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Opinion Editorial - Austin American Statesman - "Blank: U.S., Colombia Play Key Role in Future of Americas"

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OPINION EDITORIAL
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
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Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank
Opinion Editorial, The Austin American Statesman
"Blank: U.S., Colombia Play Key Role in Future of Americas" 

When President Barack Obama came into office, one of his priorities was to push forward and implement the U.S.-Colombia trade promotion agreement. The agreement celebrated its first anniversary on May 15. That’s good news for Texas, which has the highest dollar amount of U.S. exports to Colombia.

The U.S. and Colombia have had a strong relationship for decades. Over the past five years, our friendship has truly blossomed.

In 2008, we started working more closely together on renewable and clean energy. In 2009, we signed an agreement to cooperate on defense issues. In 2010, we launched a High-Level Partnership Dialogue. And in 2011, we signed an Open Skies Agreement.

During those same years, we were able to resolve some tough issues—such as protections for workers—in order to implement the new agreement last year.

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

Not surprisingly, U.S. goods exported to Colombia in the first 10 months of the agreement have increased 19 percent compared to the same period 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, over 600 Colombian companies have exported to the U.S. for the first time, and the United States remains Colombia’s largest trading partner.

This new agreement is also helping break down old assumptions about Colombia. Dramatic progress has occurred in Colombia over the past decade to make it a safer and more secure place to travel and do business. And, at the Commerce Department, we’re receiving more and more phone calls from U.S. companies asking about the business climate in Colombia.

In fact, I just traveled to Bogota on a trade mission with 20 businesses from across the U.S., including Austin-based Innovari, an energy company. These businesses are interested in serving as partners on infrastructure projects that will grow out of the Colombian government’s decision to make major investments in infrastructure over the next several years.

These businesses—most of which are small and nimble—offer cutting-edge technologies and world-class consulting and engineering services. They want to support Colombia as it paves more highways, expands railways, modernizes airports, and more.

This trade mission is building on the success we’ve seen of other trade missions and trade shows. For example, last October, the Commerce Department hosted an energy-focused trade show in Bogota, where about 75 percent of the exhibitors were from Texas. And, looking forward, there are already four more trade missions lined up this year involving businesses from Maine, Pennsylvania, New York and several other states.

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

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

The U.S. and Colombia both want to compete and win in the 21st century, and our partnership will play a key role in the future of the Americas. So let’s continue to find even more ways to deepen our ties in the coming years.