Mauricio Silva is the sales manager of Piscícola New York, Colombia’s largest tilapia exporter, which sold $30 million worth of fish last year, primarily to a wholesaler in Vermont.
The sector’s growth is being driven by new players entering the market, he said. But in a sense, the FTA has been a double-edged sword for existing companies. Even before the FTA, Colombia was seen as a haven for foreign investors, and the agreement only reinforced that image.
As dollars have flowed into the mining and petroleum sectors, it has strengthened the local currency 23 percent over the last five years, making it difficult for tilapia exporters, for example, to compete against places like Honduras, Costa Rica or Ecuador.
With the dollar working against those who want to export, Silva said he may start to focus more on the domestic market.
Meanwhile, questions remain about Colombia’s record in protecting trade union members. To win Congressional approval of the FTA, the Obama administration and Colombia developed an action plan to address concerns about violence. The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office said “important advances’’ have been achieved in the past year, but advocacy groups say Colombia still remains one of deadliest places on earth for union members.
Death threats against unionists continue “unabated,’’ according to Public Citizen, and at least 20 labor union members were assassinated in 2012. The International Trade Union Confederation said there were 35 deaths.
If the FTA hasn’t produced the short-term bonanza that some were expecting, it also didn’t flood Colombia with subsidized U.S. agricultural goods like some had feared.
Instead, U.S. farmers have basically recaptured some of the soy and wheat market that they had lost to South America’s Mercusur bloc of nations and to Canada, whose free trade agreement with Colombia went into effect in August 2011, Gómez said.
But U.S. exports of soybeans, pork and rice, which used to face an 80 percent duty, have been big winners and overall U.S. agricultural exports were up 68 percent from last May to this March.
“This is like a bridge that you inaugurate. Just because we cut the ribbon one year ago doesn’t mean we’re going to immediately see a tsunami of traffic back and forth,” Colombia’s Vice Minister of Commerce Gabriel Duque told The Miami Herald. “But it opens up the possibility of having long-term relations.”