The fifth edition of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Latin American Product Showcase, held July 15-16 in San Jose, Costa Rica, was the largest and most productive to date, as 44 USMEF member companies exhibited red meat products for more than 90 buyers from 16 countries in the region. Since its inception in 2011, the Nebraska Beef Council and Illinois Soybean Association have provided financial support for the showcase. Support for this year’s event was also provided by the Beef Checkoff Program, the Pork Checkoff and the USDA Market Access Program (MAP).
“We had an outstanding turnout of buyers this year, from Chile all the way to the eastern Caribbean,” noted Gerardo Rodriguez, USMEF director of trade development for Central American and the Dominican Republic. “And the interest from exhibitors grows stronger every year, as this event now has a very well-established reputation for generating new contacts that help USMEF members expand their presence throughout Latin America.”
Rod Gray, a rancher from Harrison, Nebraska, and member of the Nebraska Beef Council Board of Directors, was also pleased to see that the showcase continues to grow. Gray was especially impressed with the strong demand for high-quality beef in Latin America.
“Until I began coming to this event, I tended to think of Latin America as a destination for variety meat and lower-end muscle cuts,” he explained. “But there are plenty of buyers here showing strong interest in high-quality beef. That’s gratifying to me, because I try to produce a high-quality product with my breeding program, and I see that product making its way into these markets.”
Beatrice, Nebraska, pork producer Brian Zimmerman, who chairs the National Pork Board’s International Trade Committee, said this event offers the U.S. pork industry an excellent venue for pursuing export growth opportunities in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean.
“If I had to sum up this showcase is one word, I would say ‘optimistic,’” Zimmerman said. “Everyone is upbeat, and the event has tremendous energy. I thought the level of activity was very good last year in Peru, but it was nothing like what I’m seeing here in Costa Rica.”
In addition to the main exhibition, this year’s event offered ample time for one-on-one meetings between U.S. exporters and prospective buyers. An educational aspect was also added this year, allowing representatives from the packaging, transportation and storage, and processing equipment sectors to address some of the unique challenges involved in supplying meat to Latin American markets.
“Our exhibit space sold out in record time this year,” Rodriguez explained. “But the reason the Latin American Product Showcase continues to be larger and more successful every year is that it is so much more than just a trade show. Both buyers and exporters have an opportunity to gain knowledge about the region and to find new ways to expand their businesses and enhance their profitability.”
Exporters were eager to capitalize on the opportunities presented at the showcase, including first-time attendee Mark Cooper, executive vice president of Iowa-based Pine Ridge Farms, which produces high-quality, value-added fresh and frozen pork products.
“For a small company like ours, it would take years – even an entire career – to cover the kind of ground we were able to in a short period of time here,” Cooper said. “The research, travel and expense involved in making this many contacts on our own would be huge, so this has been a fantastic event for us.”
These sentiments were echoed by Doraine Barr, who manages Latin American sales for Dallas-based Mercer Meat Company. Barr was participating in her fourth USMEF Latin American Product Showcase.
“Within two weeks of this event, we usually begin receiving orders from the new buyers who were in attendance,” Barr said. “When we participated in the very first one in Panama City in 2011, our business in the region increased 70 percent. We are very happy to see the showcase grow more and more each year, attracting high-level buyers who are truly the decision-makers for their companies.”
After a slow start in 2015, U.S. pork exports to the Central-South America region have gained strength in recent months. Through May, exports totaled 51,257 metric tons (mt), which was steady with last year’s pace, valued at $132.8 million (down 3 percent from a year ago). Driven by a strong performance in the Dominican Republic, exports to the Caribbean totaled 18,024 mt (up 5 percent) valued at $43.7 million (down 3 percent).
January-May beef exports to Central-South America totaled 14,067 mt (down 12 percent) valued at $64.7 million (down 4 percent). Exports to the Caribbean totaled 10,153 mt valued at $71.1 million – up 5 percent and 18 percent, respectively, from the same period last year.
U.S. exports also benefit from preferential duties in many countries in the region, through the CAFTA-DR, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Panama Free Trade Agreements.