The ColombiaU.S. free trade agreement should improve not only trade relations between the two countries, but also Colombians’ perceptions of Americans doing business there, an Atlanta businessman with 10 years of experience in the country, said at a celebratory breakfast meeting Tuesday, May 15, at the World Trade Center Atlanta.

Ninety-five people attended the event to learn more about the long-awaited agreement, which went into effect on May 15 after more than six years of delays.

Bruce Kah, president of Omega Equipment Services Inc. in Marietta, said he fell in love with Colombia after being encouraged to visit by members of Atlanta’s Colombian community. Mr. Kah’s company provides heavy equipment for mining and construction projects, which are plentiful in Colombia.

He told GlobalAtlanta that there would be many attractive business opportunities for American companies under the new agreement, but that he had mixed feelings because of the competition they would bring.

Mr. Kah said Colombians felt some animosity toward the U.S. after Congress’ hesitated to enter into the free trade agreement.

He also said Americans generally had a bad reputation for unscrupulous business practices, especially those who had left the U.S. because they had ruined their reputations here.

“Perceptions are very important,” he said. Due to the agreement, however, “People overseas will see that Americans are not all that bad.”

“We’ve waited for this since 2004,” Mary Posada, regional representative for the Southeast of the country’s trade promotion agency, Proexport Colombia, told GlobalAtlanta.

While the free trade initiative began at least eight years ago, it was passed by the Colombian Congress in 2006 and approved by Colombia’s judicial system in 2008. The U.S. didn’t get around to passing it until 2011.

In a prerecorded video of Gabriel Silva, Colombia’s ambassador to the U.S., and Gabriel Duque, the vice minister of commerce, that was played at the breakfast, the officials encouraged Americans to take advantage of the new agreement.

In an address that was broadcast in eight U.S. cities in addition to Atlanta, Mr. Silva explained that the U.S. now can export 80 percent of its products without tariffs and that the 20 percent would still be cheaper than in the past despite remaining tariffs.

Ms. Posada provided an overview of Colombia’s economy, pointing to its positive growth rate, which, she said, at 5.9 percent is higher than that of most Latin American countries.

She also cited Colombia’s World Bank ranking of 42 out of 183 countries and territories for ease of doing business, behind Peru but ahead of Puerto Rico.

Ms. Posada encouraged the attendees to visit to learn more about the individual tariffs and for general information about Colombia’s economy and opportunities provided by the agreement.