Colombia has minimal trade ties with Arizona, with Mexico leading the pack of Latin American partners in the Grand Canyon state by a wide margin. Only about 0.5% of Colombian imports from the United States come from Arizona. Even fewer of its exports to the United States end up here.
There is therefore a lot of room for growth, believes the new Colombian ambassador to the United States.
“I think there are a lot of opportunities,” said Juan Carlos Pinzón, during a two-day stopover in Phoenix Jan. 13-14.
Part of his visit was to commemorate the 200th anniversary of US diplomatic relations with the South American country. He also visits other major American cities.
“We want to tell the business community, students, scholars and political leaders that the relationship with the United States is strong and stable,” Pinzón said in an interview with The Arizona Republic. “We have a strong alliance, with many of the same values, including democracy, freedom and free markets.”
Coffee, lawyers and education
But improving trade and commercial links is also on the agenda. Pinzón met with Arizona political, academic and business leaders, including Arizona Governor Doug Ducey during the visit, as well as representatives of the Phoenix-based Sprouts Farmers Market, with whom he promoted some agricultural products of the country.
“We have some of the best organic, high-quality food,” he said, citing coffee, mangoes and avocados as examples.
Colombia also exports a high volume of flowers to the United States
Additionally, he noted that the Thunderbird School of Global Management, now part of Arizona State University, has its only Latin American learning center in the capital, Bogotá.
Pinzón, who assumed the ambassadorship last July, also said he met with U.S. Representatives David Schweikert and Ruben Gallego, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and others.
Interest in technology
Pinzón said he was impressed with Arizona’s emergence as a technology hub, citing recent expansions in semiconductor manufacturing announced by Intel, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing and others. He said he hoped to encourage a trade mission from Arizona to travel to Colombia, which is the second most populous predominantly Spanish country after Mexico.
Pinzón also said he visited Intertec International, a Phoenix information technology company that operates in Medellin, Colombia. The vulnerability of the supply chain with China that has been exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for American companies to diversify contacts with suppliers. While Mexico is the obvious choice for nearshoring, Colombia is another possibility, Pinzón said.
Like Arizona, Colombia has also struggled to strengthen its high-tech industries. The country’s gross domestic product grew nearly 11% in 2021, he said, adding that unemployment has fallen from a pandemic peak of 24% to around 11% currently.
A few decades ago, Colombia was one of the most violent countries in the world, he noted, and the drug trade centered on cocaine is still not eradicated. But progress has been made.
“Now we are talking about technology, investment and economic growth,” Pinzón said. “I think the country is moving in the right direction.”
Few exchanges so far with Arizona
Like Mexico, Colombia has both an Atlantic and a Pacific coast, but so far the country’s US trade has been dominated by eastern states including New York, New Jersey and Florida, as well as Texas. This is not surprising, considering it’s a shorter flight from Miami to Bogotá than from Miami to Phoenix.
Arizona has traditionally had a trade surplus with Colombia, with a positive gap of $378 million in the first 11 months of 2021, according to the country’s Department of Commerce, Industry and Tourism. Arizona’s exports are dominated by the sale of civilian aircraft and equipment, while Colombia sends here modest amounts of palm kernel products, fungicides, tower cranes and other items.
Pinzón said he hopes the country’s trade ties will gradually expand to include more states such as Arizona.
“What you’ve done here (in the Phoenix metro) is very impressive,” he said. “The more people I meet, the more opportunities I see for trade.”
Contact the reporter at [email protected]