• Barely-populated region can become producer of soy and corn
  • Chinese experts recently visited area seeking opportunities

A peace deal with Marxist guerrillas will open up Colombia’s vast Orinoco basin, a sparsely populated region of isolated plains bordering Venezuela, to investment from China, Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas said.

A 30-member mission of Chinese experts in agriculture and infrastructure recently visited the region, where Colombia wishes to develop soy, corn, sugar cane, palm oil and rice farming, according to Cardenas.

“These areas do not have roads or irrigation, and more public goods in general, hospitals, schools that sort of thing,” Cardenas said Sunday, in an interview in Nassau, The Bahamas. “These are parts of Colombia that are unpopulated, but fertile, which could become very significant producers of agricultural products and China understands that.”

A 5-decade civil conflict has hampered the development of Colombian agriculture, with farmers in remote areas vulnerable to extortion and kidnapping by Marxist guerrillas, as well as high transport costs due to poor roads. Cardenas has said repeatedly that farming is one of the sectors that may grow quickest following a peace deal.

The government has held peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, since 2012, and last month said it would also begin talks with the smaller National Liberation Army, or ELN. Both groups have been fighting the state since the 1960s.

Colombia ranked 126th out of 140 economies for the quality of its roads on the World Economic Forum’s 2015-2016 global competitiveness index.

Agriculture may grow an additional 22 percent additional over the next 10 years following a peace deal, according to government estimates. Cardenas reiterated his 3 percent economic growth forecast for this year, and said this will probably accelerate to closer to 3.5 percent in 2017.

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