As the third most important Latin American and Caribbean supplying country to the US, Colombia, aims to cement its position as a “very solid and stable partnership with the US Agribusiness sector and Colombian exporters,” says Juliana Villegas Restrepo, Exports Vice President at ProColombia.
These comments come as they look forward to continuing Colombia’s participation at IFPA’s Global Produce Show taking place in Orlando from 26 to 29 October 2022.
“We have been seeing a very good increasing interest from US buyers in fresh Colombian produce. We have been participating since 2014. It’s a very important show where we make new connections and it presents a huge networking opportunity to reconnect with those with whom we may have lost contact after three years of the pandemic.
"Our country booth will showcase eight companies from different regions of Colombia. They all offer different products such as oranges, avocados, fresh herbs, mangoes, and limes. They will have one product per region that include baby bananas, limes, and golden berries. We want US buyers to see a variety of our good quality products and talk about bringing them over,” says Villegas Restrepo.
Due to the continued efforts by ProColombia over the last 10 years, producers as well as partners in the US, Colombia were able to increase the volume and value of a wide range of fresh products to this important market.
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen outstanding figures for avocados, blue and golden berries, Tahiti limes, and bananas to name a few. We entered the US five years ago and have seen 270% of export growth, in terms of tonnage in avocados alone. Colombia has huge potential, there are many opportunities to explore and take advantage of. We are ready to meet that market demand and are well prepared to follow the rules and quality requirements. Especially in the US, which is a very demanding market,” states Villegas Restrepo.
She says that this year, the Colombian avocado exports increased by more than 1,000% in value, passing from $3.7 million to $43.6 million. "Colombia is exporting more than Chile, which was in the past one of the most important suppliers to the US. Five years ago, we had just started exports to the U.S, last year we exported 6.6 million pounds of avocado and so far this year we have exported 33 million pounds of avocados. We expect that to increase to between 40-50 million pounds this season. We did not have Hass avocados in the past. It is amazing to see these figures, not only in the number of dollars but the volumes. We are not as huge as Mexico, and it is not our main objective to reach a very big amount. But we are planning to consistently and sustainably grow exports to the US. Our Tahiti limes only exported $2,2 million in 2017 growing to more than $15 million last year. This year (Jan to Aug) lime exports were over $34 million dollars. At the end of this year, we expect to have close to $40 million, we are already behind Mexico in limes export to the US.”
Restrepo says people might think these figures were reached overnight, but it really took a solid decade of hard work. “We have over 100 agricultural products that have the green light to enter the US market. That includes other products too like pineapples and mangoes. It is all about teamwork by both the private and public sectors working together, in Colombia and the US.
"We work under the Colombian Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Tourism, which works with all institutions. We have to learn about the market, it takes more than 10 years to get access to the market for avocados. Once prioritized, it took us more than five years to get the bell peppers that entered the US for the first time two weeks ago. We have some other products waiting in line, like passion fruit and others.
"We work as a team, to learn and know the rules. The big thing is to stay in the market. ProColombia is the promoting agency. We have an office in the US. Our Embassy helps a lot while the companies as suppliers are the main characters with the quality produce. We are one of the tropical countries. We have a big responsibility to ensure food safety internationally, we keep offering, increase numbers and thereby create employment. The different produce comes from regions, which are not that well known, and it brings great news, progress, and employment.”
The Colombian fruit and vegetable sector is highly labor-intensive, it is estimated to generate about 765,000 direct jobs and 1.8 million indirect jobs. “We have great things happening. Our bell peppers come from a small town with no more than 40 thousand people,” concludes Villegas Restrepo.
Author: Clayton Swart