By  on June 29, 2012

NEW YORK — With the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement less than two months old, Colombian officials went all-out Wednesday night with a fashion show, cocktail party and expo to show off the country’s textiles and manufacturing know-how.

Before the start of a 20-minute fashion show, which was live-streamed, and after sampling manchego balls and Colombian arepas, First Lady María Clemencia Rodríguez welcomed the 1,300-person strong crowd at the Waldorf-Astoria. With gigantic video panels flashing the nation’s yellow, blue and red flag, guests need not have wondered why they had gathered. Proexport Colombia and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism financed the event, which was capped off with two acrobats performing with yellow, blue and red cords. As a final farewell, what sounded like fireworks signaled a blizzard of confetti in the colors of the Colombian and American flags.   

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón got right to the point in a video message. “Within 45 days of the treaty being implemented, we are already here taking action — determined to demonstrate the benefits of the agreement and seeking business opportunities for all....We are determined to take full advantage of the free-trade agreement. May this encounter generate a lot of business for all of you.”

RELATED STORY: Q&A With María Clemencia Rodríguez >>

An analysis by the U.S. International Trade Commission estimates the FTA will lead to an increase in U.S. gross domestic product of $2.5 billion. Overall, U.S. goods exports to Colombia in 2011 were $14 billion. Apparel and textile exports to Colombia rose 29.4 percent to $168.7 million for the year ending Feb. 29, according to the Commerce Department’s Office for Textiles and Apparel.

With a 100-year-old history of apparel manufacturing, Colombia now houses more than 1,000 textile and apparel companies and exported goods to 139 countries last year. Colombia’s fashion industry employs more than 6,000 people. B. Books, which styled the runway show, is among them.   

Half of the CKB event attendees were fashion executives from such firms as Valentino, Salvatore Ferragamo, Bloomingdale’s, Club Monaco and Brooks Brothers. They were informed of how Colombia-based manufacturers offer a lead time of 20 to 40 days, and how Colombia is the only South American country with ports on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Mario Agudelo, president of Del Sur Trading Corp., flew in from Miami for Colombia Week in New York and like many out-of-staters his airfare was paid by organizers. “I would have come with or without the ticket. This is a tremendous opportunity for us,” he said. “This is a success story between the Colombian and U.S. governments. They had been pursing this treaty for 10 years. It was a do-or-die deal for Colombia.”

Organizers declined to comment on the investment in the event or the number of people whose airfare was covered.

Visionaire’s Cecilia Dean and her boyfriend David Selig were on hand to support friends and relatives. Having just launched Visionaire 62 Rio, Dean said, “We’re feeling very South American.”

Before venturing off into the night, guests were given one last taste of the country — Colombian coffee.

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