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Mission to Colombia: Exploring Trade Opportunities

Late last fall, Cornelius Seed DSM, Ralph Lents had the opportunity to travel to Colombia on a trade mission. Ralph serves as the Vice President of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board. Here's a detailed account of his trip, highlighting the key meetings and insights gathered.

Pet Food Processing Plant
Our first visit was to a pet food processing plant. The majority of their products are sold within a 40-mile radius of their facility. They purchase about 60% of their feedstuffs from the United States, appreciating the quality and consistency of these imports. Despite their willingness to buy more, transportation and price remain significant drawbacks.

Colombian Business Association
Next, we met with the Colombian Business Association. The conversation centered around trade disputes in the country, particularly concerning feed, poultry, and pork. Political issues pose the biggest challenges, with the government aiming to increase domestic production. However, it will likely take 25-30 years before Colombia can produce enough on its own to meet demand.

Colombian Petroleum Association
Our meeting with the Colombian Petroleum Association revealed their growing need for ethanol. Currently, they use sugar-based ethanol, but as sugar becomes more valuable, they are increasingly interested in corn-based ethanol. Transportation and storage, however, remain significant challenges.

USMEF introduced us to a prominent meat manager already purchasing U.S. products. He has been successful in resale and creative in his marketing. U.S. products are well-received, and the relationship here is strong.

Evening at the U.S. Embassy
We spent an evening at the U.S. Embassy, hosting grain and meat importers. Engaging in conversations with buyers, we found that 75% of their business is concentrated in Bogotá. The discussions were very favorable.

Fresh Market Visit
Our visit to a fresh market offered a glimpse into where most meat purchases occur. Locals visit these markets daily to buy various meats from different shops. It’s hard to crack this market and the country needs more refrigeration and freezer space.

Feed Processing Plant
We also toured one of the largest feed processing plants in Colombia, which buys a significant amount of U.S. corn. It takes five days for shipments to travel from New Orleans to Colombia, followed by an 11-hour truck journey to the plant, which receives grain seven days a week. Observing these facilities felt like stepping back 20-25 years. This plant sources about 75% of its corn from the U.S.

Meat Processing and Selling Locations
Our final visits were to meat processing and selling locations, brought up to speed by USMEF. These places presented products very well and enjoyed a high rate of repeat customers. They are the innovators within their neighborhoods.

Overall Impressions
Overall, the trip was productive. The people of Colombia have a positive view of Americans and are keen to increase business with the United States. As a country, we are in a trade deficit with them. There is room for expansion. The main challenges are Colombia's leadership and transportation infrastructure.

Colombia holds significant potential for increased trade. However, it will require time and effort to educate and establish stronger connections.