WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — The U.S. wheat industry said on April 16 it welcomes the announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos that the countries will implement the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement (FTA) on May 15.

The U.S.-Colombia FTA is vital to the wheat industry’s efforts to rebuild market share in one of the largest markets for U.S. wheat in South America, industry leaders said.

Implementation of the FTA will eliminate all tariffs on U.S. wheat imports into Colombia. The agreement creates a level playing field for U.S. wheat farmers, as export competitors Canada and Argentina already enjoy duty-free access to the market.

“We are extremely pleased to see this FTA set for implementation,” said Alvaro de la Fuente, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) regional vice-president for South America. “Our extensive efforts over the nearly six years since the agreement was first signed have finally become a reality and U.S. wheat exports will now compete on an equal basis with other major exporters.”

Colombia is currently the second largest destination for U.S. wheat in South America. In marketing year 2010-11, Colombia imported about 800,000 tonnes of U.S. wheat from five of the six U.S. wheat classes. The implementation of the FTA will help the U.S. regain the market share lost this year after the Canada-Colombia FTA went into effect on Aug. 15, 2011.

“We have already started the push to win back the wheat export business we lost without this FTA in effect,” said Randy Suess, a wheat farmer from Colfax, Washington, U.S. “Based on our work, we know this agreement, and others like them, will help us rebuild and expand markets, grow our economy here at home and remain the most reliable supplier of wheat in the world.”

The U.S. wheat industry has been highly supportive of the FTAs with Colombia, South Korea and Panama and other free trade measures.

“All three of these pacts are important to wheat farmers, who depend on exports to sell about half of the wheat we grow every year,” said Erik Younggren, a wheat farmer from Hallock, Minnesota, U.S., and president of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG). “The implementation of both the U.S.-Colombia and the U.S.-Korea FTAs gives us encouragement that we will soon see the agreement with Panama complete in the very near future.”