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US companies may delay Colombia investments over government comments, industry body says

Ricardo Triana, director of the Council of American Businesses (CEA), poses for a photo in Bogota

BOGOTA (Reuters) - U.S companies operating in Colombia are not looking to pull out of the South American country, but comments and plans put forward by the government could see them postpone investment decisions, a business association said on Wednesday.

Last week President Gustavo Petro, Colombia's first leftist leader, said he would renegotiate Colombia's free trade agreement with the United States, though two of his ministers later made comments suggesting a softer stance.

The situation is being watched closely by U.S companies, said Lorena Guarnizo, head of corporate matters for the industry group the Council of American Companies.

That kind of comment "quickly results in a postponement to an investment decision or it can slow down that type of thing a bit," she said.

Foreign direct investment in Colombia hit $8.53 billion between January and July, up 22.6% versus the year-earlier period, according to preliminary figures from Colombia's central bank.

"The message from the companies is that they're still in the country, they're still committed to Colombia, no one is saying they want to leave," said Ricardo Triana, director of the CEA.

But companies are trying to establish lines of communication with the Petro administration to work out where they can keep growing and investing, Triana added.

Petro's government is pushing controversial health and pension reforms in Congress and looking to resubmit a labor reform that was rejected during the previous legislative session.

The potential health reform, which seeks to expand access and raise healthcare worker salaries, is especially relevant to some 25 U.S. healthcare companies which belong to CEA, Triana said.

"There's obviously uncertainty regarding this health reform, how it will turn out, what will be approved," he said, adding that a lack of regulatory leadership was also cause for concern.

Colombia's INVIMA food and drugs regulator has not had a director for more than a year, Triana said.

"They are topics that definitely worry the sector," he added.

(Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)