The Colombian government has rejected protests that the recently finalized Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the U.S. will harm key agricultural sectors, reported local media Friday.
“I do not personally believe, nor does the government believe that an apocalyptic shadow is rising over the Colombian countryside, agriculture and livestock industries that will wipe out everything that has been built in the country,” said the country’s Agriculture Minister, Juan Camilo Restrepo.
Under the FTA, more than half of current U.S. farm exports to Colombia will become duty-free immediately, while nearly all tariffs will be eliminated within 15 years.
Many involved in Colombia’s agribusiness worry that eliminated tariffs will allow U.S. products to flood their markets and result in a loss of agricultural jobs throughout the country.
Restrepo’s comments come after national associations of agricultural products expressed concern that the FTA would hurt livestock, poultry and grain sectors.
The agricultural minister mentioned the dairy, corn, rice, bean and soy sectors as the industries potentially most threatened by the FTA.
He promised however that the government “is prepared to engage all of its fiscal and administrative powers” to help at-risk sectors overcome any difficulties as a result of the agreement.
With respect to crops, Restrepo said the government would work to ensure that rice and corn imports from the U.S. do not enter Colombia at a time that coincides with the exportation of national crops.
The FTA has also been fiercely criticized by human rights organizations and unions in both Colombia and the U.S. due to ongoing unionist killings and labor rights violations — something the Andean nation was supposed to fully address before the agreement could go into effect.
U.S. exports to Colombia have quadrupled in the last 10 years, reaching $14 billion in 2011. The U.S. International Trade Commission estimates the agreement will increase U.S. GDP $2.5 billion.
Colombia’s FTA with the U.S. is set to go into effect May 15.