that low carbon development can be successful in Colombia and help others to see that they too can take route to a low carbon economy - and sign up to ambitious action themselves. We are delighted because we share so many of the same objectives that you also hold dear.

Like you, we recognise the importance of market based mechanisms designed to encourage a transfer to a low carbon economy and the importance of getting developed and emerging economies to sign up to ambitious emissions reduction targets.

Which is why it is so important that the National Business Association of Colombia (ANDI) has made climate change the key issue for their General Assembly meeting this month - and is planning an energy change conference to agree how to reduce emissions in key sectors.

Because climate change is much more than an environmental issue - it is a serious threat to economic development for countries around the world.

Key sectors to Colombia’s economy, such as mining and agriculture will be hit if climate change continues unabated: but action on climate change mitigation will lead to economic opportunity and reward.

In short: tackling climate change makes good business sense.

Colombia is becoming more and more important for UK exporters.

But there is potential to do more - here and across the region.

The Colombian economy is roughly the same size to that of South Africa and with a similar population but UK exports to South Africa are over 14 times higher than they are to Colombia.

South Africa is pushing to join the world’s leading economies.

There is no reason at all why Colombia cannot be a leading player in the global economy as well. But we need Colombia to take that step forward.

This is particularly important when the world is emerging from a global recession - and I as a minister in the British Foreign Office have responsibility for Latin America and for the Pacific/Asia zone; China, South Korea and countries of that type. .And what I observe and what I often say to people is that we are moving from a G8 world to a G20 world.

When I was young and taking interest in politics the world politically revolved around Europe and North America. That’s what it felt to me like as a European; and now that is changing dramatically. You see those pictures of the G8 summit and there are photographs of all the leaders at the end .They have the European Commission President as well the 8 heads of government. There are nine people standing in row and all of them represent Europe or North America apart from the Japanese Prime Minister and, we have become accustomed in Britain and Europe to thinking - that is the settled world order and that is the way it has always been. What I say to people in Britain and anyone else that wants to listen is that that is not any longer the way the world is going that it is not the future direction of travel and that there are economies around the world growing at a dramatic pace and rising in importance and you can see that here in Latin America It is not just an Asian phenomenon, people sometimes talk about China or India, but it is a phenomenon emphatically in Latin America, in. Brazil as the biggest economy and the biggest population but in many other countries and Colombia is a perfect example as a country with huge potential for further economic development which can benefit the economy as a whole and raise the prosperity of the country but also at the same time address some of the problems that the president himself has identified in terms of inequality. That is why the British government, the Prime Minister David Cameron and his team want to reach out want to identify new opportunities here in South America because Britain has not been untouched by the economic turbulence but we do remain open for business.

Including - of course - with Colombia.

UK companies are looking to the region as an area for exciting growth.

According to The World Bank Group’s “Doing Business Report” Colombia has the best business environment amongst the main economies of Latin America. What is more, it has been ranked as one of the top ten reformers in four of the last seven years.

The UK is the largest foreign investor in Colombia after the US, with investments in excess of US$18 billion. UK companies are particularly active in the oil and gas, mining, pharmaceutical and insurance sectors and we are working to expand this list.

So we need to work together to ensure that those partnerships are in as good a shape as possible to face the future.

And the future is a low carbon economy. So that is the crucial point. We are looking to improve in terms of investment and wealth and job creation and we are doing that hand in hand with achieving our environmental objectives. Because they are the jobs of the future in that green economy.

As a result the UK is increasingly an international hub for low carbon expertise and innovation. We have the sixth largest low carbon sector in the world, which is now worth over £112 billion and employs over 900,000 people. London is the leading centre for carbon trading - not just in buying credits - but helping organisations in Colombia and elsewhere structure and finance low carbon projects effectively.

This October, a UK trade mission from the carbon trading sector will head to Colombia to highlight that carbon trading fits naturally into London and the UK’s strength as a centre for financial and professional services.

The recent signing of a trade agreement with the EU opens up new possibilities for Colombian companies looking to diversify their market overseas.

BUT many EU companies are now examining the carbon content generated through their supply chains. So companies from Colombia that are looking to succeed in the EU market, and that is very important for the development of Colombia, will increasingly need to give consideration to their own carbon footprint and how they manage it.

So I am delighted that ERM - a British company with an office in Bogota - who have developed effective carbon measurement and managements services for advice - have identified this need to try and make sure that Colombian businesses can succeed in the EU market because they comply with the rigorous environmental standards expected of them.

I know that Colombia is currently enjoying a “bonanza” in oil and gas: and fossil fuels will continue to play an important role as we transition to a global low carbon economy. But it has been great to learn how much of Colombia’s electricity is already produced through renewable sources and it is great to see the Colombian utility companies who are lifting their gaze up from north Colombian coal reserves towards the horizon and seeing the huge potential of solar and wind energy for future prosperity from clean, secure energy.

In Britain we are significantly increasing our use of wind power and I look forward to British companies sharing this expertise here in Colombia and in this part of the world. We recognise the massive potential for wind energy in Colombia

So it is essential that governments put in place policies which offer long term certainty to business who make those future low carbon investments.

By continuing to take positive steps - like those that I have outlined - the more deeply we can benefit from economic growth and future prosperity for our citizens- another key component of President Santos’ vision for Colombia.

In order to realise that future, it is important that Colombia sustains the recent increased confidence that it has received from investors.

Chief amongst sustaining that confidence is tackling drugs and crime.

I know that and we all know that. I want to see greater investment. I had a breakfast meeting with British businesses based here in Colombia this morning and we were talking about the barriers for investment and one of them we said are the perceptions in the UK and across Europe that Colombia has problems with drugs with violent crime and there it is a barrier to people coming here and helping to increase the prosperity of Colombia and helping to tackle some of those environmental challenges.

In spite of the enormous progress achieved in the last decade, it is no secret that Colombia is still the world’s leading producer of cocaine and the base for the most significant crime groups for controlling the trade. It remains the source of the bulk of cocaine reaching the UK. And it causes significant social, health and economic harm to both countries.

The cocaine trade restricts economic development, corrupts and undermines the political process and has links to domestic terrorism. Innocent individuals suffer human rights abuses, displacement from their homes and despoilment of the environment in which they live. I was meeting with a group of people yesterday who were telling me in very moving terms how they were removed from their natural environment that had lived in for generations.

And the impact of cocaine production on the environment is truly shocking.

The cultivation of illicit crops has led to the destruction of 2.2 million hectares of tropical forest in Colombia; an area the size of El Salvador.

As our Shared Responsibility Campaign points out, for each gram of cocaine consumed, 4 square metres of tropical forests are cut down.

Much of that deforestation takes place within hard-to-reach areas with very high levels of biodiversity that we heard about earlier this morning.

The deforestation that goes hand in hand with the drugs trade undermines Colombia’s claims to be an international leader on climate change.

It is a vicious circle.

Deforestation contributes to climate change and increases the sensitivity of the land to the impacts of climate change.

Climate change acts as a threat multiplier - exacerbating social security problems and limiting individual prosperity and human rights. It stretches the capabilities and the resources of government, communities and security forces to respond to the threat of the drugs trade.

I am proud of the partnership that the British Embassy in Bogota has with the Environment Ministry, it is a very important link that our embassy enjoys with your government, but also others whose interests are directly affected by climate change, such as the Ministry of Defence. Climate change is not just an environmental issue, but a security one and needs to be factored into all decisions taken by Governments, and indeed by all citizens as well.

To deal with all of this is a big challenge. The UK as a friend of Colombia will play our part.

The drugs trade causes serious damage to both our societies, so we accept our shared responsibility as a consumer country to work with you to reduce the harm caused by drugs and bring to justice those responsible.

Our work - joint efforts on behalf of the United Kingdom and Colombia - has already contributed to the arrest of high profile drugs traffickers, the dismantling of organised crime networks and the seizure of many tonnes of cocaine.

So we know it can be done working together.

We want to continue to drive home the message that consumption of drugs is not just a personal choice, but a direct factor in causing environmental damage, violence and criminality, and it undermines prospects for growth and development here in Colombia.

And we will continue to work together on tackling the drugs scourge.

It is because of our close working relationship, the existing co-operation and friendship that we have, that we can have those discussions about all the issues that matter to both our countries- those that President Santos outlined on Saturday: security, global and individual prosperity, human rights and individual freedoms and climate change and the environment.

This visit has deeply impressed me. I have never been to South America before. This the first country I have visited in the region not just as a minister but as an individual, as a private citizen and I have been struck by the friendship that exists between our countries, the state for enhancing that friendship, the shared agenda we have as I said on prosperity for the people of this country but bringing jobs and investment to both our countries to our mutual benefit. Tackling drugs, tackling abuses of human rights, tackling organised crime and combining all of those and bringing them together is our shared outlook on the environment.

I flew from Bogota to Cartagena yesterday and you have a lot of environment here. I was looking out of the plane window, it is a fantastic country and what exciting possibilities you have and we want to work with you with our shared agenda to make sure that the right environmental outcomes are reached here, in the UK and in the global forums where these matters will be discussed which will shape the world in future generations.

Thank you all for coming.

Published 9 August 2010