President Park Geun Hye To Start South American Tour

D-Bo , April 16, 2015, 10:14 a.m.

President Park Geun-hye left for Colombia Thursday on a four-nation trip to South America to help boost South Korea's ties with the "continent of opportunities."     The visit underscored Park's efforts to build confidence with her counterparts from Colombia, Peru, Chile and Brazil to expand cooperation with the emerging markets.  The combined gross domestic product of the four countries stood at US$3.1 trillion, about half that of 33 South and Central American countries.

Seoul said large-scale projects meant to modernize infrastructure on the continent could offer new business opportunities to South Korean builders. The trip came hours after Park marked the first anniversary of a deadly ferry disaster with a somber ceremony at the southwestern port of Paengmok, near the shipwreck site.  The sinking of the ferry Sewol killed more than 300 people, mostly teenage students on a school excursion.

Park's trip is being overshadowed by high-profile corruption scandals that involve the prime minister and seven other former and current top politicians, mostly close to her.  Park strongly warned Wednesday that there will be no mercy in combating corruption.  Officials said top business executives from 125 local companies -- the largest business delegation ever -- will travel with Park to explore new business opportunities.

In Colombia, Park is set to meet with her counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos, to discuss ways to strengthen their strategic partnership.  South Korea said the trip could help facilitate the ratification of its free trade deal with Colombia. The sides clinched a free trade agreement in February 2013, but opposition mainly from the automobile sector in Colombia has delayed the domestic ratification process. South Korea's parliament has completed its ratification.

Park will then fly to Lima on Saturday for a four-day visit that will include a meeting with Peruvian President Ollanta Humala.  The trip will also take Park to Chile and Brazil for separate talks with her counterparts on deepening bilateral relations. Park is set to return home on April 27.

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