WASHINGTON — The United States and Colombia on May 15 officially implemented a free trade agreement that was first signed in 2006. The pact immediately eliminates all tariffs on U.S. wheat imports.

“This is a very good day for wheat farmers,” said Randy Suess, a wheat farmer from Colfax, Wash., and chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates (U.S. Wheat). “The tariff situation has basically forced our largest customer, historically, in South America to buy more wheat from Canada and Argentina. Now our customers in Colombia will not have to pay the tariff, and we can compete equally on the basis of quality, supply and service.”

U.S. Wheat said that Colombia imported about 800,000 tonnes of U.S. wheat from Gulf and Pacific Northwest tributaries during the 2010-11 marketing year. But U.S. wheat sales for this marketing year are down about 45% year on year, mainly due to the Canada-Colombia F.T.A. that went into effect on Aug. 15, 2011, U.S. Wheat said. Wheat imported from Argentina also has benefitted from duty-free status under the South American Mercosur trade agreement.

“A lot of people have joined us in working hard to get the U.S.-Colombia agreement approved by Congress, signed by the president and now implemented,” said Erik Younggren, a wheat farmer from Hallock, Minn., and president of the National Association of Wheat Growers. “While the process of removing our trade barriers with Colombia has been a long one, we are eager to get this market back on track.”