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opinion

The decision is one that reflects 'friendship and goodwill', says Colombia’s President Ivan Duque.LUISA GONZALEZ/Reuters

The relationship between Canada and Colombia has been a solid and stable one for decades. As is the case with any bond between two countries, our story has had challenges and opportunities. Today we face a new chapter in our friendship with a decision by the Colombian government that will have a positive impact on tourism and investment and will benefit both Canadian citizens and Canadian companies that do business in Colombia.

In 2014, the Canadian government included Colombia in a pilot project that required our nationals to provide biometrics when applying for a visa to Canada, increasing the cost of the application 85 per cent. This posed a challenge to our travellers, given that more than 50 countries have eliminated visa requirements for Colombian nationals in the past eight years; for instance, an agreement with the European Union signed in 2015 waived the visa requirement for the 26 countries that make up the Schengen Area.

In turn, the Colombian government decided to charge a fee of $85 to every Canadian citizen entering Colombia, providing dedicated queues and staff at all entry ports to facilitate the visits. Understandably, this posed problems for many tourists and business people. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that despite this uncomfortable measure, investment in Colombia by Canadian companies hit historic peaks in recent years and tourism flows remained stable. But we believe we can do better than stable.

The beginning of President Ivan Duque’s government on Aug. 8, 2018, marked a special moment in the relationship between our countries, due to our common ground and our shared position on many pressing issues, in particular the Venezuelan crisis. These newly strengthened bonds helped pave the way for Mr. Duque’s decision in February to lift the entry fee for Canadians after four years. We are confident that this measure will boost both travel flows and investment figures in an unprecedented way.

In Mr. Duque’s words, the decision is one that reflects “friendship and goodwill” and will certainly give a positive impulse to Canadian tourism and investment. Colombia’s new focus on expanding renewable energy production and building infrastructure that supports it, as well as its interest in developing the creative industries and ecosystems for entrepreneurs and tech companies, open a new window of opportunity for Canadians to find strong business partners in the south.

Today, May 1, when we say goodbye to the entry fee for Canadians, we welcome the solid prospects of the exchange of goods and services through our comprehensive free trade agreement. We have high expectations for the easing of travel procedures for Colombian citizens so that many more can come to Canada to visit, study, work and invest. A new opportunity arises, and we are eager to see how it will flourish.