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Mining And Oil Boom Propel Investment In Colombia

NANCY LOPEZ

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) â¿¿ Security gains and capitalist-friendly investment rules are spurring an unprecedented mining and oil boom in Colombia, a pro-business outpost on an increasingly leftist continent.

Investors are deeming Colombia well worth the risk though many parts of the country where reserves are being exploited continue to be plagued by illegal armed groups. Even a car-bombing Thursday in the country's capital just a week into the new administration "won't be a problem for foreign investment," analyst Roberto Melzi of Barclays Capital said.

South America's third-largest oil producer behind Brazil and Venezuela, Colombia is on track to generate more than 1 million barrels of crude a day by 2012 â¿¿ double its production in 2006 â¿¿ the government says. State-owned Ecopetrol accounts for nearly 90 percent of today's production.

A full 80 percent of the $7.2 billion in direct foreign investment the country reaped last year went to petroleum and mining â¿¿ with investment in the latter sector nearly doubling to $3.1 billion.

"Companies are looking for the next big thing â¿¿ an unexplored market â¿¿ and Colombia has been popping up on the radar," said analyst Patrick Esteruelas of Eurasia Group.

By contrast, neighboring Ecuador, the continent's No. 5 oil producer behind Argentina, got a total of $312 million in foreign investment in 2009.

Colombia is so bullish on the foreign investment bonanza flourishing under new President Juan Manuel Santos, a former foreign trade, defense and finance minister, that the government is forecasting a healthy jump in gross domestic product this year â¿¿ 4.5 percent.

Colombia's foreign trade ministry says it expects Colombia to attract $10 billion in foreign investment this year, approaching the record $10.6 billion of 2008. The influx has so flooded Colombia with dollars that the U.S. currency has lost 12 percent of its value this year against the Colombia peso.

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