Visit to Australia by the Colombian Foreign Minister
18 March 2010
Today I met with the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Colombia, Dr Jaime Bermúdez Merizalde.
Dr Bermúdez is visiting Australia from Wednesday 17 March until Saturday 20 March as a Guest of the Australian Government.
Dr Bermúdez and I last met in the margins of the London Conference on Afghanistan in January.
The visit marks 35 years since the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between Australia and Colombia and is an opportunity to further advance our bilateral relationship.
Dr Bermúdez’s visit is a further demonstration of the priority the Government places on the emerging importance of the Latin American region to Australia.
At the same time, Colombia, as a Pacific-rim economy, is working to expand ties with Australia as an important step in increasing its engagement in the Asia-Pacific region.
Dr Bermúdez and I welcomed the growth in our relationship in recent years and committed to maintaining this momentum.
Colombia and Australia enjoy warm relations based on growing people-to-people links. Education ties have grown strongly in recent years, with over 10,000 Colombian students enrolled to study in Australia in 2009.
Australian companies are making a significant contribution to Colombia’s economy, particularly in minerals resources, but also agriculture and financial services.
Dr Bermudez’s visit is an opportunity to maintain the strong momentum in commercial activities and build on the Memorandum of Understanding on strengthening bilateral trade and investment signed in Geneva on 29 November 2009 by Trade Minister Simon Crean and Colombian Minister for Trade, Industry and Tourism, Mr Luis Guillermo Plata.
Dr Bermúdez and I agreed that Australia and Colombia should continue to cooperate closely on important multilateral priorities, including disarmament, UN reform, climate change and trade liberalisation.
Dr Bermúdez also provided me with an update on human rights developments in Colombia.
I took the opportunity to discuss the Colombian Government’s continuing efforts to address all human rights violations, including with respect to union officials, and it efforts to adhere to and respect human rights norms.
Australia welcomes Colombia’s voluntary submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review.
In Canberra, Dr Bermúdez will also meet my colleagues, the Minister for Trade, the Hon Simon Crean MP and the Parliamentary Secretary for Development Assistance, the Hon Bob McMullan MP.
I advised Dr Bermúdez that Australia will provide $2 million to support two microfinance projects in Colombia.
Australia’s contribution will provide training for micro-business owners and help microfinance institutions improve the quality and accessibility of financial services to the poor and vulnerable, including women and mine affected communities.
Dr Bermúdez visit also includes Brisbane and Sydney. In Brisbane, Dr Bermúdez met Governor of Queensland, HE Ms Penelope Wensley AO and the Queensland Premier, the Hon Anna Bligh MP.
He also attended a lunch hosted by the Hon Stephen Robertson MP, the Queensland Minister for Trade with a large business community audience to launch the newly-formed Australia-Colombia Business Group.
In Sydney, Dr Bermúdez will meet the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) CEO, Mr Peter Grey, and President of the Australia Latin America Business Council (ALABC), Mr Jose Blanco.
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