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1992 - Mr Major’s Bogota Press Conference

Below is the text of Mr Major’s press conference, held in Bogota on Wednesday 10th June 1992.


PRIME MINISTER:

Let me say at the outset I am very pleased to be back in Colombia, it is not my first visit, it is however the first visit by a British Prime Minister both to Colombia and to South America and I am most grateful to President Gaviria, his wife and colleagues, for the warmth of their welcome and for their hospitality during this visit.

I had three purposes in coming here. First, to reaffirm our support for Colombian democracy, her market economy and her brave and successful fight against drug trafficking. Second, to develop our bilateral relationship, especially in the trade field. We are, the United Kingdom, the third largest investor in Colombia, 22 subsidiaries of British companies work here, the oil find at Cusiana, which we visited this morning, is the largest BP find for 25 years. And thirdly, to revitalise our relationship with Latin America as a whole.

The text of our joint declaration brings out the extent of our cooperation. Bilaterally and through the European Community Britain has contributed nearly 20 million sterling to the fight against drug trafficking, help which I first announced as Foreign Secretary at the United Nations General Assembly in 1989. We plan now to enhance that cooperation, the Home Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, will visit Colombia later this year.

We have agreed to set up a bilateral trade promotions group to encourage trade and investment. We intend to negotiate, very shortly, an agreement on the promotion and protection of investment, and we are looking at the scope for a double taxation agreement.

These developments will add substance to our relationship. I have also invited President Gaviria to visit Britain as the guest of the British government next year and I am delighted that he has accepted that invitation. The return of democracy and free markets to South America gives us the chance to strengthen our links. We are, as I said a moment ago, one of the biggest investors in Latin America already, my visit here has shown the potential for building on a sound existing basis for cooperation and for revitalising an old friendship. That is our intention and I believe we have made a good start in the last two days.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION (Adam Boulton, Sky):

In the battle against drugs how concerned are you that in fact drugs are a pretty important source of income for countries in Latin America and therefore you cannot move too quickly to stop the trade?

PRIME MINISTER:

I do not think we can afford to delay in stopping the trade. There is a great development in the economies of Latin America and one has seen some of that in the last couple of days in Colombia, but one sees that development mirrored in other parts of Latin America as well. I do not believe there can be any justifiable delay in cracking down on drugs, drugs are the source of a great deal of violence and discontent in Latin America and the end product of the drug trade is the cause of a great deal of misery and death in other parts of the world as well. So there is no cause, no justification and no intention for delaying in cracking down on that problem.

QUESTION:

My question is in two parts, in which other areas might British companies be investing in Colombia; and the second part is the concession made by the European Community to the GSP to the Andean Pact countries to help them with their support for the work they are doing on fighting drugs, will that be extended in the future and to which areas?

PRIME MINISTER:

Upon the latter point first, I cannot commit the whole of the European Community but I think they would look very sensitively at the prospects for extension. There is great concern in the European Community, particularly about drugs but a great interest as well in developing its relationship with Latin America generally.

On the question of the investment by BP, there are a number of other investments, large investments, by British subsidiaries in Colombia and I have no doubt that that will continue, not just in the oil industry but across, I hope, a wide range of industry as well.

QUESTION (Paul Reynolds, BBC):

How can you persuade people in Colombia who might be minded to support some of the opposition groups that companies like BP are not simply here to exploit the resources of Colombia?

PRIME MINISTER:

They certainly are not here just for that purpose and I think the best way of persuading anyone who might doubt that is to have a look at what has happened to the prosperity of other countries that have had large investments such as the BP investment in Cusiana, there is no doubt the successful development of Cusiana, the successful exploitation of the oil reserves that it seems might well be there, will have a dramatic, beneficial, revitalising effect on the Colombian economy and I think that is the point that needs to be made and I have no doubt that President Gaviria and his colleagues will make that point very forcibly.

QUESTION (Adriana Ajalla):

What was the principal reason why you chose to visit the BP site at Cusiana and how can you be sure that that kind of investment is not going to destroy the natural environment and the resources of Colombia?

PRIME MINISTER:

On the first point, I particularly wanted to see the investment, it is state of the art investment, it is one of the biggest investments that I think anyone will have made in Colombia externally at any stage, it has some of the most dramatic and modern engineering skills that anyone has ever seen. And I think therefore that it was something I particularly wished to see.

As for the environment, it was very noticeable this morning in the questions that the President and I asked the engineers who were there, the immense trouble that they are taking with the water and mud that they bring out of the earth with the drilling, that it goes through several processes to make sure that it is absolutely environmentally repaired before it trickles back down to local streams. A great deal of expenditure and care is going into environmental protection at Cusiana, has done, is doing, and I was assured this morning by the BP executives would continue to do in the future.

QUESTION (Kirsty, Sky News):

You are leaving Colombia now to go on to Rio, you have been balancing your pro-environmentalist stance against your relationship with the States, do you think you will be able to sustain that in Rio and what do you hope to get out of that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have made it perfectly clear what our stance is on the environment. I think that the Rio conference is immensely important but it is not the end of environmental changes, it is a further step in a continuing process of environmental protection, and for that reason we have examined the conventions very carefully and we will be able to sign all the conventions. We had some difficulties with the biodiversity convention, I think we have now negotiated our way into a position to sign that. So I very much hope that people will see the Rio convention as a success and from the benchmark that is set at Rio we will, be able to move further forward in due course.

QUESTION (Adrian Croft):

While you were at Cusiana today there were some rumours in the London markets that you might have gone missing in Colombia. I would like you to comment on that; and given Colombia’s reputation for violence do you think that it is a deterrent to foreign investment in the country because of guerrilla and other violence?

PRIME MINISTER:

As you can see, I have not gone missing in Colombia. Were I to go missing I cannot think of many nicer pieces to go missing in but I can promise you that I am in rude health and I certainly have not gone missing.

I think the way in which the Colombian government, President Barco and now President Gaviria, have tackled the problems of the guerrillas and the problems of violence has been remarkable, remarkable for their persistence, remarkable for their courage and remarkable for the growing success that they have had and I warmly congratulate them on what they have achieved.

QUESTION (Alistair Campbell):

Your visit has been overshadowed at home rather by what the Daily Telegraph calls a Cabinet crisis over Europe and I wonder what you are going to do to regain and maintain unity and whether you have considered conducting a reshuffle from South America?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is no Cabinet crisis and there is no difference of view whatever amongst any members of the Cabinet on the question of our European policy. I set out the government’s policy in the House of Commons last week, it has not changed, that policy is fully supported, has been in private and is in public by every member of the Cabinet and statements to that effect I understand have been issued this morning. I cannot tell over the medium term what the fate of the Maastricht treaty will be after the Danish referendum, until the Danes ratify the treaty clearly it cannot enter into force. But I can say this about the treaty, the treaty embodies much that we have long sought in Europe, it was worth attaining and I believe the treaty is worth keeping and it would be folly to throw away the gains that we have in that treaty rather than building on those gains for the future.

So I think in the difficulties following the Danish referendum result we do need cool heads and careful coordination, but Cabinet has decided our policy and each and every single member of Cabinet fully supports that policy.

QUESTION (Lida Fonseca):

Bearing in mind that Great Britain takes over the Presidency of the Community in the second half of this year, how will that affect and play through into the Community's and Britain’s relations with Latin America; and what is the state of the races so far as the Argentine claim on the Falkland Islands is concerned?

PRIME MINISTER:

On the latter point, there is no change in the relationship. The Falklands in international law and in our view are British and remain so. But beyond that we are of course keen to improve our relationship with Argentina and are doing so and we will continue to do so in the future.

On the first part of your question over the European Community, the position is as follows. There is a general wish in the community, both amongst the nations bilaterally and the Community collectively to improve its relationship with Latin America and we will continue that policy throughout the next six months. And in that respect I think my visit to Colombia and Rio, and the visit to Rio of many other European Heads of Government will greatly help in moving the policy.