Thursday, March 27, 2008

A few quick notes on Bogota

(Evening folks! I meant to post this last night from the airport in Bogota, before our flight to Lima, but my Internet connection ended and we had to board. We had a late night, but we got into Lima all safe and sound. I'll post on our day in Lima, Peru, later tonight.)

Before I forget, thanks to those folks who've left questions and comments on the blog. I promise tonight when I get to the hotel I'll be sure to look up the information you asked for and post it. Meanwhile, keep those posts going and tell your friends to come visit here!

So, here's the update on our hectic day in Bogota.

Now, our morning in Bogota started out with a breakfast with our Agricultural Attache Richard (Todd) Drennan and Alberto Restrepo, an Agricultural Specialist with the U.S. Embassy at our hotel. Drennan re-inforced the message we took home from yesterday's meeting with FEDEMOL—an approved U.S.-Colombian free trade agreement is vital to both countries' continued economic success. And especially before Canada has a chance to pass its own agreement with Colombia that includes zero tariffs on wheat.

"Colombia's positive growth will continue and there are great opportunities in agricultural production with or without an agreement," Drennan said. "Except, if Canada gets its agreement signed with zero tariffs, we'd be at a disadvantage." The Canadian agremeent is caught

Our morning continued with a meeting just three blocks from the hotel with Felipe Laserna, president of CIGSA S.A., a wheat importer who buys wheat for 16 small and medium mills in Colombia. He imports about 7 million bushels of wheat annually, through two of the country's ports.

From there, it was a one hour jaunt across town, to Productos Alimenticios de Occidente, or Doria, a milling company with 48 percent of Colombia's pasta market and imports of 65,000 MT of wheat.

We learned a lot in Colombia. First, the trade agreement is a vital necessity for this country. Everyone we talked to understood that it was a political matter on the part of the U.S. Congress, but they wanted our producers to take the message to their Representatives and Senators that action is needed, and soon. If not, the U.S. will lose market share to Canadian wheat.

Second, we learned Colombia's millers like U.S. wheat, but they wish they could get the same quality as that they can buy from Canada. It was apparent at the FEDEMOL board meeting that importers and millers are tired of paying extra freight for dockage, whether it's the fault of U.S. producers and grain movers or not.

Also, as far as genetically modified wheat's potential in the export market, Colombian millers would be wary of the product. Not because of any scientific issues, so much, but more because they'd worry that their consumers wouldn't understand the issue. Education is needed on the subject, and Colombians encouraged U.S. Wheat to work to educate consumers and users about GM wheat.

Finally, it was also apparent that Colombia, especially Bogota, is a country and city on the rise. Bogota was clean and vibrant and as one of our board members described it, "very cosmopolitan." It's a small country, but it's one that has a great future. And, U.S. wheat farmers most definitely want to be in on it.

It's a late night for us tonight. We catch a three-hour flight over the Andes to Lima, Peru, and then we have a day of five meetings around town with millers, importers and government officials discussing U.S. wheat and the Peruvian free trade agreement that is in the process of final implementation.

Thanks to everyone for keeping up with our travels. Hasta luego!