Port Manatee

Colombia seeks to partner with Port Manatee to boost business

Manatee County Port Authority Chairwoman Vanessa Baugh discusses trade opportunities with Juan C. Barrera, the general deputy director for the United States of ProColombia USA.
Manatee County Port Authority Chairwoman Vanessa Baugh discusses trade opportunities with Juan C. Barrera, the general deputy director for the United States of ProColombia USA.

Connecting Colombia’s agriculture companies with new ports of entry is one step in helping the country recover from a half-century of war.

Last year, the Colombian government was able to “sign a peace agreement with actually the oldest guerrilla in the hemisphere,” said Juan Camilo Barrera, agribusiness director for ProColombia, a Colombian government entity based in Miami that is tasked with promoting trade, tourism and the country’s brand.

Barrera presented at Thursday’s Manatee County Port Authority meeting to showcase the growth in Colombia’s agribusiness sector and how Port Manatee can be a potential partner in furthering the industry.

Colombia already ships coffee, fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables to the U.S. through ports in Miami, Houston and Philadelphia, as well as Port Manatee. But Barrera sees a unique opportunity for Port Manatee within the Colombian government’s current three products of focus: cocoa, processed fruits and vegetables, and avocados.

“I think Port Manatee could be poised to represent an alternative for Colombia to reach the U.S. market in an easier way than other ports that we have been traditionally working with, especially for newer products,” Barrera said. “It’s interesting to find more and more when (Colombian companies) think about the state, they’re no longer thinking about just Miami or Port Everglades or traditional entry points, but they want to know more about Florida as a whole.”

Port Manatee’s position on the West Coast of Florida provides additional options for ground transport once the products arrive through Port Manatee. This could alleviate some congestion and, according to Port Manatee executive director Carlos Buqueras, is a financial boon for importers as well.

“As a whole, the ability to come through the Gulf Coast is faster and cheaper,” Buqueras said. “And then to be able to supply all of Central Florida, which is about 10 million consumers plus the tourists that come into Central Florida, is a unique opportunity.”

Such relationships and shipping deals take less time to establish than the time it takes to get companies comfortable with their presence and position in the U.S. market, said Ivan Mutis, CEO of GM&L Strategic Consultancy for New Markets at Port Manatee’s International Trade Hub.

“Every company, when starting in a new country, they want to sell things,” Mutis said. “But after that they need us to help with distribution channels, to establish an address, a place, and even after that if they start to package here and produce. That’s the hope.”

For a foreign company to start importing products through Port Manatee and establish a base in the U.S. usually cannot be accomplished in less than a year, Mutis said. Normally, it takes between a year and 18 months.

For companies already shipping between Colombia and Port Manatee, such as Del Monte, picking up another Colombian export like avocados wouldn’t be as cumbersome. While there is no official deal inked on importing new products from Colombia, Mutis is confident that it’s a strong possibility.

Barrera hopes the possibility comes true. For Colombians, exporting cocoa, flowers, avocados and other agriculture products means more than enhancing U.S. dinner plates and adding pretty arrangements to the tables.

“In a sense our country is betting a lot on farming and trying to be ‘dispense la mundo,’ which is the supplier of lots of fruits and vegetables and processed foods to the world,” Barrera said. “I think a lot of the opportunities for people to get more and more employment and the middle class continuing to grow will be derived from what comes and the bright future that we have now that we have attained peace.”

Janelle O’Dea: 941-745-7095, @jayohday