Colombian flowers seek more market in Europe

Sofía Herrera has her eyes set on the European market, where the consumption of flowers is “more consistent” than that of the USA, the main current destination of the lilies or Campanulas are grown in her Jardines de Los Andes, an intensive nursery 25 kilometers from Bogotá.

The manager of the nursery showed the rich floral variety of its Gardens to a delegation of the Commission of International Trade of the Europarlamento that visited them in San Valentín, day in the flower is the gift par excellence.

The mission, led by German MEP Bernd Lange of the European socialist group, reviewed the implementation of the EU-Colombia trade agreement in force since August 2013.

Herrera tells Efe that the agreement favored them: “We have imported machinery, we have made technology exchange agreements, exchange of knowledge.”

The treaty did not have such a significant impact on flower exports because the “challenge” of taking them to Europe “is logistic” and not a tariff, explains the flower grower.

But, he adds, “it’s certainly very positive for the industry.”

The flowers live an authentic journey to reach Europe, which begins with their transport by road in refrigerated trucks-containers to the Caribbean ports of Santa Marta or Cartagena.

There the containers are loaded on ships that cross the Atlantic on trips of between 12 and 18 days to the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

“Although it lasts longer in the journey, the positive thing that it has (the seaway) is that the cold chain is permanent and that is beneficial for the life of the flower.” It arrives in a better state, as it hibernates, sleep, “explained Herrera.

Lange celebrates this open way for Colombian flower growers and tells Efe that “one of the advantages of the commercial agreement” is that “the import procedures have been reduced”.

According to data from the Colombian Association of Flower Exporters (Asocolflores ), total exports of this product grew by 5% in 2017 compared to the previous year, with a total of 246,000 tons.

The United States continues to be the main destination for Colombian stems, with 75% of exports, followed by Japan.

Europe consumes more flowers than the US

Los Jardines de Los Andes also send the bulk of its production – 80% – to the US, but the company is already on the way to expansion in Europe.

Because, says flower grower Herrera, “the consumption of flowers in Europe is much higher than the consumption of flowers in the United States and more consistent.”

“When it is not the season, we are exporting three containers of flowers a week (about one million outbreaks) and the idea is to see if in the second semester (…) we can raise that to five,” he adds.

“This is beneficial for companies like these because planting and maintaining these farms for specific dates every year is unthinkable, which is a very great advantage for the consumer and, in general, the European market,” he explains.

Therefore, this Colombian businesswoman hopes that the doors to the Old Continent will be opened even more for the flowers of her country, which compete in the European market with the African stems.

The Colombian flower has a market in 98 countries and last year this sector reached a record volume of exports: 1,400 million dollars.

Floriculture contributes 130,000 jobs to the Colombian economy and benefits 600,000 people, including families of workers, suppliers, and participants in the value chain.

On average, 5,300 million annual stems are produced for export, according to data from Asocolflores.

The rose is the main species exported, with 20% of the total, followed by the carnation with 18%. Chrysanthemums, alstroemerias, hydrangeas, and lilies are the other most representative species of the country.

Greater exportable offer and more market for SMEs

The European delegation, touring Colombia and Peru, arrived in the first country on February 12 and that day met with the country’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, and the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, María Lorena Gutiérrez.

Until their departure on February 14, they held meetings with the labor ministers, Griselda Restrepo, and Agriculture and Rural Development, Juan Guillermo Zuluaga, with the commissioner for Peace, Rodrigo Rivera, and with representatives of Colombian business and social organizations.

According to Lange, the trade agreement with Colombia is on the “good track” although “there is room for improvement, for example in the dialogue between civil society and the Government.”

The treaty has meant progress “especially for small and medium-sized companies in Colombia,” which have “more possibilities for exports,” he told Efe.

“We have grown in foreign investment, we have also grown in imports, but the most important thing is that we have diversified our exportable offer to Europe, especially with agriculture,” said the head of Commerce.

On the occasion of the visit, Lange and the Minister of Commerce announced the creation of a single window for European and Colombian SMEs wishing to invest solve doubts and resolve procedures.

The MEP also welcomed the increase in the number of labor inspectors, something he hopes will “lead to a better situation for workers”, since working conditions are “an important part” of the trade agreement.

After the peace signed with the guerrilla of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the parties have begun to work to “take concrete steps in the agreement specifically focused on the people who come out of the conflict, so that they can benefit from it”, announced Lange.

For this legislator, the agreement signed with the FARC in November 2016 is “a great achievement” for Colombia, since “investors need security and peace is an important condition”.

Lange hoped that there would also be progress in the peace talks that the Santos Executive is now holding with the guerrilla of the National Liberation Army (ELN).