The United States and Colombia officially implemented a free trade agreement (FTA) first signed in 2006, immediately eliminating all tariffs on wheat imports to the South American country.

Those tariffs had basically forced Colombia, the United States’ historically largest wheat customer on the continent, to buy wheat from other places. Now, U.S. wheat farmers will be able to compete equally on the basis of quality, supply and service.

In marketing year 2010/2011, Colombia imported from Gulf and Pacific Northwest tributaries about 800,000 metric tons of U.S. wheat from five of six classes.

However, U.S. wheat sales for this marketing year are down about 45 percent year-on-year, mainly due to the Canada-Colombia FTA that went into effect on Aug. 15, 2011. Wheat imported from Argentina has also enjoyed duty-free status under the South American Mercosur trade agreement.

“This is a very good day for wheat farmers,” said Randy Suess, a wheat farmer from Colfax, Wash., and chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates (USW), the industry’s export market development organization, in a release on the FTA implementation.

The U.S. wheat industry believes the agreement with Colombia, along with the recently implemented FTA with South Korea and a pending FTA with Panama, will help the United States rebuild and expand markets, grow the domestic economy and maintain the status of the United States as the most reliable supplier of wheat in the world.

As the Colombia FTA was implemented, the industry expressed appreciation for the hard work and support of Colombian flour millers and government officials throughout the process, as well as the efforts of trade supporters in Congress and the Bush and Obama administrations.

“A lot of people have joined us in working hard to get the U.S.-Colombia agreement approved by Congress, signed by the President and now implemented,” said NAWG President Erik Younggren, a wheat farmer from Hallock, Minn., in the release.

“While the process of removing our trade barriers with Colombia has been a long one, we are eager to get this market back on track.”

More about trade issues of importance to wheat growers, who export about half of their crops each year, is at http://www.wheatworld.org/issues/trade/ or http://www.uswheat.org/whatWeDo/tradePolicy.

The Colombian Embassy in Washington launched an updated website to mark the FTA’s implementation. It is at http://www.colombiaemb.org/.