Welcome to the Embassy and thank you for attending this working breakfast about Colombia.

• I’d like to thank the Council of Americas and its Vice President, Mr. Eric Farnsworth, for bring to this residence such a selected group of businessmen interested in my country.

• I’d also like to thank all the companies that have joined us this morning.

• Three weeks ago, presidential elections were held in my country and the current President, Alvaro Uribe, was reelected, obtaining more than sixty percent of the votes. It was a real triumph for our democracy in which close to 13 million citizens voted to elect our President for the next four years, choosing among different candidates, with different tendencies and proposals.

• From a national security standpoint, Colombia has proven to be a reliable and strategic ally of the United States, and the US a good friend of Colombia. Indeed, US support through Plan Colombia has been a vital element in Colombian government’s achievements and successes in restoring security and growth to our population and our economy. Many of the companies that you represent have experienced this shift first hand.

• We have made a firm commitment to strengthen our Armed Forces. Our goal has been the professionalization of our military providing them with better training and equipment.

• We have improved their air mobility to achieve a military presence across Colombia’s vast territory. We improved our intelligence capabilities, and largely increased our troops. Today, our army has 133 percent more combat-ready soldiers than 7 years ago! They have increased from 82,000 soldiers in 1998 to 191,000 in December of 2005.

• The security indicators are now very positive. In 2005 homicides decreased by 10 percent, kidnappings were down by 51 percent and overall terrorist attacks decreased by 16 percent. People are living in a safer environment and domestic and international tourists are rediscovering Colombia.

• Talking about economics, Colombia also has one of the more stable economies in Latin America. According to the Inter-American Development Bank, Colombia has had a GDP growth rate of 3.2% over the past 75 years, with only a single year of recession. During the last 25 years, Colombia grew at a rate of 3.1%, compared with a 2.5% annual average in Latin America. Last year our GDP grew more than 5%.

• We have never defaulted on our international obligations and never experienced the hyperinflation characteristic of other countries in the region.

• If there is a country eager and ready for development that one is Colombia. I have always said: “We don’t need aid, but trade”. As you know, last February the United States and Colombia, after almost 2 years of negotiations, reached a consensus about a Free Trade Agreement.

• I hope this Agreement will be approved by American and Colombian congresses and will help my country to further develop its industry and its agricultural potential to successfully compete in the global marketplace.

• This is a very important topic for you and your companies. With the Free Trade Agreement, US-Colombian trade and investment have a long-term, transparent and predictable framework that encourages new and profitable investments.

• The United States of America is Colombia’s main trading partner, with more than 14 billion dollars in bilateral trade last year. This FTA agreement consolidates our special relationship into a true, mutually beneficial partnership.

• I want to emphasize that FTA poses opportunities and challenges for Colombia. Consolidating market access for our exports of goods and services to the biggest market in the world will undoubtedly trigger investment, trade, economic development and growth.

• The work we have ahead of us here in Washington and in the U.S. is arduous. We need to make sure that Members of Congress, civil society and non government organizations in the U.S. understand the great advantages that this agreement brings, both for the US and for the Colombian population.

• While my team and I will be working tirelessly to convey this message, you, as people who represent companies that actually do business in Colombia or want to do it, are critical in getting this message to decision makers.

• We are convinced of the virtues of the Agreement, and would like to have it sent for Congressional consideration as soon as possible

• I look forward to creating a true partnership with the companies here today, in getting the message of the importance of this agreement across and eventually, in celebrating its entry into force for the benefit of both our countries.

• To conclude, I just want to emphasize that Colombia is back to the path of progress and peace. While other countries can’t give you a safe environment to business, we have a tradition of stability not only in our democracy but in our economy. We are determined to continue that way and we are improving, day by day, our security conditions.

• I think I have given you a general view about what it’s happening in Colombia. Now, it will be my pleasure to listen to you and answer any questions you have.