Two U.S. soybean farmers recently participated in a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) fact-finding mission to Colombia, including United Soybean Board (USB) Communications Chair Vanessa Kummer, a farmer from Colfax, N.D.

Designed to learn more about the pending Colombia-U.S. FTA and increased market access for U.S. soy products, the trip included meetings with government officials, business leaders, union representatives and displaced workers that have been employed by social programs coordinated between the Colombian government and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Through the soybean checkoff’s Global Opportunities program and its international marketing efforts the checkoff strives to create market access and increase the demand for U.S. soy globally. Its mission is to reach 3.5 billion bushels of U.S. soy demand by 2011.

“This trip has really shown me the potential benefits of a FTA with Colombia,” Dennis Jaeger, an American Soybean Association (ASA) board member from South Dakota, said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve been very impressed with Colombia and its people. They are very passionate about maintaining and improving their relationship with the United States through the free trade agreement. An FTA between the United States and Colombia would strengthen existing trade ties and create jobs in both our countries.”

The trip included two days in Medellin and two days in Bogota.

“The Colombian government and its businesses have made great strides to include corporate social responsibility in their efforts to reintegrate the rural populations into the country,” says Vanessa Kummer, a USB director and soybean farmer from North Dakota. “From what I’ve seen, Colombia’s economy will continue to grow and I see great potential for U.S. soy products. It is important to continue to have them as a strong trading partner.”

Colombia proves to be a large customer for U.S. soybean products. It is the largest market for U.S. agricultural products in the Americas outside of NAFTA. Without the agreement, U.S. agriculture could lose its dominance in the market. Colombia is finalizing trade agreements with Canada and has already completed agreements with Chile, the Andean countries and MERCOSUR. The Colombian government has already indicated that more bilateral agreements will come.

Over 90 percent of Colombia’s total exports to the United States, and 99.5 percent of its agricultural exports, already enter the United States duty free because of existing trade preferences granted to Andean countries under the Andean Trade Preference Act, as well as under the Generalized System of Preferences system. The Colombia TPA could eliminate duties on U.S. exports to Colombia to provide a more balanced trade relationship between the countries.

USB is made up of 68 farmer-directors who oversee the investments of the soybean checkoff on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers. Checkoff funds are invested in the areas of animal utilization, human utilization, industrial utilization, industry relations, market access and supply. As stipulated in the Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soybean checkoff.