Bilateral trade agreements redefine local markets

In recent years Colombia has signed a number of free trade agreements (FTA), significantly expanding its access to new markets across the globe. The most recent, with South Korea, was signed in February 2013 and has yet to come into force. The agricultural sector is particularly sensitive to new FTAs and fears of the negative impact increased international competition could have on the sector spurred large-scale Given that a number of these FTAs have been signed only in the past few years, evaluating the longer-term effects they will have in redefining Colombia’s export and import map is still a work in progress. Nevertheless, 2013 revealed a few early tendencies.

Trade Balance

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, agro-industrial export volumes fell by 4% in 2013 to 3.9m tonnes from nearly 4.1m tonnes in 2012, although export revenues rose marginally by 0.1% to $6.6bn. Meanwhile, agroindustrial imports registered a slight increase from 9.842m tonnes in 2012 to 9.847m tonnes in 2013. Despite this rise, the total cost of imports fell slightly from $6.25bn to $6.12bn in the same period.

The year 2013 ended with an agricultural trade surplus of $454m. However, if coffee is excluded the trade balance presents a deficit of $1.47bn. Colombia’s agricultural trade surplus has been reducing at a stable rate over the past decade. Between 2005 and 2013 exports grew at an average annual rate of 4.6% while imports rose on average by 15.5% yearly.

Colombia’s main agricultural trade partners are the Mercosur region, the US, the EU, the Community of Andean Nations (CAN), Chile and Mexico. In 2013 an overall decrease in agricultural exports saw volumes to nearly all markets fall, with the exception of Canada and Japan. By trade partners, the sector presents a trade deficit in value and volume with the CAN and Mercosur regions. As for the US, the previous surplus in value seems to be quickly disappearing as imports rise steadily. Meanwhile, with the EU there is a surplus in both value and volume. The year 2013 was marked by a sharp decline in imports from Mercosur while imports from the US increased significantly.

US Trade

The US-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement came into effect on May 15, 2012. As a result, more than half of US exports of agricultural commodities to Colombia became duty-free, including wheat, barley, soybeans, beef, rice, animal feed, and almost all fruit and vegetable products. The remaining exports will become tariff-free in the next 15 years. The agreement was reached after a series of rounds of negotiations as Colombia sought flexible provisions for the agriculture sector, given the potential negative effects that increased competition with largely subsidised US farmers could have on the domestic sector, particularly among the country’s small farmers. As a result of these negotiations, Colombia was able to secure longer phase-out periods to more sensitive subsectors, such as poultry and rice.

Falling Numbers

The US is Colombia’s main export market for agricultural and agro-industrial products, absorbing on average 37% of the value of agricultural exports and 25% of the volume since 2009. In 2013 the volume of exports to the US fell 2% compared to 2012, from 996,000 tonnes to 975,000 tonnes. The contraction was mostly due to a reduction in sugar and banana exports. Nonetheless, export revenues increased 1%, with the value of flowers, vegetables, fruits and coffee exports compensating for lower volumes. Despite a 44% increase in the volume of coffee exports, coffee revenues were up only by 3%, as lower international prices persist.

In contrast, imports from the US grew 67.1% in volume and 37% in value in 2013, surpassing $1.5bn – a significant expansion from $923m in 2009, according to Colombia’s National Statistics Agency. From January to March 2014, imports increased an additional 51% year-on-year, from $378m to $573m. The majority of imports consist of cereals, in particular wheat, which grew 63% to 681,089 tonnes; maize at 645,755 tonnes; soy, which rose 107% to 328,497 tonnes; and rice at 86,567 tonnes.

Across The Atlantic

Even though the FTA between Colombia and the EU was signed in June 2012, it came into effect only on August 1, 2013. Therefore, it is particularly early to evaluate the effect this FTA will have on Colombia’s import-export map.

The EU accounts for a significant share of Colombian’s exports, making up 25% of the value and 39% of the volume of shipments. In 2013 Colombian exports to the EU fell 2.2%, from almost 1.28m tonnes in 2012 to 1.16m tonnes, following a 9.5% drop in banana exports. The contraction in export volume lowered revenues by 1.5%, from $1.62bn to $1.599bn. Conversely, exports of sugar increased significantly (226%), along with coffee (29%), palm oil (10%) and flowers (3%). The main export markets in the EU for Colombian agricultural products are Belgium, with a 34% share of total exports to the EU, followed by the UK with 20%, Germany with 15% and the Netherlands with 13%. Meanwhile, the volume of imports to Colombia increased 6.5% compared to 2012, mainly as a result of higher imports of barley, which accounted for 25% of imports from the EU, alcoholic beverages (19%) and processed potatoes (14%).

South-South Trade

Mercosur, the economic and political agreement between Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela and Paraguay to promote free movement of goods, services and people among member states, has been in place since 1991 when it established the Common Market of the South.

Colombia has privileged access to the Mercosur market – a market of more than 200m people – as part of Complementary Agreement No. 59, signed in October 2003 between the CAN and Mercosur. Since 2009 the Mercosur region has absorbed around 53% of Colombia’s agro-industrial export volume and accounts for 35% of export revenues.

In 2013 Colombian agro-industrial exports to the Mercosur region increased only slightly, by 0.6%, as compared to 2012. Venezuela remains the main export market for Colombian agro-industrial exports within Mercosur, with 77% of the total volume exported to the region, followed by Brazil with 21%. The volume of exports to Venezuela fell 6% as a result of an 11% decline in livestock exports. Nevertheless, an important increase in the sale of beef (368%) saw revenues expand by some 27.6% overall.

That same year imports from Mercosur fell 22% from $2.5bn to $1.8bn, primarily as a result of a 16% drop in imports of cereal. Imports consisted mostly of maize (2.98m tonnes), sorghum (496,581 tonnes) and barley (173,200 tonnes), as well as soy for animal feed (494,852 tonnes).

The Mercosur region has been an important supplier of cereal to Colombia. Argentina is the main import partner from the group of Mercosur countries, accounting for 60% of the total volume of cereal from the region. With an FTA with the US now in place, Colombia seems to be diversifying its cereal imports, with the US beginning to play a more prominent role, while Mercosur loses competitiveness in this sphere. Maize imports from Mercosur dropped from 3.3m tonnes in 2012 to just under 3m tonnes in 2013, while wheat imports from the US increased 63%, and soy for animal feed grew 107%.

Canada

Accounting for a much smaller share of Colombian exports – around 3% – Canada has had an FTA with Colombia since August 15, 2011. Prior to the agreement, Canadian export tariffs on agricultural products averaged 16.6%. The FTA gave Colombia duty-free access to Canada for about 98% of its agricultural products, including coffee, cacao, sugar, flowers and vegetables. The deal also introduced special agricultural safeguards to regulate Colombian imports of sensitive products like beef and beans.

Trade between Canada and Colombia reached $1.4bn in 2013, according to the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service. Colombian agro-industrial exports to Canada rose significantly, by 49%, from 56,000 tonnes to 84,000 tonnes. The rise was due primarily to higher coffee exports (15%), sugar (138%), and cacao and derivatives (15%). Nonetheless, export revenues dropped 7% from $204m in 2012 to $189m in 2013, as lower coffee prices continued. The volume of imports from Canada in 2013 fell by 12.5%, as a result of a drop in imports of cereal (12%), which make up the majority of imports (85.2%), and beans, which fell 7% and account for 11.5% of the total. Pork, which represents 1.7% of imports from Canada, registered a substantial increase of 59%.

While it is too soon to evaluate the longer-term impacts that the recent FTAs will have on Colombia’s international trade, in 2013 Colombia displayed a tendency to diversify imports of cereals and animal feed, with the US now playing an even more prominent role. Traditional Colombian exports such as coffee, flowers and bananas remained competitive in international markets in 2013. Most significantly, goods making up non-traditional exports such as palm oil, cacao and cacao derivatives displayed positive growth.

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The Report: Colombia 2014

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