PORT MANATEE — A Colombian trade official was in Manatee County this week, sparking talk of deeper commercial ties between the South American country and Port Manatee and the broader region.

“We see significant opportunity for growing trade between our nation and Port Manatee,” said Juan C. Barrera, general deputy director for the United States of ProColombia USA, who spoke Thursday at the Manatee County Port Authority meeting as well as at a luncheon hosted by the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp.

“Both import and export opportunities exist for businesses in Manatee County and beyond, and we look forward to exploring these mutually beneficial possibilities,” said Barrera, whose role with the Colombian government trade agency includes serving as director of its food, beverage and floral efforts.

Colombia is the third-largest economy in South America, with its gross domestic product of about $690 billion eclipsed only by Brazil and Argentina. The country's 49 million residents make it the third-most-populous country in all of Latin America, behind Brazil and Mexico.

Colombia is the ninth-largest trading partner for Port Manatee in terms of exports, driven by fertilizer, and No. 16 for imports, also tied to fertilizer.

“Not only do we anticipate building upon the fertilizer trade but we expect to grow our commercial links with Colombia in other commodity sectors as well,” said Vanessa Baugh, chairwoman of the Manatee County Port Authority.

“We are enthused about fortifying the business relationship between Manatee County interests, including our port, and our counterparts in Colombia and are committed to growing such ties,” Port Manatee executive director Carlos Buqueras said.

Representatives from Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic have recently spoken to the Manatee County Port Authority, which also is scheduled to hear in coming months from trade leaders in Guatemala and Turkey.