New Colombia gov't offers 'huge opportunity' to tackle deforestation-U.S. official

Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Juan Gonzalez, Special Assistant to U.S. President Joe Biden, and Gregory Meeks, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, attend a news conference of the presidential delegation of the U.S. for the inauguration of Colombian President Gustavo Petro, at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Bogota, Colombia, August 8, 2022. REUTERS/Mariana Grei

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Planned policy shifts under Colombia's new leftist President Gustavo Petro represent a "huge opportunity" in the fight against deforestation and climate change, United States official Samantha Power said on Monday.

Though progress against deforestation and climate change is elusive, Colombia is a regional leader in the fight to stop both, Power, the administrator for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), told journalists in Bogota on Monday.

Power made the comments after she led the Biden administration's delegation at Petro's Sunday swearing-in ceremony.

"What we have now is a president and a vice president, who view themselves as environmentalists - almost first," Power said. "We view that as a huge opportunity."

In April, United States President Joe Biden signed an executive order to expand efforts to tackle climate change, including efforts to combat commodity-driven deforestation and support sustainable forest management.

Petro has long decried the U.S.-led war on drugs as a failure and called in his speech on Sunday for a new international strategy to deal with the narcotics trade.

Colombia is a top producer of cocaine and faces constant pressure from Washington to eradicate drug crops and tackle trafficking.

Power said her meeting earlier on Monday with Petro touched many shared agendas, but reiterated previous comments by U.S. officials that the two countries will not agree on everything.

Petro has promised to bar all new oil development and move Colombia away from coal production in favor of cleaner energy options.

The private sector is watching the country's shift, Power said, adding investment could soon grow.

"The private sector is very, very interested in what is happening in Colombia," she said. "There are a lot of ways to spur investment in the transition to renewables ... I think you will start to see again that picking up pace."

(Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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