WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canada can boost its grain and meat trade to Colombia if it ratifies its free-trade deal with Bogota before the United States, a government legislator said on Friday.
Both the Canadian and American governments have signed free-trade deals with Colombia, but concerns about its human-rights record has bogged down approval in both countries.
“It is a real opportunity,” said Conservative Member of Parliament David Anderson, who as parliamentary secretary is the second-highest ranking federal politician in Canadian agriculture. “It gives us an opportunity to be competitive in places where the United States won’t be until they get the agreement done.”
It could take more than a year before the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement comes up for a vote in Congress, a Democratic supporter of the pact said in mid-October [ID:nN14254252]. President Barack Obama sided with opponents of the pact during last year’s presidential campaign.
“We can get our foot in the door ... before the Americans,” said John Masswohl, director of government and international relations for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.
Approval of Canada’s agreement with Colombia is being stalled by the opposition New Democrats. Anderson wouldn’t predict how long ratification might take, but said it may happen quickly.
Colombia has a young, growing population that would be attractive to exporters if the country removes its 15 percent grain tariff, said Janelle Whitley, trade policy analyst with the Canadian Wheat Board, one of the world’s top grain exporters. The CWB sold C$135 million ($126 million) worth of wheat and barley to Colombia last year, with room to grow under a free-trade deal approved before the U.S. agreement, she said.
“There’s definitely a window of opportunity there,” Whitley said.
Canada’s hog and cattle industries see the addition of relatively small markets like Colombia as a way to ease reliance on the United States, Russia and China.
“When something goes wrong in China or Russia, it sends serious shockwaves in the industry,” said Martin Rice, executive director of the Canadian Pork Council. “Those markets are not as solid as they once were.”
Canada currently ships 3,000 tons of pork worth $6 million to $8 million annually to Colombia, but that volume could more than double within five years of Canada ratifying its free trade agreement, Rice said.
Canada is one of the world’s top exporters of spring wheat and the third-largest shipper of pork.
The agreement would phase out Colombia’s tariffs on Canadian beef over 12 years, compared to 10 years for the U.S., Masswohl said. Canada would immediately be allowed to ship 5,250 tons of beef duty-free.
Earlier this year, Colombia granted market access to a small amount of Canadian beef worth about C$6 million. Under free trade, the value of Canada’s beef shipments could more than triple to C$20 million annually, Masswohl said.
Canada exported C$212 million of farm products to Colombia last year, with wheat, lentils, barley and peas the top items. It imported C$297 million of agricultural products from Colombia, mainly coffee, bananas and cut flowers.
Canada has also been negotiating a free-trade agreement with South Korea, whose pact with the United States has also stalled. Canada has recently complained to the World Trade Organization, however, about South Korea’s refusal to import Canadian beef.
(Editing by Frank McGurty)