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Colombian trade pact is a winner for U.S., Colombian flower exporters say on first anniversary of agreement

In the first year after the signing of the U.S.-Colombian Free Trade Agreement, the head of the flower exporter group in Colombia contends the United States has come out on top. Augusto Solano, president of Asocolflores, the flower exporters group, told The Produce News, “The media in both countries has pronounced this particular free trade agreement as having been more beneficial for the United States than it has for Colombia.”

Vice President Joe Biden toured a flower farm in Colombia in May and then-Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank took a delegation of 20 U.S. companies on a trade mission to Colombia, where she said trade missions between Colombia and the U.S. had become increasingly common. In 2007, she said, there were none, but there have been 13 in the past year.

“Tractors from a company in Texas now enter Colombia duty-free, a bath and body products maker in Florida made her first export sale to Colombia in January and Colombians can now more easily buy an iconic American product — a Harley-Davidson motorcycle — because the 15 percent tariff has been dropped,” Blank said, quoted by the McClatchy Washington bureau.

In a statement to The Produce News, Solano said, “In the particular case of the Colombian flower industry, this agreement has so far not stimulated greater consumption of Colombia flowers around the U.S. market.” The trade pact saw a drop of 8 percent in volume and 15 percent in the value of agricultural exports, mainly flowers and bananas, to the United States, he noted, citing the Colombian Farmers’ Association and Colombian National Statistics Bureau.

Solano stated that the dominance of Colombian flowers in the U.S., where it is the top provider, is essentially due to the entrepreneurial skill of Colombian producers, the country’s geographical conditions, and its robust portfolio of products boasting more than 1,600 varieties of flowers. “And we shouldn’t leave out the fact that Colombian flowers generate over 200,000 U.S. jobs, mainly in Florida,” he added.

The Colombian government hailed the anniversary by announcing that 775 Colombian companies had embarked upon new exports to the United States, while McClatchy reported that “U.S. officials are equally excited, saying U.S. businesses have improved their sales to the South American country by 20 percent.”

Manufacturers here are exporting more transportation equipment and coal products, processed foods and a long list of farm products, including soybeans, pork, wheat, grapes and dairy goods. Opponents note that the balance of trade between the countries remains out of whack, according to McClatchy. The United States imported nearly $25 billion in goods from Colombia last year, while it exported only $16 billion.