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Remarks on the Anniversary of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank
Remarks on the Anniversary of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement

Thank you, Vice Minister Duque. Buenas tardes. I also want to recognize Ambassador McKinley.

Thank you to our organizers today: Camilo Reyes and everyone at the American Chamber of Commerce. And thanks to Ricardo Triana and Francisco Thiermann and the folks at the Council of American Enterprises. 

Of course, it is also wonderful to be with business leaders from both our countries. You are the ones on the ground whose work helps build deeper ties between Colombia and the United States–while also reinforcing the strong friendship between our people.

When President Obama came into office, one of his priorities was to push forward and implement the U.S.-Colombia trade promotion agreement. 

Through hard work in both countries, we did it. And I’m pleased and honored to be here today to celebrate its first anniversary.

The fact is, in recent years, there have been many new links formed between the U.S. and Colombia. In 2008, we began working more closely together on renewable and clean energy. In 2009, we signed a Defense Cooperation Agreement. In 2010, we launched a High-Level Partnership Dialogue. And in 2011, we signed an Open Skies Agreement.

During those same few years, we were able to resolve the last tough issues–such as protections for workers–and move forward to approve and implement this strong trade agreement in 2012.

Just over a year ago, President Obama joined President Santos in Cartagena to announce that the new agreement was on its way. I should also note that he announced that the U.S. would double the length of visa validity for Colombians to ten years, and support Colombia’s effort to join the OECD.

Since the agreement went into effect, we have seen more business delegations traveling in both directions. For example, in 2007 there were no trade missions from the U.S. to Colombia, but over the past year alone, there have been 13.

U.S. goods exported to Colombia from last June through March of this year have increased 19 percent compared to the same period in the year before. 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.

At the same time, Colombian exports to the U.S. remain strong and Colombia continues to experience a significant trade surplus with the United States, its largest trading partner. 

Under this new agreement, over 600 Colombian companies have exported to the U.S. for the first time. And Colombian experts have estimated that this agreement could add hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next few years–lifting more families into Colombia’s middle class, which has doubled in the past 10 years.

This new agreement is also helping break down old assumptions about Colombia. Not everyone knows–as you and I do–that dramatic progress has occurred here over the past decade to make Colombia a safer and more secure place to travel and do business. But the word is getting out. We’re receiving more and more phone calls at the Department of Commerce from companies asking about the business climate here.

And, in fact, that high level of interest from U.S. businesses is part of the reason I am here today. 

Twenty U.S. businesses are here with me on a trade mission. They’re interested in serving as partners on key infrastructure projects. (Could all of them stand for just a moment so we can see you?)

These businesses know that the Colombian government has laid out a powerful vision to invest tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure over the next several years.  And the decision makers here have been smart about how they are going to do this–they believe that public-private partnerships can and should play a strong role in building and modernizing Colombia’s infrastructure. From building and paving more roads and highways, to dramatically expanding the railway network, to modernizing airports, and even working on intelligent transportation solutions here in Bogota.

The U.S. businesses on this trade mission are here to offer ideas and products that can help Colombia accomplish its infrastructure goals. These range from cutting-edge technologies to world-class consulting and engineering services.

Some of the businesses are big and experienced. Others are small and nimble. And, in fact, the Commerce Department is particularly focused on making sure that more small- and medium-sized businesses in the U.S. know about the new agreement and the many opportunities to do business here in Colombia.

But it’s not just the U.S. private sector that wants to see Colombia continue to grow and thrive.

The U.S. government itself also understands that we have a role to play in helping create the right conditions for growth.

Beyond our daily work to promote trade, the Commerce Department is also helping organize courses on best practices for good governance for both public and private sector leaders in places like Barranquilla.

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation another U.S. agency with me on this trip–is helping with everything from insurance coverage for modernizing power plants to microfinancing for small, women-owned businesses.

And the U.S. Trade and Development Agency–also with us on this trip–provided a technical assistance grant to help with long-term planning for airports in Bogota, the results of which were recently announced by President Santos.

With all of these partnerships forming between our governments and our businesses, it’s easy to see that–on this anniversary of our agreement – the United States and Colombia have a bright future together.

I should note that there are already four more trade missions lined up this year from the U.S.–involving several U.S. states. And–in the other direction–I know that ProExport Colombia has a mission to Miami this week and AmCham Barranquilla is leading a mission to Tallahassee.

My challenge to all of us today is this: let’s continue to trade and invest more in each other, and let’s find even more creative and smart ways for our businesses and governments to work together and add new dimensions to our relationship.

I’ll give one example. Tomorrow, I’m going to visit the Bella Flor community. There, Microsoft–a U.S. company that has had a presence in Colombia for many years – has sponsored a project that is bringing technical training and vocational skills to an underserved area. Microsoft has supported about a dozen of these centers in Colombia–which have trained thousands of people in computer and job skills, helping them find new paths to prosperity.

I’m pleased to say that–when I visit–some of our local staff will be donating some surplus computers as well as hard drives, while some of the folks from the U.S. Embassy will be donating books and soccer balls for the youth in that community.

When I see all of us working together to take that next step–reaching out to foster social and economic development in places where it is needed most–it’s easy to understand why the ties between the United States and Colombia are so deep.

Our two nations have stood by each other for decades–not only building our bilateral relationship, but also working together to reach out and address humanitarian crises and other challenges throughout the region.

We share common values and ideals, and yes, we also share a love for sports. So let me close with a story that perhaps some of you have heard. 

2010 wasn’t shaping up to be a good year for Edgar Renteria, a seasoned baseball player who is considered to be one of the greatest players ever from Colombia. That year, he suffered a number of injuries with the San Francisco Giants.

Edgar never gave speeches in team meetings. But as the season looked like it might be slipping away, Edgar spoke up. Tearfully, he told his teammates that the season might be his last.

Some folks say that was the turning point. The Giants went on a winning streak and clinched the playoffs. Then, Edgar hit two game-winning home runs in the World Series, and was the first-ever Colombian to be named series MVP.

The U.S. and Colombia want to compete and win in the 21st century–and in many ways we are on the same team. So, we should always be looking for ways to help each other.

As commerce flourishes between our nations under this new agreement, our economic futures will become even more intertwined, helping grow the middle class and bring prosperity to our citizens. 

I’m pleased to be part of this effort, as these companies with me today are symbolic of the growing number of U.S. companies that are hoping to invest and work in Colombia in the years ahead.

As President Obama recently noted, “This is a moment of great promise for our Hemisphere.” And I believe that the U.S.-Colombia relationship will play a key role in the future of the Americas.

Thank you.