Costa Rica targets trends for greater food exports

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union Banana

Costa Rican food companies are focusing on major trends like organics and social values to build their export platform, as an association agreement between the EU and Central America is expected to be reached in 2009.

Last week the fourth round of talks towards the association agreement took place in Brussels, covering a spectrum of issues ranging from political dialogue to free trade. Both sides are confident that the negotiations will be concluded next year and will "enlarge already substantial relations".

Zacarías Ayub, commercial director of Procomer Europe (the Ministry of Foreign Trade's official trade and promotion office) told that the agreement is expected to yield more opportunities for cooperation between food industries the two regions.

Procomer brought a delegation of Costa Rican companies to Europe last week to support the negotiations with business meetings and cultural activities. Moreover, part of the role of the Procomer regional offices is to provide information on trends in different markets.

"We used to sell products with no added value,"​ said Ayub. "If you provide added value, the product becomes stronger."

Attractive organics

In particular, he said that trends in the organic sector are very important, as European customers see the absence of pesticides as making for a healthier product. If Costa Rican firms obtain certification, this not only makes their products more attractive to European markets but also allows for higher selling prices.

"An organic pineapple is more expensive,"​ said Ayub by way of example.

Traceability and good environmental standards are also important to European consumers. They like to know where their products come from, and be assured that they are produced in a sustainable way.

Green bananas are better

Bananas are Costa Rica's main agricultural commodity - and the industry is now positioning its wares on a carbon neutral platform, as part of the nation's over-all effort to offset all its carbon omissions by 2021.

The banana industry says it has already contributed to conservation and reforestation through 6305 hectares of replanted forests - that is, 14.4 per cent of banana plantation land.

In addition, banana firms and the industry association Corbana have jointly invested in two new research centres to investigate ways to reduce chemicals used in banana production. One avenue being expolored is the use of a natural fungus to fight off disease and pest in the field, thus reducing the need for pesticides.

This, said Corbana, "will benefit the banana industry by offering a value-added product attractive to the European market".

Catering to the new EU

Between 2003 and 2007 Costa Rica's food sector exports increased from $164m to $389m. Last year the US accounted for 65 per cent of these, The Netherlands 26 per cent, France 4 per cent, Spain 2 per cent, Germany 1 per cent and others 2 per cent.

Ayub explained that the high percentatage to The Netherlands does not represent such a high level of consumption of Costa Rican product in that country, however. Rotterdam is the first port of call for many goods, from where they are distributed to other destinations.

Moreover, Costa Rican industries are open to dealings with countries that have joined the European Union recently. Romania and Bulgaria are to start importing pineapples from Costa Rica, according to producer and exporter association Canapep, as a result of the recently solidified commercial relations between the countries.

At the moment the US is the main market for Costa Rican pineapples, followed by Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands. Exports in 2006 were US$413, and the Canapep is expecting growth of 15 per cent stimulated by greater demand.

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