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UGA faculty take mission trip to Latin America

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Based on their work with Distance Diagnostics through Digital Imaging, two University of Georgia faculty members were part of an official visit to Central America with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez this fall.

Inviation only trip

Gutierrez selected 18 U.S. institutions to accompany him on his post-CAFTA (Central America Free Trade Agreement) mission trip. CAFTA goes into effect in January. It will remove trade barriers and open up Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic to U.S. goods and services.

Marco Fonseca, a UGA Cooperative Extension horticulturist, and Jean Walter, a UGA Extension agent in Jasper County, traveled with Gutierrez to Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua in the Oct. 16-22 mission trip.

Fonseca and Walter were selected for the trip for their work in the region with DDDI. This system that uses digital images, computers and e-mails to quickly diagnose insect and disease problems. They helped UGA share the technology with Honduras, setting up five DDDI systems.

Funds provided travel, Honduran systems

Robert Fowler, a trustee with the Arnold Fund, was also in the UGA contingency. The Arnold Fund, a Georgia-based charitable trust fund, sponsored the university's DDDI project in Honduras and the UGA travel expenses for the CAFTA mission trip.

Two of the DDDI systems, at the Port of Cortez, will help prevent plant diseases and insects from leaving Honduras.

"This is one of only a handful of U.S. Customs offices set up in ports outside the U.S.," said Fonseca, a native Honduran. "A U.S. inspector checks the shipments. So, now, agricultural products can go straight into our market."

Fonseca says the port's DDDI system will be a great benefit as CAFTA changes take place. "The CAFTA region is the second-largest export market in Latin America and the tenth largest in the world for U.S. exports," he said.

"More than half of the current U.S. farm exports to Central America will become duty-free immediately, including beef, soybeans and cotton," he said. "Tariffs on U.S. farm exports, including corn, beef, pork and poultry from Georgia, will be phased out over time."

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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