A recent Georgia trade mission to El Salvador resulted in a commitment by the country’s vice president to visit Atlanta next month and to return in January with a business delegation led by the minister of economy.

The trip was part of Georgia’s effort to reinforce its image as a business hub in the hemisphere and expand opportunities for Georgia companies, said Hemisphere Inc. Executive Director Jose Ignacio Gonzalez, who, along with Georgia Economic Development Commissioner Craig Lesser, led the mission.

“We are the only state to actually open our arms to El Salvador immediately after Cafta. Our delegation made a good impression,” Mr. Gonzalez told GlobalAtlanta following the trip to San Salvador, El Salvador’s capital city.

He said that during the mission, the El Salvadoran vice president, Ana Vilma de Escobar, accepted a previous invitation from Gov. Sonny Perdue to visit Atlanta at the end of October. She will be a keynote speaker at the Procurement Conference of the Americas to be held here, Oct. 31-Nov. 2. Visit www.fgpca.org for more information about the conference.

El Salvador’s minister of economy, Yolanda de Gavidia, also agreed to lead a business delegation in cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of El Salvador to attend AmericasMart Inc.’s Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market, Jan. 10-18. The El Salvador chamber’s president is a businesswoman, Elena Maria Lacayo de Alfaro, whose company already showcases products at AmericasMart events, noted George Lancaster, managing director of international business development at AmericasMart.

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce, whose president George Israel attended the mission, agreed during the trip to form a sister relationship with the El Salvador chamber of commerce.

The Georgia group included 17 delegates as well as El Salvador’s consul general in Atlanta, Asdrubal Aguilar. Several members of the Georgia delegation arranged business meetings with El Salvadoran companies to take advantage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, Mr. Gonzalez noted. A representative of Atlanta Hispanic food distributor Diaz Foods Inc. even extended his trip to complete orders with El Salvadoran suppliers.

“We are looking forward to long-lasting relationships with El Salvador. We are aggressive in showing Georgia’s value and what our businesses have to offer, and what comes after, a possible role in the FTAA, well, that’s all welcome,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

El Salvador’s trade promotion agency, COEXPORT, will be hosting a trade show in San Salvador in June and is looking for Georgia businesses to exhibit, he added.

Mr. Gonzalez said the next Georgia trip to Latin America is to Rio de Janeiro on Saturday, Oct. 1, to inaugurate Delta Air Lines Inc.’s daily flight to the Brazilian city.

He added that Hemisphere Inc. and the Georgia Department of Economic Development are planning a trade mission to Colombia later this year.

While in San Salvador, the Georgia delegation attended a seminar on the ratification of Cafta, which is expected to make more than 80 percent of U.S. industrial, consumer and agricultural exports duty-free when it goes into effect in January. Remaining tariffs are to be phased out over the next 10 years.

The mission was Mr. Lesser’s first to El Salvador on behalf of Georgia. Mr. Perdue visited there last summer as a guest for the inauguration of the country’s president, Antonio Saca. This meeting initiated plans for a Consulate General of El Salvador in Atlanta, which opened in February.

El Salvador ranks 28th among Georgia’s export destinations, with Georgia exports totaling $116 million last year. More than 35,000 El Salvadorans live in Georgia.

Contact Hemisphere Inc. at (404) 962-4833 or the Georgia Department of Economic Development at (404) 962-4078 for more information. Visit www.atlantagateway.net or www.georgia.org