Colombian exporters fear drop in US demand

Colombian exporters of coffee, cut flowers and textiles say Wall
Street’s financial crisis has not affected them yet, but they fear
shrinking demand in the United States, their biggest market.

They are also worried that falling oil prices will hurt their sales
in Colombia’s No. 2 market, Venezuela. Crude prices dropped below $87 a
barrel on Thursday — down 40 percent from record highs in July.

Concerned about falling investment in Colombia, President Alvaro
Uribe on Wednesday said he would remove a requirement that foreign
investments in stocks and bonds be backed by bank deposits totaling 50
percent of their value.

Colombian exports for the year’s first six months totaled US$22.9
billion — up 42.7 percent from the same period in 2007, the Foreign
Trade Ministry said. More than a third of that trade was with the
United States, while 13.9 percent was with Venezuela.

One reason for the relative health of Colombia’s economy is that its
businesses rely for credit mostly on domestic banks, which have barely
been affected by the U.S. crisis, government and industry officials say.

“At the moment we haven’t felt a major impact,” said Augusto Solano,
president of Asocolflores, the country’s main flower exporting
organization, which he said generates US$115 million annually in sales
and employs some 200,000 people. He said U.S. consumers buy four in
five exported Colombian flowers.

Coffee exports are more widely dispersed, with 40.8 percent going to
Europe, 35.5 percent to the United States and 11.7 to Japan, according
to the Colombian Coffee Federation.

Its chief, Gabriel Silva, says the dollar’s steep rise against the
Colombian peso in recent weeks is a boon to sales. Colombia’s peso has
dropped from 1,769 on Aug. 1 and was trading at 2,244 on Thursday.

Colombia’s textile exports to Venezuela, meanwhile, neared US$1
billion last year — chiefly women’s underwear and jeans, with the
United States the second-largest importer, buying some US$280 million,
said Ivan Amaya, president of Asocoltex, the textile trade association. (AP)

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