First of all, I want to thank the “Wholesale Florist and Flower Supplier Association”, especially Ms. Wanda Weder and Mr. Jim Wanko, President and Executive Vice-president of this organization, and the other members of the Board of Directors, for inviting me to speak about the Colombian flower industry in such an important event.
I have come with true enthusiasm to this Annual Convention Floral & Expo 2006, to pay tribute to an economic sector that has turned, in my country, into a symbol of prosperity, social commitment, environmental awareness, entrepreneurial spirit, as well as export success.
The adventure that some visionaries undertook more than thirty years ago, when they packed a few bouquets of flowers and sent them to the United States, is nowadays an exciting reality and a source of pride for our country.
The Colombian flower industry is, without a doubt, a success story for the world. We have demonstrated that a developing country can successfully penetrate the markets of developed economies, with a single product. Indeed, today Colombia is the second world exporter of fresh cut flowers and the first flower supplier to the United States.
The Colombian flower growers have known how to take advantage of the ideal natural conditions of the different regions of our country to grow and to export those beautiful ambassadors of our land, which have become one of the most recognized symbols of Colombia in the world.
The flower growers and exporters are also an example, for other productive sectors in Colombia, which have hesitated before entering international markets. The success obtained by more than two hundred companies that today export their flowers to the world, is evidence that the international market is, above all, the best alternative for companies that decide to rise to the challenge of global competition.
The concept of productivity is not foreign to the Colombian flower growers. Everyday they face a hard battle for their share of the world markets. The 909 million dollars exported in 2005 are the result of a consistent and intelligent strategy by this sector, the most export-oriented in the entire Colombian economy.
The results are easy to see: from 1998, up to now, flower exports have practically doubled. Flower exports to the US market make up more than 80% out of our entire flower exports. The total for 2005, 736 million dollars, was 28% more than the exported value to the US in 2004!
But the floriculture is much more than the production and export of flowers. It is also employment, ecology, and an international showcase for Colombia.
Almost 180,000 Colombians, work, direct or indirectly, in the flower industry. If we keep in mind their families, this means that there are near a million Colombians that depend on floriculture for their living. This is the most important social contribution of floriculture to national prosperity.
Even more valuable is the impact of this activity on female employment: Two out of three workers in the flower industry are women, many of them heads of household. In the areas surrounding Bogotá and Medellín floriculture has allowed families to raise and educate their children and enjoy levels of well-being resulting from job employment and fair wages.
Likewise, I have to mention the commitment of the Colombian flower growers to the environment. This sector was the first one to recognize environmental protection as critical to market entry and positioning in the global market.
Environmental awareness is the flower industry’s best guarantee of market access. Asocolflores deserves special recognition for its “Florverde” program, that implements practices to mitigate the impact of the flower industry on natural resources. The creation of an environmental conscience in the flower growing industry is an added competitive advantage in today’s world.
Also deserving recognition is the successful international image campaign that the industry is committed to. The great degree of recognition of Colombian flowers amongst decision makers of the United States is testimony of these efforts. The sound support to the recently signed Free Trade Agreement was fundamental to its positive outcome. The industry’s experience has also proven valuable to other economic sectors in Colombia which strive for global entry and permanence.
Finally, I want to highlight the important evolution that the industry has experienced during the last thirty years. In every step of the export ladder, the use of this knowledge has been crucial to the sector’s advancement.
Internationally, radical changes have taken place in the flower trade, where fusions and partnerships have changed the industry’s landscape. Domestically, it is interesting to point out that the success of the Colombian flower industry lies mainly in the rapid response and adaptation to these global fluctuations, and the incorporation of decades of experience into new trade practices.
Flower growers have established work groups in their companies. Horizontal alliances have been created among several companies that are joining to obtain common benefits. In short, the management of the knowledge has been implemented.
As a result of the successful enterprises I have mentioned, national floriculture has received strong support in its globalization process. Foreign investment is further recognition of rational management by those Colombians who began and developed this sector. The presence of the foreign capital can be interpreted as a vote of confidence in the future of Colombia and it ratifies that the Colombian economy is widely considered as competitive and ready for further development. It is also testimony of the skill of Colombian managers and workers.
5 years ago, being President of Colombia, I presented to the Colombian flower growers the importance of a Free Trade Agreement with the United States. I was convinced that nobody better than this industry could understand the virtues of gaining access to the world’s largest market. Indeed, four out of five Colombian flowers are sold in the US Market, and the flower industry has greatly benefited from the tariff preferences of ATPDEA.
On that occasion in my speech I said something that I would like to recall today: “The prophets of disaster, those that believe that Colombia doesn’t have a way to compete in the global economy, should analyze the lessons of Colombian flower growers and exporters”.
Today, when FTA has successfully overcome complicated negotiations, we see that the rest of the economy is well on its way to learning this lesson.
With FTA we will have a scenario of stability that guarantees to you, the US wholesalers, that you will receive from Colombia the best flowers in the world with the best quality and the most competitive prices and that Colombian flowers will continue to bring beauty and happiness to hearts and homes across the United States.
Thanks to the continuous management of Asocolflores, the Colombian Association of Flower Exporters; under the stewardship of its President Augusto Solano, and to the indefatigable work of all and each one of the Colombian flower growers and exporters, flowers continue to generate well-being and stability for thousands of Colombians. The flower industry has become testimony of the best that Colombia has to offer the world.
Roses, carnations, gerberas, alstroemerias, chrysanthemums and many other varieties of flowers are today the colorful emblems of that prosperous and peaceful nation that we all are determined to build.
The flowers are the symbol of the new Colombia! I invite you to keep believing in the power of their beauty.