Governor Terry McAuliffe, the head of the U.S. state of Virginia, took a two-day trip to Colombia last week to promote agricultural trade and explore options to increase business between the two locations. In 2015, there was some $250 million USD in trade between Virginia and Colombia, said the governor, including $54 million USD in the agricultural sector.
Executives from seven industry companies and the state secretary of agriculture and forestry, Todd Haymore, traveled with the governor to Bogotá. Through dozens of meetings, they attempted to drum up exports and weigh potential investment options, which have been increasing since the United States and Colombia passed a free-trade agreement in 2012. “Virginia has seen the benefits of the free-trade agreement,” said Haymore. “A few years ago, we were at zero in terms of business with Colombia. The country was not on the list of 50 markets to explore. And today it is in the top 15.”
Haymore listed microbrews, wine, and oysters as three products that Virginian companies can bring to the market. Rappahannock Oyster Company was one of the firms that came to the capital on the trade mission and has already established a plan to export oysters to Colombia. Turkey Knob Growers, which is in the apple business, came looking for trade partners in Cartagena and Barranquilla and left encouraged by the potential.
“The security of the country is improving and its business sector projects to be very willing to do business,” said Doug Grennan of International Trade Scoular, which also made the trip. “In addition, the agricultural sector is growing, and we have what they need to develop. So we want to be here.”
Camilo Reyes, executive director of the Colombia-American Chamber of Commerce in Bogotá, highlighted the benefits for Colombia. The Port of Virginia is one of the largest in the United States and one of the few advanced enough to handle New Panamax-sized shipping vessels, he says. So the more collaboration that the country can have with the state, the more potential there will be to export goods to not just Virginia but to the entire U.S. market. “From Virginia, you can distribute products by land to more than 60% of the United States in one day,” said Reyes.
He also believes the low-tax environment and friendly business climate of the state make it a natural place for Colombian companies to seek trading partners in the United Sates. “It is a state with a low tax burden for businesses,” said Reyes, adding that, “Colombia could enter this market with national companies, as it has done in other states.”
According to the Washington Times, Virginia’s $55 million in agriculture and forestry exports to Colombia in 2015 made the Andean nation the state’s 15th largest buyer. And more than simply expanding business in argricultural, Governor Terry McAuliffe is also encouraged by the potential for greater cooperation in industries including security, cybersecurity, and data analysis.
“Governments spend years building paths to trade agreements,” said Haymore. “But it depends on the states, the private sector, and other entities capitalize on these opportunities.”
Photo:Terry McAuliffe speaks to constituents. (Credit: United States Department of Agriculture/Lance Cheung)