Colombia’s trade minister said on Wednesday that his country is set to become the third largest producer of leather goods in Latin America by 2018.

Sergio Diaz-Granados made this claim during a meeting with entrepreneurs in the north eastern city of  Bucaramanga, in which he said such growth would be possible after the implementation of his business plan, aimed at modernizing the industry’s production.

“In 2018 the leather goods industry should have a 4.1% share in industrial employment, with annual growth in terms of production at least 8%,” explained Grenados.

The minister also said that he plans on increasing the industry’s exports, particularly in countries with which Colombia has signed trade agreements.

“We already have the markets,” said Grenados.

“Now we will work hand in hand with employers to strengthen the industry, in order to increase productivity and make it more competitive,” added the minster.

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These comments come two months after producers said that competition from China was killing Colombia’s textile industry. According to producers, the textile industry is unable to compete in the domestic market against Chinese competitors.

“The State must protect us,” a footwear producer told newspaper El Heraldo, who said he has been forced to lower his production by 70% in order not to go bankrupt.

Granados stated that in the last year, exports of leather goods to the US had increased 12% and that in the last two years after the free trade agreement with Canada, exports had increased 29%.

Colombia currently has nine trade agreements with 17 countries, while agreements are currently being negotiated with Turkey, Costa Rica, Panama and the Pacific Alliance.

Article by Colombia Reports