The Greater Fort Lauderdale Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (GFLGLGC) made history when it was named a Collaborating Partner in the first ever, U.S. Government-backed, LGBT Trade Mission to Bogota, Colombia. Chamber President and CEO Keith Blackburn is taking part this historic mission through September 15, where he is exploring Colombian trade opportunities, travel and tourism to Greater Fort Lauderdale.

The Colombian Trade Mission is led by the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).

“This is the very first U.S. Government backed LGBT Trade Mission anywhere. The NGLCC had an earlier Trade Mission to Argentina last year, but what makes this one historic is the backing of the U.S. Government,” Blackburn said, “Government agencies are involved including the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. AID, U.S. Department of State, Export-Import Bank of the United States, and the U.S. Commercial Service. In addition there will be 15 to 20 Delegates.”

The Obama Administration, Blackburn says, “has been extremely supportive of this initiative.”

Recently, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said, “I’m delighted to see our shared interest formalized in the Memorandum of Understanding between the Chamber (NGLCC) and the Department of Commerce. It is the primary mission of the Commerce Department to help spur economic growth that can create good jobs in America.”

While NGLCC Co-Founder and President Justin Nelson added: “The support and backing of the U.S. Government gives the mission increased validation as we work with our Colombian counterparts and that is good for our members who will be attending and looking for new and expanded markets. The mission highlights the administration's commitment to a fully?inclusive economic recovery.”

On May 15, 2012, the United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement went into effect. This agreement eliminated tariffs and duties on 80 percent of consumer and industrial products sold to Colombia and more than halves those remaining from 10.8 percent to 4.0 percent, making Colombia a market for U.S. exporters and providing them an advantage over exporters from non-free-trade countries.

“With the entry of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement into force, great things can happen for U.S. businesses. We are excited to support LGBT businesses abroad as well as at home, and we look forward to working with them to expand their customer base into Latin America,” said NGLCC Co-Founder and CEO Chance Mitchell.

Colombia is a “gay welcoming” country, according to Blackburn, who is quick to add that “This Trade Mission was organized with the assistance of the Colombian Government. From a personal experience, I have several friends who have been to Colombia and all of them felt welcome.”

As representative of a community where tourism is the primary focus of the economy, Blackburn will focus on “bringing more LGBT tourists from Colombia.” But an increase in tourism will not be the only goal of the trip, which also promises opportunities for all sorts of business.

“We live in a global economy and small businesses, many of them LGBT-owned, need help understanding how to break into foreign markets,” said Mitchell, in a prepared statement. “LGBT entrepreneurs are innovators and through this partnership we will be able to equip them with the tools they need to understand the exporting process and be successful in finding customers in their backyard or an ocean away.”

Blackburn will also join other delegates at the first LGBT Summit of the Americas. The Summit will take place in conjunction with the Trade Mission and bring together LGBT business leaders from the U.S., Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Mexico and Uruguay. Invited speakers include the Honorable Angelino Garzon, Vice President of Colombia and the Honorable Peter McKinley, Ambassador of the United States.

“The Summit will include a discussion on LGBT Human Rights in Latin America, a U.S. Aid Overview, and a discussion titled ‘Equality through Business: LGBT Chambers of Commerce and their Impact on LGBT Equality.’ Areas of discussion will include advocacy, tourism and international supplier diversity,” Blackburn said.

The Trade Mission presents an opportunity for LGBT-certified businesses to meet counterparts, including buyers and business leaders, and to work with the commerce attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota and the Department of Commerce to build connections crucial to international export and import trading.

Blackburn will be keeping Chamber members informed via Facebook ( GFLGLCC) and promises to give SFGN readers a full report when he returns.