Colombia-US free trade agreement comes into force

The first cargo of Colombian flowers leaves Bogota for Miami under the two countries' free trade agreement on 14 May 2012 The first shipment of Colombian flowers was seen off by flag-waving children

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The long-delayed free trade agreement between the US and Colombia has come into effect, more than five years after being signed.

At the stroke of midnight, a planeload of flowers - an important export for Colombia - left Bogota to become the first shipment under the deal.

The pact was held up in the US Congress amid concern over Colombia's record of violence against trade union leaders.

It finally passed last October, after pressure from the Obama White House.

Later on Tuesday, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle was set to be unveiled as one the first US exports to Colombia as part of the agreement.

Both countries hope the deal will boost mutual exports and investments, as well as underpin the two countries' close political ties.

Colombia has long been seen as one of the United States' staunchest allies in the region.

The pact means a wide variety of goods, including machinery, raw materials and agricultural products, can be traded without import tariffs needing to be paid.

The US International Trade Commission estimates that the value of US exports to Colombia could rise by $1.1bn (£680m), while Colombian exports the other way could grow by $487m.

The accord, signed during President George W Bush's administration, was opposed by US labour groups, who feared job losses.

Many Democratic members of Congress argued that it should not be approved until they were satisfied Colombia had done enough to stop violence against union organisers.

There was also opposition from Colombian trade unions, who expressed concern about whether the country was developed enough to compete.

Urging Congress to ratify the deal, the Obama administration warned that further delay would cost the US jobs and the chance to boost exports.

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