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Peru aims to bolster trade with Florida

The asparagus on your table and the shirts on your back are more likely than ever to bear a Peruvian label.

And Eduardo Ferrero, Peru's ambassador to Washington, barnstormed through Tampa on Thursday to plug even closer trading ties with the north. After Texas, Florida is the state most dependent on Peruvian trade, though the Andean nation accounts for 1.4 percent of the state's imports and exports.

Florida exports electronics and phosphates in exchange for mostly farm produce like asparagus, artichokes and onions.

Peru enjoys preferential trade status, allowing exports to enter the United States duty free. The deal generates cash for the country of 28-million. But Washington's main motive is fighting the cocaine trade of which Peruvian farmers are a major supplier.

"The policies are intended to substitute other crops for coca crops," Ferrero told the Times after an address Thursday to the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

A new trade deal Ferrero helped forge will drop duties on American goods entering Peru. The Andean Free Trade Agreement would erase Peruvian tariffs on 80 percent of U.S. manufactured goods and 65 percent of U.S. agricultural products.

Most of the remaining duties will vanish in 10 years, placing Florida at the head of what could be an explosion of exports to South America, Ferrero said.

"Just as important, the agreement will bring more stability, a way for our countries to settle trade disputes," said Ferrero, a lawyer and professor whose term as ambassador expires in July.

Miami stands to benefit more than Tampa, if only because Tampa's port handles mostly bulk cargo while Miami specializes in containers necessary to ship most finished and farm goods.

Exports to Peru leaving Florida ports totalled $462-million in 2004. About 30 percent of Peru's exports, worth $5.2-billion, go to the United States. Textiles and apparel are growing segments of Peruvian-U.S. commerce.

The United States insists that yarn used to stitch the clothes come mostly from the United States, said Mark Smith, a representative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce escorting Ferrero on his Florida tour.

Politics threaten to tamper with trade progress. One of the leading contenders in Peru's presidential election in April is an economic nationalist named Ollanta Humala.

Humala's opponents fear he could void trade agreements and harass foreign firms. They compare him to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

U.S. and Peruvian representatives are scheduled to sign the latest trade pact on April 6. The election comes later in the month.

Ferrero singled out one product that should appear more often on Florida shelves: Pisco Peru, the country's national drink. Made from grapes, it's like the Italian grappa. "It's like grappa," says Ferrero, "but much better."

James Thorner can be reached at thorner@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3313.

ABOUT PERU

POPULATION: 27,925,628.

GDP: $168.9-billion.

UNEMPLOYMENT: 8.7 percent in Lima, the capital.

AGRICULTURE PRODUCTS: Coffee, cotton, sugar cane, rice, potatoes, corn, plantains, grapes, oranges, coca, poultry, beef, dairy products, fish.

INDUSTRIES: Mining and refining of minerals and metals, petroleum extraction and refining, natural gas, fishing and fish processing, textiles, clothing, food processing, steel, metal fabrication.

Source: CIA World Factbook

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