06/23/2013 11:29 EDT | Updated 08/21/2013 05:12 EDT

Canada, Colombia, and a Free Trade Deal That Works

From its start, the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement was designed to break down economic barriers on either side of the equator, making trade more transparent and fluid. As we near the two-year anniversary of the agreement going into effect this August, we have a chance to look back on how the FTA has spurred growth within our countries and abroad. With the constantly changing global economy, the importance of close trade partners like Canada and the ability of economic agreements to hold up against the push and pull of global pressures is more important than ever.

As president of Proexport Colombia, the Colombian government agency in charge of promoting nontraditional exports, investment, and tourism, I've had a front row seat to watch the positive effects that the Free Trade Agreement has had on my home country.

Since the Free Trade Agreement was ratified, Colombia has been able to export a variety of products to Canada that reflect the Canadian spirit of innovation and even of adventure. We've seen more exotic fruits, confectionary products, and sugars make their way into Canadian supermarkets, causing agribusiness to have the greatest growth of all subsectors since the FTA took effect. There was a 31 percent increase between the periods of August 2011 and March 2013, when compared to August 2009 and March 2011. That represents around US$27.7-million of additional Colombia exports!

More Canadian families are also using Colombian products to maintain their homes. From January to March of this year, exports of household products from Colombia to Canada increased by 141 percent as compared to the same period in 2012, according to the Colombia's Ministry of Commerce, Tourism and Industry. That's more cleaning and laundry products than ever before.

Lastly, Canadian clothing manufacturers are relying on Colombia for their apparel, especially when it comes to high performance wear. The next time you head to the gym, it's possible you'll be wearing a garment with Colombian origins.

This growth in new industries has two major benefits for our countries: It creates jobs in both nations and also makes Colombian and Canadian products more competitive globally. In this way, the impact of the FTA goes beyond just the two countries involved.

The success of the FTA and its positive effects on Colombian business has raised international visibility for our industries and products. As companies around the world watch this success, they recognize Colombia as an attractive place to do business, which means more growth, more revenue and more opportunity.

Proexport has capitalized on this shifting perception by diligently promoting Colombia's positive business environment through trade missions in Canada and abroad. We've held business matchmaking forums and brought Canadian companies to business events in Colombia. In September, Proexport will bring more than 200 Colombian exporters to a business matchmaking forum in Toronto in order to showcase the diversity of Colombia's offerings from agribusiness, manufacturing, and apparel industries to digital software companies.

All of this positive growth has fueled an exponential increase in the number of people coming to visit Colombia over the past decade, from less than 800,000 in 2004 to nearly 1.7 million in 2012. Last year Canada ranked among the top 10 countries that visited Colombia the most. Colombia has transformed into a welcoming and secure country for leisure tourism and business, with major cities showcasing their innovative infrastructure, stable economies, steady growth, and unique business opportunities. With direct flights from Toronto to Bogota on Air Canada and a wide variety of connecting options through the U.S. and Central America, Colombia is closer for Canadian travelers than ever before.

The OECD is now looking to Colombia as a new promising partner in South America, showing an example of confidence in the country and the momentum the Colombian economy is experiencing. As we celebrate the two-year anniversary of the FTA in August, I and everyone at Proexport in Canada and Colombia look forward to what the next two years will bring.

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