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Colombia, Uribe Stars of World Forum

Colombia and its president were the stars of this year's World Economic Forum Latin America.

BY JOACHIM BAMRUD


CARTAGENA -- While it may be expected that the host country of this year's World Economic Forum Latin America would garner some praise and interest, the degree to which foreign investors attending the event heaped praise on Colombia and its president Alvaro Uribe stands out.

President Uribe "has done a tremendous job," Choo Chiau Beng, CEO of Singapore-based Keppel Corporation told Latin Business Chronicle in the corridors of the forum. "He's a thinking man. Colombia is very lucky to have him."

While Brazil is the top recipient of foreign direct investment in Latin America and appears on a roll with strong economic growth and upcoming events like the 2014 World Cup in soccer and 2016 Olympics, some investors here say Colombia can teach it a thing or two. "Colombia offers stronger opportunities for exporting to other countriees,"  Choo Chiau Beng says. "Brazil is one of the most closed countries in Latin America."

He was referring to Brazil's policy of imposing relatively high tariffs on many products to encourage local manufacturing.

Serafino Iacono, co-chairman and executive director of Pacific Rubiales Energy, said that Uribe's success in improving security was a major factor why his company returned to Colombia in 2007 after leaving ten years ago. "President Uribe gave the [necessary] confidence," he told a panel on Colombia yesterday. "Colombia [now] has everything an investor needs to develop and invest."

Mark Cobben, regional director for the Americas for UK-based British American Tobacco, concurs. "10 years ago Colombia was a failed state," he told a conference here Wednesday. "Now we see it as the best opportunity in Latin America."

Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, also credited Uribe for the positive change. "Mr. President. You have made Colombia a success story," he said at the opening ceremony on Wednesday. 

Several participants praised both the World Economic Forum and Colombia for the organization and evening entertainment. Highlights of the latter included an advanced lightshow at Cartagena's Plaza de la Aduana and a concert with Marc Anthony and Carlos Vives.

“The Colombian government pulled out all the stops,” says Joseph Berring, managing director of Reforma Partners. “Colombia set the bar very high as the host country and did a very exemplary job.” Berring, who has attended several previous forums in Latin America, also praised the World Economic Forum for continously making each event better.

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