Canada sees gain in delayed U.S.-Colombia trade deal

Fri Nov 6, 2009 2:45pm EST
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By Rod Nickel

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.   Continued...