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Colombia halts coal exports to Israel in protest against war in Gaza

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Colombia is suspending exports of coal to Israel in protest over the war in Gaza, the South American country’s president announced on Saturday.

“We are going to suspend coal exports to Israel until the genocide stops,” president Gustavo Petro posted on X.

Petro shared a draft decree issued by the ministry of trade which stated that exports will only be resumed once Israel complies with orders from the International Court of Justice last month to halt its military offensive in Rafah.

The trade ministry said the ban will come into effect five days after publication in the country’s official gazette. Shipments to Israel that have already been approved will not be affected.

Colombia is Israel’s largest supplier of coal, according to the American Journal for Transportation. Coal exports to Israel were worth $320mn in the first eight months of last year, according to government data, while Colombia’s leading mining agency reports that taxes, royalties and other payments related to coal exports to Israel are worth around $165mn per year to the treasury.

Colombia’s announcement of trade sanctions on Israel follows a broader move by Turkeywhich last month halted trade with the Jewish state until it allows an “uninterrupted and sufficient flow” of humanitarian aid to Gaza. Last Sunday, the Maldives announced a ban on Israeli tourists in solidarity with Gaza.

Despite long historical ties and collaboration on defence between the two countries, Petro — Colombia’s first leftist president — has been one of the most vocal critics on the world stage of Israel’s conduct in Gaza following the attack by Hamas on October 7.

In May, after breaking diplomatic ties with Israel, Petro traded barbs with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the Colombian president an “antisemitic supporter of Hamas”.

Petro, a leftist former guerrilla member who took office in August 2022, has also requested that Colombia join South Africa’s case against Israel for genocide at the International Court of Justice.

The spat between Colombia and Israel breaks with decades of warm relations. Israel is a major supplier of weapons to Colombia, which are used by the Colombian military to fight drug traffickers and insurgent groups.

In 2020, during the tenure of Petro’s rightwing predecessor Iván Duque, a free trade agreement between the two countries came into effect. Petro in February suspended new Israeli weapons purchases.

Colombia’s mining association ACM warned on Thursday that suspending coal exports to Israel would hurt Colombia’s economy. “This decision would not comply with international commitments by Colombia that should be respected and puts at risk the confidence of markets and foreign investment,” ACM said in a statement.

Petro has also sought to position Colombia as a global leader on climate change, pledging to wean the country off fossil fuels despite oil and coal products together making up over half of exports.

A tax reform passed in late 2022 prohibited extractive companies from deducting royalties from their taxable income, though the constitutional court ruled that provision illegal in November last year.

Speaking at a banking conference on Friday night, Petro said that the court’s decision was the reason for a recent shortfall in government tax take, necessitating spending cuts.

Sergio Guzmán, director of Bogotá-based consultancy Colombia Risk Analysis, said that the decision to suspend coal exports to Israel was “shortsighted” as the global market for the fossil fuel continues to dwindle amid a transition to greener energy sources.

“Petro is making a grandiose geopolitical move that is poised to hurt Colombia potentially more financially than Israel, the target of the action,” Guzmán said.

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