WINNIPEG, MANITOBA, CANADA — The implementation of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement is a significant accomplishment which will assist Prairie grain farmers in remaining competitive in this important market, Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) president and Chief Executive Officer Ian White said on Aug. 11.

"Western Canadian farmers, through the CWB, have developed an important market for Prairie wheat and barley in Colombia. The implementation of this agreement gives Prairie farmers a competitive edge," White said.

The agreement was originally signed in 2008 and then ratified in both Canada and Colombia, with Aug. 15 set as the implementation date.

"We will now be on a level playing field with Argentina into the fast-growing Colombian market," White said, noting the U.S. has yet to ratify their free-trade agreement with Colombia, but is expected to do so some time this fall.

Starting Aug. 15, Canadian wheat and barley exports are guaranteed duty-free access to this important, nearby market for top-quality wheat. Wheat and barley import tariffs have historically been as high as 15% into Colombia and are currently set at 3%.

Colombia produces very little of its own wheat and barley. Imports of wheat have increased by 15% in the last 15 years. Beer consumption growth is even more dramatic, with malting barley imports more than doubling in the same period, supplied mainly by Argentina and Canada. Over the last five years, Canada has exported an average of 379,000 tonnes of wheat and 72,000 tonnes of malting barley annually to the Andean nation.

With over 80% of Prairie wheat production exported, trade agreements are crucially important to western Canadian wheat and barley farmers. The CWB said it supports the government of Canada's efforts to forge bilateral deals with key markets to prevent Canadian grain exports from losing ground to international competitors.