In the year since the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement has been in effect, Colombian exports to the United States have ticked up only marginally, but U.S. exports to Colombia have climbed by 20 percent.
While the results were disappointing for some in Colombia they were also to be expected: Many Colombian products already entered the U.S. market duty-free, and falling commodity prices have sapped trade.
“A very high share of Colombian exports to the United States are commodities,” said Acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank, who was in Colombia on Wednesday, the first anniversary of the trade pact. “And we all know the free trade agreement doesn’t have any effect on prices that are set out by world commodity markets.”
Colombian trade officials said exports overall to the United States grew only 0.05 percent since the FTA was enacted. But Blank said that, excluding oil, exports out of Colombia grew by 7 percent. “That is a sign that trade really is growing here,” she said.
Maria Claudia Lacouture, president of ProExport Colombia, which promotes nontraditional exports and investment in Colombia, said the agency is concentrating its efforts on opening up fresh U.S. markets to new exports such as passion fruit, tilapia and hotel linens, rather than promoting traditional mainstays such as crude oil, coal, coffee, and gold.
“If you look at our non-traditional exports, which don’t include mining products or coffee, there’s been an increase of 18 percent since last year,’’ said Lacouture, who visited Miami this week.
While most Colombian exports used to arrive via just nine U.S. gateways, she said last year 44 U.S. cities received exports from Colombia.
Colombia also is hoping to hook U.S. investors who may prefer to set up manufacturing operations in Colombia and use it as a springboard for duty-free access to the U.S. market as well as U.S. companies interested in bidding on massive development projects. Over the next four years, Colombia has earmarked $26 million for road projects, airport modernization and other improvements.
Blank was leading a delegation of 20 U.S. companies interested in infrastructure development, including Chen Moore & Associates, a Fort Lauderdale engineering firm.
Meanwhile, U.S. traders like Francisco Borrero, who specializes in importing and exporting food products, have been making plans to capitalize on a suddenly wide open Colombian market.
His Medley-based company, Link Trading Group, which represents a number of U.S. food manufacturers, began concentrating on the Colombia market six months ago.
“The FTA has opened up new opportunities — especially for U.S. products heading to Colombia. Lots of U.S. companies are trying to understand the Colombian market now. It’s hot,’’ said Borrero, who is also president of the Colombian American Chamber of Commerce USA in Miami.
Link’s efforts have begun to pay off. It expects to ship its first container load of food products to San Andres, an island off the Colombian coast, in the first week of June, and is working to open markets in Bogota, Cali and Medellín. “We hope to be selling in those markets by late June or early July,’’ he said.
The free trade pact has come at a good time when the Colombian economy has improved and Colombians are eager to try new brands and look at new options, said Borrero, who is also a part owner of Logistic Alliance, a company that imports South American food products that appear in the Hispanic food sections of U.S. supermarkets.