Trade mission to Colombia slated for next week
By Claudio Mendonça
Enterprise Florida will spearhead a mission of 185 people and 45 companies to Colombia next week.
Leading the mission, the organization's first to Colombia in five years, will be Gov. Jeb Bush. Meetings are scheduled for Sunday through Wednesday.
"We have the largest United States trade mission to Colombia ever," said Manny Mencia, head of Enterprise Florida's international trade division in Miami. The event will include sessions in which American and Colombian businessmen will meet individually. According to Enterprise Florida officials, all 45 companies have requested business appointments.
Mr. Mencia, senior vice president of Enterprise Florida, said the idea is to expand business relationships with Colombia.
According to Enterprise Florida, 40% of Colombia's imports from the US originate from Florida. Colombia was the state's sixth-largest trading partner in 2003 with $3.6 billion in trade.
"Every one of our missions has multiple purposes, but the main objective is to promote Florida products," said Mr. Mencia. He said the Colombian economy grew 3% to 4% last year.
Florida's major exports range from high-tech components such as computer peripherals to health-related equipment and aviation parts. The state's biggest imports are products such as gold, clothing and flowers. "Miami is the principal flower-distribution center in the United States," said Mr. Mencia.
Carolina Coulson, director of the Colombian American Chamber of Commerce, said the mission will be a great opportunity for Florida companies to do business in the South American country.
Ms. Coulson said the country, famous for its coffee, has an increasing dependence on services. One of its newest exports is Web development and consulting. "Software services in Colombia are very affordable," she said.
Colombia has been stigmatized by drug-related woes. As President Alvaro Uribe tries to make political and economic improvements, Florida's government is welcoming one of its most important partners.
"I've been traveling to Colombia and feel quite comfortable. It certainly has not deterred the interest," Mr. Mencia said. "In fact, I expect the travel advisory board to be downgraded in the very near future. Truth be told, BogotĚ security is much improved."
Mr. Mencia said he expects trade to continue improving as Colombia makes progress economically and in its war against drug trafficking.
"We hope this mission sends a strong message," he said. "It is an excellent market and a great place for companies in Florida to do business."