(Photo: REUTERS / John Vizcaino)
Children wave Colombian and American flags in front of a plane with a shipment of flowers bound for Miami, United States, in Bogota May 14, 2012. The flower shipment is the first of its kind under the Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and United States, which took effect on Tuesday.
A shipment of 4,200 boxes of flowers from Bogota arrived by cargo plane in Miami Tuesday, marking the first commercial exchange under the new free trade agreement between the U.S. and Colombia, which went into effect at midnight.
The first American export to Colombia under the FTA will be a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
The agreement will allow commercial goods to be traded between both countries without import tariffs, and is projected to increase U.S. exports to Colombia by $1.1 billion, and Colombian exports to the U.S. by $487 million, according to a 2006 analysis by the U.S. International Trade Commission.
President Barack Obama signed the FTA into law last October after it had been stalled in Congress since 2004 during the Bush administration, over concerns related to violence and intimidation against labor organizers in Colombia.
Colombian labor organizers in the agricultural sector -- particularly corn, beans, rice and soy farmers -- feared they would not be able to compete with U.S. farmers, who receive government subsidies and generally have larger-scale and more technologically advanced production systems.
Colombian Agriculture Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo said his government would increase financial support to these vulnerable areas of its agriculture, but also warned farmers that they would have to modernize to compete, the Miami Herald reported.
"We can't cry over spilt milk," Restrepo said, according to the Herald, adding that neither he nor the Colombian government believed that the trade deal "represents an apocalyptic cloud hanging over Colombian farming and ranching that's going to wipe out everything the country has built."
International non-profit organization Oxfam, which aims to address hunger and economic inequality around the world, criticized the deal, saying it would hurt small farmers.
"A significant number of small farm households would see substantial drops in their income as a result of the FTA," the organization said in a recent report. "This would result in a deeper vulnerability for a population that has already been disproportionately affected by Colombia's internal conflict."
According to the report, the FTA will harm 1.4 million small farm households in Colombia, reducing their monthly income by 10.5 percent to an average of $131.26.
Restrepo has maintained that the Colombian government will support at-risk sectors of the economy.
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