Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The sites of Colombia

When you land in Bogota, you enter a world where there are 8 million people living 8,000 feet above sea level. It's hectic, yes, but it also has a unique charm, too.

Our van met us at the airport and our driver must have been training for NASCAR—along with every other driver on the road.

But, in a town with this many people, it makes sense that you have to drive like that just to get anywhere around town within any sort of time frame. The road is shared with horse-drawn carts, motorcycles, random pedestrians, and they all just accept the zooming and the honking and the near collisions without a blink.
It's amazing.

Here are a few shots of the local color. Just thought you'd like to see some of what I'm seeing here.

Meeting with FEDEMOL

Today, the team met with the Colombian Millers Association, for FEDEMOL, which was having its meeting in Bogota. Over lunch, the group discussed the pending Colombian trade agreement with the U.S., as well as wheat quality and dockage issues from the U.S. and how to improve consumer demand of bread in Colombia.

Here, Carlos Paz, the general manager of Harinera del Valle, which imports 280,000 MT of wheat, and owns 25 percent of the market share in Colombia, discusses the issues he and his fellow millers face. (Journal photo by Jennifer M. Latzke.)

Our day in D.C.

Our first day in Washington, D.C. was packed with information. We started our day at the offices of U.S. Wheat, where Alan Tracy, president of USW, met us to begin our orientation. Tracy explained the value of this trip is in the relationships made between our foreign customers and U.S. producers. In choosing the four countries of Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica and Mexico, USW wanted to give producers an understanding of the opportunities available to U.S. wheat in those markets.
Tracy also discussed the supply and demand situation in the world wheat market, and the recent price concerns of millers.

"Wheat prices are down, and the market works," Tracy said. "Spring wheat prices are down $10 and the price has dropped more than the price we were at one year ago." Tracy explained there should be a 20 percent increase in wheat acreage in the United States this year, and increases in overseas plantings as well. This will help to correct the market.

"The worst thing would be to have the government involved at this point," Tracy explained, in response to the recent millers picketing of D.C. to protest high wheat prices. "Decreases in wheat itself is not important in food inflation in the U.S.," Tracy said. He added that if the price of wheat were to increase by $1, then that would end up translating into an increase of one cent per day to the average consumer.

While at USW we also discussed the Latin America market situation and the USW market development efforts with Vince Peterson, and an update on the negotiated trade agreements with Peru and Colombia from Rebecca Bratter.

Then, it was off to U.S. Department of Agriculture, for even more dicussions on the Colombian and Peruvian trade agreements, and overviews of the world supply and demand and U.S. supply and demand of wheat.

The overall message for the day was clear. If Congress doesn't act on the negotiated Colombian trade agreement before the end of this session, the agreement will expire and the U.S. stands to lose opportunity for trade into Colombia to Canada, which is negotiating its own agreement.

And, by all accounts, this is a lot of wheat trade. Bratter explained that Colombia is a large U.S. wheat export market and if Argentina and Canada wind up with preferential trade agreements before the United States, growers will find themselved out of the Colombian market.

So, what's the hold up on the Colombian agreement? Bratter explained that it really is a political issue. A Democratic Congress does not want to pass the agreement because it has humaninatarian concerns with Colombia's treatment of its labor officials. Also, there's added pressure because of the presidential election cycle and how passing or not passing the agreement would help or hinder either the Democratic or Republican party.

Colombia, Bratter added, is a longtime ally of the U.S. "Not signing the agreement doesn't send a good signal," she said. And, if the agreement expires? It will be a long time, if not nearly impossible to negotiate another. (Journal photos by Jennifer M. Latzke.)

We're in Colombia... and it's simply beautiful

So, yesterday we spent the day in Washington, D.C. visiting with U.S. Department of Agriculture folks and such. We learned about the trade agreement with Colombia that's in jeopardy if this Democratic-led Congress doesn't act before the end of the term, and about the wheat export potential of Peru once its agreement is implemented.

It was a busy day of travel. The team made it into Miami International Airport just in time to get a few hours of sleep at the airport hotel and then make our 7:30 a.m. (EST) flight to Bogota.

We're in Bogota, and we'll be meeting with the millers shortly. I'll try to post more tonight when we get in. Meanwhile I'll try sending you a few pictures of our day in D.C.

Thanks for all the good wishes from all of our readers! Don't worry, we're fine, happy and healthy and the board members are excited about representing their fellow wheat growers. You should be really proud of them!

It's so beautiful and green and lush down here! Granted, we're in South America and I didn't expect it to be a desert, but coming from western Kansas, after a long winter, the colors of the flowers around here are simply intoxicating to the eyes. Most of their "weeds" I don't see outside of greenhouses in the states. What lucky people!