By Publisher Lee Kyung-sik with Reporters Sua Kim, Hillary Kang
The Plurinational State of Bolivia located in the heart of the South American Continent is a very special country to Korea. She has a population of only 11 million, but enjoys the possession of enormous natural resources which the Republic of Korea (south) sadly lacks.
Furthermore, according to Charge d’Affaires Luis Pablo Ossio Bustillos of Bolivia in Seoul at a recent interview with The Korea Post media on the occasion of the National Day of his country on Aug. 6, Bolivia has five times the land space of Korea plus unusually abundant natural resources which Korea does not have.
CDA Ossio Bustillos also disclosed that his country has many, many tourist attractions interesting to the Korean people. Bolivia is noted for the Uyuni ‘Salt Desert’ which came into being due to the uplifting of the Andes Mountains which had formerly been a part of the Pacific Ocean.
Bolivia is known among many Koreans, especially the diplomats who had been to the Central American countries, to be a ‘very, very rich country’ in natural resources, including natural gas and minerals. Most recently, according to Korean news reports, Bolivia was found to have the largest reserve of Lithium in the world, which is an essential raw material for the batteries for electric motor cars.
Korea and Bolivia established diplomatic relations in 1965 and have thenceforth continuously increased the close ties of cooperation and friendship with the sole exception of the temporary suspension of the missions of the two countries in 1998 due to IMF financial crisis.
This year marks the 53rd anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations which have grown by leaps and bounds—especially marked by the official state visit to Korea by President Ebo Moralles of Bolivia in 2010 and re-opening of the Embassy of Bolivia in Seoul in 2014.
CDA Ossio Bustillos noted that there have been drastic increase in the number of Korean tourists visiting Bolivia contributing to the expansion of horizons of exchange and interchange between the two countries in the tourist and various other areas with the Uyuni Desert put on the ‘Bucket List’ implying that one ‘must see it before one kicks the bucket (dies).’
Excerpts from the interview follow:
Question: The National Day of Bolivia is the 6th of August. Please introduce the auspicious day of the country.
Answer: The first call for freedom in Bolivia was in 1809, but it took another 16 years for the emancipation process of the Spanish crown. It was on August 6th, 1825, when the General Assembly of Deputies of Upper Peru--which was then administered by the Royal Audience of Charcas--decided its independence, giving birth to Bolivia.
In 2009, by virtue of the New Political Constitution, it complemented its name with the addition of “The Plurinational State of Bolivia” in honor of the 36 cultures that inhabited this territory with own customs and even languages.
Q: Introduction of the Head of Government is very important in Korea in that summit diplomacy has historically produced great results in the promotion of bilateral relations. Please introduce the Head of Government of your country.
A: In 2005, Evo Morales Ayma became the first indigenous president of Bolivia, where about 65% of the population identify themselves as indigenous. His childhood consisted of llama herding in the small town of Orinoca, which even was not on the map. At a young age, our brother president Morales followed his parents to the mining city of Oruro in the Bolivian high plateau, where he worked as a brick maker, baker, and tromp player. The difficult conditions obliged his family to move again to the Cochabamba tropic, where he became a sport delegate. By the way, one of his passions included soccer, which explains the reason why he provided thousands of soccer fields to neighborhoods in the cities and communities in the countryside of Bolivia, once he got in power.
To understand Bolivia and president Morales' determination, it would be enough to look at a personal anecdote of Ricardo Soberón, a Peruvian researcher and defender of coca who, many years later, would become the anti-drug czar of his country:
It was April 1995 and the leader of coca leaf farmers Evo Morales was detained at a military base in Copacabana, a town in La Paz very close to the border with Peru and on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
Among the several inmates was Ricardo Soberón who recounted that encounter, where they spent in the freezing highland night in jail,
"In the middle of the morning and in the midst of interrogation, the head of the base wanted to reassure me telling me not to worry, that the Peruvians liked him, that even he was married to an Arequipa," recalls Soberón, who is now an expert on public policies on drugs.
However, that officer released one more sentence: "The real problem is that shitty Indian," said the head of the base, pointing to Evo, who was apparently asleep, his face covered by a hat. Soberón remembers that moment 27 years ago.
"Evo raises his head, as if he had been attentive to all our conversation and quickly replies: "Officer, this shitty Indian is going to be your president."
All the officers and police present gave a loud laugh. Since then police and the army forces have progressively opened their recruits to their hierarchy to the majority of the indigenous population. Previously, most of them were from the minority white or identified as mixed.
Q: Please introduce the progress of bilateral cooperation in the economic, political and other areas between the two countries.
A: The current situation of the bilateral relations is at a good level in the political sphere. In 2010, President Evo Morales visited the Republic of Korea.
In 2015, the former Foreign Ministers met and adopted a Joint Declaration, in which the Korean Minister expressed his interest in revitalizing the Mixed Commission. This took place on July 18th at the level of General Director in La Paz.
At the Security Council of the United Nations, Bolivia supported the double freeze regarding the Korean Peninsula, which actually seem to work and thus contributed to the current state of affairs of this important matter.
Q: How is the present status and future outlook of bilateral trade between Korea and Bolivia?
A: Korea and Bolivia do not have a free trade agreement. Despite that, Bolivia proposed a Framework Agreement for Trade and Economic Cooperation to strengthen the economic and trade relationship. Even without such instrument, a balance favorable to Bolivia prevails, mainly for mineral products, which does not require tariff preferences. Korea seems to be satisfied with the current commercial complementation, in which Bolivia is an important supplier of its mineral resources (zinc, lead and silver). However, for Bolivia it is important to diversify its exportable supply.
In the global trade relationship, Bolivia was the country that had the highest relative growth in its exports in 2016 to the Republic of Korea. There was an increase of approximately 30%, although the registration of Korean imports totals 398 billion dollars during that year according to the OECD.
In 2017, Bolivia exported 611 million dollars to the Republic of Korea and imported 98 million dollars from this country, leaving Bolivia with a significant favorable balance (513 million dollars), as can be seen in the following table.
(To be readjusted to a table form).
|Comercial trade||2016||2017||2018(partial to May)|
|Exports||386 millones de dolares||611 millones de dolares||316 millones de dolares|
|Imports||91 millones de dolares||98 millones de dolares||33 millones de dolares|
|Trade balance||295 millones de dolares||513 millones de dolares||283 millones de dolares|
As can be seen in the table above, the projection of the favorable trade balance for Bolivia tends to increase.
In the first half of 2018, Korea continues to be the main destination for Bolivian exports, after Argentina and Brazil. It exports zinc, lead, silver and now Brazil nuts, of which Bolivia is the main exporter in the world. Exports from Bolivia to Korea will pass the 800 million dollars during this year, so the commercial relationship is excellent, although the challenge remains to diversify the Bolivian export supply.
Q: What are the areas in your country where you want Korean companies to invest in and what are the areas where you wish your businessmen to invest in Korea?
A: Bolivia and Korea complement each other. Bolivia is one very rich in natural resources. Korean has invested in human resources, which in turn provided with huge technological know-hows and capital. We are interested to get new technologies environmental-friendly to industrialize our country.
Q: Korean business leader, as well as the FTAs, want rest and recuperation, what are the attractive tourist destinations of your country?
A: In the last two years, the number of Korean tourists in high season (November, December, January, February and March) due to rain in the Uyuni Salt Lake, produced a large influx of Korean tourists at the Embassy of Bolivia in Seoul. More than 12,000 Koreans visit our country annually, (figure that is increasing year after year) of which only about a third manage your entry visa that is free at the Embassy. Other Korean tourists get their visas at the consulates of neighboring countries to Bolivia, mainly Peru and Chile. When they enter our country but then they have to pay around 100 dollars fee.
In order to take advantage of this favorable context to project the image of our country in Korea, it is essential to continue making Bolivia known, taking into account that because of foreign exchange savings only since 1987, tourists could travel abroad. Just as of 2015, Bolivia has been included in the package of South American countries, with visits of two or three days to Uyuni Salt Lake.
Q: Has Korea provided your country with any economic cooperation and assistance?
A: The Korean state has also privileged our country in its Official Development Aid. The important cooperation that reaches an average of 10 million dollars a year to Bolivia is remarkable. The cooperation projects are outstanding. The Country Strategic Program between Bolivia and Korea 2016-2020, following the Bolivian Development Plan and the 2025 Agenda, are found on the official KOICA website.