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Market Expo Team Sees Tremendous Opportunities in Panama

After two days of meetings in Peru, the 2013 USMEF Market Expo team of pork, beef, soybean and corn producers wrapped up its activities Friday in Panama City, Panama. Bolstered by strong economic growth and the recently implemented U.S.-Panama Trade Agreement, Panamanian demand for U.S. beef and pork is surging. This made a big impression on United Soybean Board member David Hartke of Teutopolis, Ill., who raises soybeans, corn, wheat and sorghum while also operating a 6,000 head hog operation and finishing Holstein steers.
The Market Expo team tours Panama’s largest cold storage facility, operated by Galores Advanced Cold Storage Solutions

The Market Expo team tours Panama’s largest cold storage facility, operated by Galores Advanced Cold Storage Solutions



“I feel we’ve opened up some major channels here for U.S. pork and beef,” Hartke said. “The USMEF staff here in Central and South America has made excellent use of our checkoff investments and converted those into some terrific trade opportunities.”

On Thursday, the team was briefed by Arlene Villalaz, USDA/FAS agricultural specialist for Panama. She highlighted the surging interest in U.S. agricultural products now that the new trade agreement with Panama has significantly lowered import duties and eliminated other trade barriers. The group also received an overview of grain trade activity in the Central-South America region from Kurt Shultz, regional director for the U.S. Grains Council.

Next the team visited Panama’s largest cold storage warehouse, a two-year-old, state-of-the-art facility operated by Galores Advanced Cold Storage Solutions. Rafael Rocha, the company’s managing and commercial director, provided an extensive tour of the facility and explained how Galores serves a rapidly growing number of Panama’s supermarket and foodservice chains. Rocha said the cold storage business is booming in Panama despite several challenges, including high utility rates and a severe shortage of skilled, reliable labor.
USMEF Director of Trade Development Gerardo Rodriguez (third from left) introduces the Market Expo team to the owners of Meat Boutique, a Panamanian distributor and retailer of high-end U.S. meat products

USMEF Director of Trade Development Gerardo Rodriguez (third from left) introduces the Market Expo team to the owners of Meat Boutique, a Panamanian distributor and retailer of high-end U.S. meat products



The group’s next stop was the unique retail outlet Meat Boutique, a specialty meat shop that sells high-end beef, pork and lamb to walk-in clientele. The owners of Meat Boutique also import meat from several destinations for distribution to high-end restaurants and other foodservice outlets.

On Friday the group toured the facilities of Sky Chef, the catering company for several major airlines serving Panama City, which prepares more than 25,000 airline meals per day. Sky Chef executive chef Rogelio Vega explained how the company uses many different cuts of U.S. beef and pork in its dishes, and he is excited that the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement will provide Sky Chef with access to these products at more reasonable prices. He also had very positive comments about his experience working with USMEF.

“Working with Gerardo (USMEF Regional Director of Trade Development Gerardo Rodriguez) has been excellent,” explained Vega. “He has done an exceptional job of helping us find the products we need and introducing us to new cuts that fit our price point.”

The team also got a feel for Panama’s rapidly growing supermarket sector in visits to Riba Smith and Supermarket El Rey locations. Both chains carry a variety of U.S. pork and beef cuts, and the group was able to observe a U.S. beef tasting demonstration El Rey Supermarkets is conducting in cooperation with USMEF and importer/distributor Pedersen Fine Foods.
The Market Expo team observes a U.S. beef tasting demonstration at Supermarket El Rey in Panama City

The Market Expo team observes a U.S. beef tasting demonstration at Supermarket El Rey in Panama City



“I am very impressed with the level of demand for U.S. meat, both here in Panama and in Peru.” said Emmet, Neb., cattle producer and sale barn operator Richard Schrunk, who serves on the Nebraska Beef Council. “They have strong economies here and the quality and consistency of our product really attracts a lot of interest. As a beef producer I know that we need to sell every part of the steer, so I consider our foreign marketing efforts in Latin America to be a very good investment of our Nebraska checkoff dollars.”

Another important aspect of the USMEF Market Expo is that it allows producers from several different agricultural sectors to see how the U.S. industry works together to achieve success in the international marketplace. This sentiment was articulated by Shane Meyer of Diller, Neb., president of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association and supervisor of a 2,500 sow farrowing operation.

“As a pork producer, I sometimes feel I am fighting an uphill battle with the high grain prices that we currently face,” Meyer said. “But traveling with representatives of the corn and soybean industries has really opened my eyes to how much these producers give back to the pork industry through their support of meat exports. They clearly understand how important exports are to my profitability and how the expansion of red meat exports helps all of us in the long run.”

The Market Expo team included the following:

Team Member Organization Represented State
David Droste Illinois Soybean Association Illinois
Jered Hooker Illinois Soybean Association Illinois
Jim Stuever Missouri Corn Growers Association Missouri
Richard Schrunk Nebraska Beef Council Nebraska
Steve Nelson Nebraska Farm Bureau Nebraska
Shane Meyer Nebraska Pork Producers Association Nebraska
Mark Caspers Nebraska Soybean Board Nebraska
Mike Korth Nebraska Soybean Board Nebraska
Drew Guiney Nebraska Soybean Board Nebraska
Melanie Fitzpatrick United Soybean Board Missouri
David Hartke United Soybean Board Illinois
Joel Thorsrud United Soybean Board North Dakota
Efrain Delgado Cargill Mexico



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