Canadian Visa requirements threaten the achievements reached in the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and Colombia, warns Colombian ambassador Nicolas Lloreda. Colombia hopes to attract further investment, as provided and encouraged in this trade agreement.
While the agreement has provided the Colombian business community with incentives to pursue commercial opportunities in Canada, delays in the visa process mean that travelling north is far from easy. Recent reforms to visa requirements for some countries, coupled with labour disputes, have significantly altered the visa approval process in Canada, making it more complicated for many foreign nationals to enter the country.
“Your country is trying to fix the refugee and asylum system to make it more difficult for people who came here for the wrong reasons to stay,” remarks Lloreda, “but this is having a very significant effect on … trade.”
Even in the US, visa issues appear less severe for Colombians.
“Business people who come here to sell or to buy tell me: ‘If I can go the U.S. … and get a visa easily, and it is a 300 million [person] market, why do you want me to come to Canada when they may keep my passport for months?” Lloreda recounts.
Since the Free Trade Agreement, Canadian exports to Colombia have increased by close to 29 per cent, largely in paper products, chemicals and grains. Colombian exports to Canada have risen by 19.5 per cent, with an emphasis on clothing, manufactured goods, agricultural products, coal, and coffee. Trade between the two nations reached $1.5-billion in 2012, and Canada has also invested heavily in Colombia’s infrastructure, mining, financial and energy sectors.
However, despite the trade increases, visa restrictions still prove problematic and contrary to the spirit of open trade, not only for Colombians. In 2009, Mexico’s ambassador to Canada, Francisco Suarez, also lamented that requirements imposed on Mexican citizens were likewise too complicated and damaging to the country`s economy.
Lloreda notes that the free trade deal has coincided with and improvement in Colombia’s security and safety, as peace talks with guerilla groups are now underway. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) remain active, targeting international mining operations as recently as August. Yet, the situation appears to be stabilizing.
According to Lloreda, the gains seen for Colombia in the Free Trade Agreement with Canada have been helped by the increase in domestic stability. At such a time, an ease in visa complications and delays would only encourage further development and connectivity between both business communities.