Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer will lead a bi-partisan Congressional delegation to Cartagena, Colombia, on July 18. The trip is part of the Bush Administration's efforts to show Members of Congress the progress being made to advance democracy, security and human rights in Colombia, and to emphasize the importance of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CTPA) to enhancing peace and prosperity with an important ally.

Bi-partisan members traveling to Colombia with Secretary Schafer are Congressman Gerald Weller (R-Ill.), Congressman Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), and Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-Texas). Additionally, representatives from a number of Republican and Democrat Senate and Congressional offices will be on the trip.

"Colombia is an important friend and trading partner of the United States," Schafer said. "This trip will provide Congressional members with an invaluable opportunity to see first hand the Colombian government's success in bringing about stability and economic growth, and how the CTPA will help to continue this progress. We will also be able to see new markets for U.S. agricultural exports."

During the trip, the delegation will see, first hand, the transformation that the Colombian people and their government have undertaken in recent years to revive their economy and reduce violence, as well as witness a strengthening of human rights policies. Members of Congress will also have an opportunity to meet with Colombian government officials, including President Alvaro Uribe, as well as Colombian agricultural producers, business leaders and union representatives.

The CTPA will eliminate tariffs and other barriers to U.S. goods and services, promote economic growth, and expand trade between the United States and Colombia. It will level the economic playing field for U.S. farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and service providers who have faced barriers to Colombia's market, while Colombia already enjoys duty-free access to the U.S. market under the Andean Trade Preference Act and its extensions.

The CTPA also contains important labor provisions, which were negotiated by Congress and the Colombian government. Positive efforts under the Uribe Administration have reduced paramilitary violence against trade unionists and lead to protecting workers' rights.

Trade benefits for U.S. agricultural producers in this market will be achieved through immediate elimination of variable tariffs, with half of U.S. exports entering duty-free as soon as the CTPA is implemented, most tariffs being phased out in 15 years, and all within 19 years. Colombia, the largest market for U.S. agricultural products in South America, will gain permanent market access to the U.S. market and benefit from trade capacity building programs that will enhance its ability to participate in the global marketplace.

In calendar year 2007, the United States shipped a record $1.2 billion worth of agricultural products to Colombia. Sales in each of the three major categories of U.S. agricultural product exports also reached new records: bulk products were $886 million, intermediate products $228 million, and consumer-oriented products $108 million. Top U.S. agricultural exports to this market include coarse grains, wheat, soybeans, cotton, soybean meal, feeds and fodders, snack foods and fresh fruit.

Colombia is also an important agricultural supplier to the U.S. marketplace, shipping a record $1.5 billion worth of products in calendar year 2007. Major U.S. imports from Colombia include coffee, nursery products, cut flowers, bananas and plantains.