Protectionism will hurt the US most, Colombia's president says

  • Juan Manuel Santos said the U.S. will suffer the most if it follows an isolationist path.
  • The Colombian president said his country is in a better place after its 52-year civil war came to an end in 2016.

The U.S. will suffer the most if it follows the Donald Trump administration's plan to adopt an "America First" policy, the president of Colombia said Tuesday.

Speaking to CNBC at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, Juan Manuel Santos said he was a strong believer in free trade.

"Protectionism is something that will hurt everybody, but especially the United States," he said.

Trump and Santos held a joint news conference at the White House in May 2017. At the time, Trump praised the effort of Colombia to end a 52-year civil war that left more than 220,000 dead as a "great thing to watch."

Santos was the recipient of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to undertake negotiations with the FARC paramilitary group that had battled the government for decades. However, Colombia's Marxist ELN rebels resumed attacks on oil installations and the armed forces earlier this month.

Santos said that while the main FARC rebel body had now given up arms and become a political party, there remained a small number who had chosen to continue with violence.

"These are problems that are natural when you have a country that has been at war for 50 years," he said.

Colombian policymakers have been grappling with the twin pressures of the global drop in oil prices and rising inflation.

In October, the ratings agency Standard & Poor's lowered Colombia's long-term foreign currency sovereign credit rating by a notch to BBB-minus.

Santos, who will step down in May, said he was leaving a country with improved prospects.

"Simply to have peace brings huge investment," he said. "Tourism is growing very fast and the agrobusiness is going to be huge. More than a third of the country was out of bounds. Now in the last year the fastest growing sector is agriculture."