Interview with the Ambassador of Israel in Colombia Christian Cantor

David A. Rosenthal: Relations between Israel and Colombia, what state are they in and what does the signing of the Colombia-Israel FTA imply?

Christian Cantor Embajador: Relations between Israel and Colombia have always been very solid relationships, for many years it has been like that. There is a very pro-Israeli attitude. In addition, there are many cultural and historical reasons for the events that have happened to the two nations as a whole over time and now these relationships are more solid than ever.

We had a small crisis, when former President Juan Manuel Santos, at the last minute, recognized the Palestinian Authority. The problem with this event was the way it was executed. It was a decision made in a hurry, from one day to the next, and it was not transparent. In addition, it left the responsibility and eventual consequences in the hands of the next government. Of course, we respect the decisions of each government in its foreign policy; But an open dialogue and greater honesty were lacking, bearing in mind that Israel and Colombia are friendly nations.

This last decision of the previous government, resulted in a crisis. So, in this last year, we have been managing this tension that originated. My role at this time has been to take this relationship that has gone through a moment of crisis, and reverse this so that that spark that was lost between them is rekindled. Consequently, we have managed to show that added value of each country and the importance that this has, both for Colombia and Israel.

Today we are in an excellent stage of relations between Jerusalem and Bogotá. The policies coincide with each other. We have practically the same concerns and the same ideals like security, development and technology. We are also hopeful that relations will follow a very positive course.

Regarding the FTA, the Israeli and Colombian economies are complementary, given the nature of each one. Israel does not in principle have interests in exporting agricultural products, such as pineapple or avocado, more if it exports technology and services. But, the idea is to “import exporters”, that is, that companies, services, people, technologies and others, that are in Israel, can contribute to their Colombian counterparts in the sense of maximizing production, lowering the costs of them and improve their quality, in order to export them to other markets.

The purpose One of these economic relationships is that we have the ability to export to Colombia that technology and services that have the ability to improve the productivity and competitiveness of Colombian products and services aimed at third economies. For example, if a Colombian farmer can, through Israeli irrigation technology, create better avocados with lower costs, of better quality and with a lower final price in international markets, he will compete better with avocados from other places that are exported. to the United States.

On the other hand, we are very interested in Colombian products (which must go through a very serious phytosanitary process) and we are already working with Colombian and Israeli businessmen and the corresponding authorities to achieve this end.

Now, in Colombia they are talking about nearshoring, which consists of producing those products and creating operations in order to export to nearby markets, mainly to the United States, the European Union and Asia. In addition, we seek to create very interesting cooperations between Israeli and Colombian startups, investors and entrepreneurs, in a way that allows us to find that synergy between the products and services – technological and digital – that the two nations are creating. In this sense we speak of two complementary economies.

DAR: Why is this Colombian-Israeli FTA like a Rolls Royce?

E.C.C: According to experts, it is a very advanced agreement, such as 4.0 – the new generation of trade agreements – since, in general, FTAs ​​have a section on the elimination of tariffs; as well as, in which products, in what percentage it will be done and over how long. This is the main idea of ​​a Free Trade Agreement.

“Colombia’s FTA with Israel is the most advanced treaty of this type that Israel has signed so far.” Apart from the chapter on tariffs, there is one on investment protection and another on public purchases, which is always like a Holy Grail in each country. Which means that a Colombian company could access public tenders in Israel, as well as an Israeli company in Colombia.

The main idea of ​​the FTA is to facilitate these processes from the institutional part, since we are the Government sector. We create the possible legal frameworks for the private sector to interact. Our job is to mediate where there are limitations so that relationships occur in a much more agile and simple way.

Creating these frameworks is only one part, because we are also working on taxation and financial issues. The important thing about this is that we know that we must facilitate these issues. Additionally, this Treaty also creates other products and organizations in the ministries of both countries, in order to discuss, learn, create solutions, etc.

DAR: What is the importance of economic diplomacy, academia and industry in relation to NAFTA?

E.C.C: On the subject of “economic diplomacy”, which is extremely important, well, I dedicate 70% to this, that is, economic, commercial and innovation issues, as well as technology, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel has invested a lot effort and time – with exceptional human talent – to make this a reality today. All in order to create more jobs, attract investors, create new opportunities and open new markets.

On the other hand, there is the iNNpulsa office, which Colombia will open in Jerusalem, as an essential tool to facilitate technology transfers. In this sense, we work at two levels, one from Government to Government, where Israel is doing exceptional work with iNNpulsa, and the idea behind this is to publicize those good practices and the tools that we believe are necessary for this new era. digital.

The digital transformation is a fact, which has been promoted by the Government of President Iván Duque and we see that there is enormous potential in Colombia. Every day, I find more startups, initiatives and entrepreneurs, in every field (economic, commercial, financial, cultural and even artisanal). We see Colombia in this sense as a natural partner.

So, in the governmental area, we take care of creating the necessary policies and tools, for example, the issue of “high-risk financing”, which is a critical concept for the prosperity of these types of industries and services. In addition, it is a new way to finance these economic operations, compared to traditional ways.

Colombia is a very attractive market, in addition to its size, geopolitical location, and a very important relationship with the United States; as well as for its macroeconomic and political solidity, which stands out in the region.

In relation to academia and industry, unique and interesting ecosystems have been created in Israel, in order to facilitate the relationship between scientists and academics. This, to transform those ideas, concepts, formulas and products that can contribute to the market, which is not such an easy task.

At the regional or capital level, we take care of connecting those innovation and technology centers in different parts of the country, with their counterparts in Israel and it is not necessary for them to be from the government sector, they can be Universities, NGOs, private initiatives and funds from investment. In the same way, we look for which initiatives would be their counterparts and we connect them.

So our policy is at the national and regional level, where each complements the other and the FTA is the means to create these economic relations between Israel and Colombia, which, in turn, are related to the Colombian government’s policies on economic reactivation, job creation and digital transformation, among others.

Regarding the products that can be exchanged, I think Israel would be very happy to receive and be able to enjoy Colombian agricultural products of all kinds; in addition to the great demand that exists. In turn, Colombia will be able to receive technology of any kind (AgroTech, FinTech, Digital Health, Cybersecurity, among others), since today Israel is a “Hub” -business concentrations- in technology and innovation issues.

At present, any multinational company cannot afford not to have a research and development office in Israel to understand the new technologies and services that are going to be introduced in the markets that may influence the operation of their companies. companies. What Colombia will do is create such an office, but at the national level, with the aim of facilitating these relations (Government to Government; private to private, or mixed).

DAR: In relation to Latin America, what is Israel’s role, and in terms of security-defense, what is the outlook?

E.C.C: Israel is very well positioned in Latin America, something that has grown in recent years, going from diplomatic assets to tangible assets. Colombia is one of Israel’s most important partners in Latin America. On security and defense cooperation, we are very concerned – along with other nations – about Iranian and Hezbollah activity in Venezuela and the way in which threats are fostered – and created the possibility – in the area. In addition, how Hezbollah benefits, taking advantage of the situation in Venezuela, is a huge concern and not to mention how that Iran-Venezuela cooperation goes beyond the economic or energy. Likewise, we do everything possible to support our friends inside and outside the region in confronting these threats.

DAR: What expectations are there in the tourism sector and what new challenges will be faced with the post-pandemic?

E.C.C: In the area of ​​tourism, we would love to receive a large number of Colombian tourists, for example, groups of young people, businessmen and entrepreneurs, in addition to pilgrims heading to the Holy Land and in the case of Israel to Colombia, increasing tourism on our part – in addition to backpackers – because Colombia has wonderful destinations and a tourist industry with a very interesting quality and price.

The challenge for Israel and the post-pandemic world, taking into account the economic deficit, will be to create hope and economic development. Likewise, Colombia and Israel have the same challenges to return to normality.

DAR: Regarding the Israeli Embassy, ​​what position does the Israeli Foreign Ministry hold and how important would it be for Colombia to transfer it to Jerusalem?

E.C.C: Regarding the Embassy in Israel, our policy is very clear, the capital is Jerusalem and our expectation is that all the countries that have representation in Israel, locate their diplomatic mission in Jerusalem. In our capital there are all the governmental institutions, as in other countries, and we send our diplomatic missions to their capitals, so we expect that same reciprocity. We hope that in the case of Colombia this is the case.

DAR: What relevance do the “Abraham Accords” have for Israel and the Middle East?

E.C.C: At this moment, we are in a process of change in our region, that the “Abraham Accords” have been signed is an extraordinary event. They are not only governmental agreements, but also between peoples – you see friendship and affection – and they go beyond peace, since they have a very important and profound content, which directly affects the lives of citizens. Now we have agreements in cooperation, investment, finance, tourism, science and technology. Even the “Abraham Fund” was created between Israel, UAE and the United States, for technology investment and the transformation of the Middle East.

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