Federal officials this week urged Congress to approve an agreement with Colombia aimed at encouraging smaller businesses to seek new markets by making U.S. exports duty free.

"For more than 16 years Congress has given more than 90 percent of Colombian imports duty-free access to the American market, while American exporters to Colombia still pay hundreds of millions in tariffs each year," Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told business owners at a global trade symposium in Miami on Monday.

Of roughly 9,000 U.S. companies that currently export goods and services to Colombia, some 8,000 are small and medium-sized businesses, according to the Commerce Department. Under a proposed deal with Colombia, more than 80 percent of U.S. exports would become duty free.

Steven Preston, the head of the Small Business Administration, also called for similar agreements with South Korea and Panama.

"Exports now account for a larger percentage of U.S. GDP than at any other time in history, and small businesses are important contributors to that growth," Preston said.

He said free trade agreements will help boost the economy by encouraging U.S. entrepreneurs to enter new markets, create more jobs and develop innovative products and services.