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New trade deals bring challenges, opportunities for Latin American farmers

BOGOTA — For the past five years, Colombia has been agitating for the United States to ratify a free-trade agreement. On Wednesday, the U.S. Congress did just that, easily approving trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

But some in this South American nation of 45 million wonder if they are ready for what the finance minister has called a “new era” in commerce.

The trade bill will phase out tariffs between Colombia and the United States — its largest trading partner. But it’s clear that the economic benefits aren’t for everybody.

Fruit and vegetable growers, as well as textile, shoe and clothing manufacturers are expected to be among some of the winners in Colombia, analysts said.

But as U.S. agricultural goods — many of which are subsidized — flood into this nation, rice and corn growers, and dairy farmers, are expected to be hard-hit.

Companies will have to fight so “the cold shower of the FTA doesn’t turn into pneumonia,” Minister of Agriculture Juan Camilo Restrepo Salazar said in a recent statement.

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