Colombia’s Agriculture Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo said Monday the country is not prepared for the effects of the free trade agreements with the United States and the European Union.
“We are not ready, we’ve still got a long way to go,” said Restrepo in an interview with the Caracol Network and newspaper El Espectador.
Restrepo said that the FTA will generate good opportunities in some sectors such as fruit and vegetable produce but the commercial agreements present “threats and challenges” for other agricultural sub-sectors especially small-scale rice growers and the 350,000 families which are dedicated to dairy farming.
“Where there are set-backs, there has to be work done quickly to help them catch up, so when the cold shower of the FTA hits them, it doesn’t turn into pneumonia,” said Restrepo.
In May 2010, dairy producing families protested against the FTA with the European Union. Former Agriculture Minister Andres Fernandez admitted that the industry would be hurt by the FTA. Dairy farmers marched again in May 2011.
Restrepo also said that the administration of Alvaro Uribe was naive when negotiating the agricultural chapter of the free trade agreements. The FTA with the USA was signed in 2006 and the FTA with the European Union was signed in May 2010 but both are still pending, although expected to pass soon.
Restrepo said “the FTA is a done deal, now what we have to do is manage it well, and try to make sure that the most threatened sectors get up to date and modernized.”
The minister said Colombia should establish a technical team to determine where the subsidies and distortions in the market are. “The FTAs are not for us to be filled with subsidized products, of which there are very many in the USA and the European Union.”
In response to Restrepo’s concern, Finance Minister Juan Carlos Echeverry said “The FTA with the US is an opportunity to do good business because nobody forces anyone to do bad deals.”