Colombia’s minister of foreign trade last week in Atlanta called the development of a Colombia-Southeast U.S. chamber of commerce “a good idea,” and encouraged its development as soon as possible.

Martha Lucia Ramirez, who was here last week to speak at the World Trade Club Atlanta, also praised the efforts of Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.) in his adamant support of a $3 billion aid package to the South American country.

Ms. Ramirez said that a chamber of commerce relationship with Atlanta will open opportunities for Colombia to develop new products for the Southeastern market. She also spoke about the possibility of an important relationship with Atlanta as a transportation center connecting Colombia with the Southeast.

Due to a recent agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration, more direct flights will be offered between U.S. cities and Bogotá over the next three years. Currently, the only direct flights between the two countries are from Bogotá to New York and Miami.

“Atlanta must be one of those cities selected for direct flights,” said Ms. Ramirez. “This would make it possible to expand trade of cut flowers and other perishable items in this region.”

Ms. Ramirez said that Mr. Coverdell’s efforts in trying to get the proposed aid package passed in the U.S. Senate are greatly appreciated, as the aid could help in defeating the powerful drug cartels in Colombia.

“The package is essential in reviving the judiciary system and in shoring up the military,” she said.

Colombia has seen several federal judges assassinated and the judicial system undermined by the cartels, said Ms. Ramirez. Funds for the improvement of the military would buy better equipment and expertise to enforce the law effectively, she said.

The package, which was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last week, would also provide relief from the worst recession the country has seen in 70 years. Colombia hopes to recover from a devastating fall in commodity prices and mismanagement of public funds from 1994-98, she said. 

A growing Colombian population in the Southeast and the likelihood of more trade opportunities with Colombia in the future have prompted an upgrade in the office of the consulate in Atlanta, said Cesar Felipe Gonzalez, the Colombian consul here.

The new office is located at 5780 Peachtree Dunwood Rd. and has a new computer system enabling the consulate to better serve its jurisdiction which includes Georgia, North and South Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Mr. Gonzalez, who arrived here six months ago, said that by the end of the year there will be more than 35,000 Colombians living in metro Atlanta. This, and the possibility of new direct flights to Bogotá, will provide a further impetus for trade between the two regions, he said.

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