Claire Trevett on politics
Claire Trevett is a Herald political writer

Claire Trevett: If the hat fits - sombrero gift shows progress in Key's Colombia talks

Prime Minister John Key accepted his fate and wore a sombrero vueltiao, given to him by a Colombian rugby representative. Photo / Supplied
Prime Minister John Key accepted his fate and wore a sombrero vueltiao, given to him by a Colombian rugby representative. Photo / Supplied

The only real surprise was that it took so long. After a disappointing dearth of sombreros in Mexico City, it was three days into Prime Minister John Key's tour of Latin America before the inevitable happened.

A Colombian rugby representative was holding the sombrero vueltiao, a traditional black and white Colombian hat, while waiting for Key and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos after their meeting in Bogota yesterday.

Everyone knew where it was going. Sure enough, the vueltiao was handed over and Key looked at it with that same sense of inevitability before observing to the media how much they had been hoping for such a moment.

He accepted his fate and the hat, popping it on his head and modelling it for the cameras.

It was a tad more symbolic than it appeared at face value. It was Key's first visit to Colombia and the bestowing of the national hat marked a successful meeting with Santos in which New Zealand agreed to support Colombia's bid to get into the OECD and Colombia agreed to back New Zealand's bid for a Security Council seat.

More pointedly, Key and Santos had also just emerged from talks in which trade dominated, including an agreement to assess the potential for an economic partnership between the two countries - a possible precursor to a free-trade agreement.

The hats are a national symbol - but last year they also became a symbol of the problems of trade. The Economist wrote that cheap Chinese imitations of the handwoven hats were flooding Colombia for little over a tenth of the price - a situation that eventually prompted authorities to ban imports of the knock-offs.

The episode illustrated the sensitivities over trade - and as New Zealand and Colombia both have substantial agriculture industries, they could arise again.

Nonetheless, taking questions afterwards, Santos surprised and delighted the New Zealand delegation by saying he was interested in a free-trade agreement with New Zealand, if it was ready for it. Asked if it was safe for businesses to invest, he said the rate of foreign investment into Colombia was rising more quickly than in any other country in the region, indicating companies believed it was a safe place to do business.

- NZ Herald

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