Characteristics of Firms Engaged in Fruit and Vegetable Trade (RB 434) University of Georgia Extension The primary objectives of this research are (1) to determine, in depth, the nature and characteristics of U.S. and Latin American firms engaged in fruit and vegetable trade and (2) to determine, in depth, barriers to trade encountered by these firms. This information should be useful to firms already trading internationally in fruits and vegetables and those looking for international opportunities. The information should provide important insights into the conduct of business operations, and inroads and obstacles to trading fruits and vegetables between Latin America and the United States. Policy makers should also be able to use this information to accommodate smoother trading relations among countries. 2017-03-28 14:57:36.157 2006-06-02 14:32:32.0 Characteristics of Firms Engaged in Fruit and Vegetable Trade | Publications | UGA Extension Skip to content

Characteristics of Firms Engaged in Fruit and Vegetable Trade (RB 434)

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L. Rebeca Marin, James E. Epperson, and Glenn C. W. Ames

Introduction

Agricultural trade within the Western Hemisphere which includes Canada, the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean has continued to increase over the past several years. The Western Hemisphere, contains 14 percent of the world's population, 31 percent of global wealth, and is one of the largest emerging trade blocks. Approximately one fourth of its exports and about one half of the imports are within the hemisphere (U.S. Department of Agriculture, June 1994).

U.S. exports to the rest of the Western Hemisphere are primarily bulk commodities including wheat, rice, coarse grains, soybeans, and cotton. U.S. imports are largely horticultural and tropical commodities such as coffee, bananas, cut flowers, vegetables, and fruits (U.S. Department of Agriculture, June 1994).

Historically, U.S. fruit and vegetable exports have been largely directed to Canada. In recent years U.S. exports of fruits and vegetables have expanded to other regions of the world. In the last 10 years, total U.S. exports of fruits and vegetables increased from $2.6 billion in 1984 to $8.1 billion in 1994. They now represent 18.6 percent by value or 5.2 percent by volume of total agricultural exports. Imports have also increased from $2.9 billion in 1984 to $7.3 billion in 1994, representing 27.8 percent by value or 16.3 percent by volume of total agricultural products imported (U.S. Department of Agriculture, August 1985 and August 1995).

In 1994, about 10 percent of total U.S. fruit exports and 15 percent of total U.S. vegetable exports by value went to Latin America (table 1), while of total U.S. imports, 50 percent of vegetables and 59 percent of fruits came from Latin America (table 2) (U.S. Department of Agriculture, June 1995).

Table 1. Latin American Markets for U.S. Fruit and Vegetable Exports by Value in Dollars for the Period January-December, 1994.
Country or Region Value of Fruit Exports
($1,000)
Value of Vegetable Exports
($1,000)
World $2,598,138 $3,875,036
Latin America 265,767 586,036
Mexico 184,501 262,554
Central America 26,116 48,297
Guatemala 5,633 9,517
Honduras 2,095 7,346
Costa Rica 8,214 4,432
Panama 7,303 17,216
Caribbean 13,897 157,651
South America 41,253 117,534
Colombia 7,820 20,032
Venezuela 7,588 17,955
Chile 188 5,498
Argentina 1,447 16,792
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, June 1995

Table 2. Latin American Sources of U.S. Fruit and Vegetable Imports by Value in Dollars for the Period January-December, 1994.
Country or Region Value of Fruit Imports
($1,000)
Value of Vegetable Imports
($1,000)
World $1,495,304 $2,730,776
Latin America 889,289 1,363,691
Mexico 357,709 1,124,813
Central America 131,128 93,661
Guatemala 22,762 41,799
Honduras 27,948 4,341
Costa Rica 69,464 40,808
Caribbean 19,454 35,678
South America 380,999 109,539
Chile 340,826 46,437
Argentina 14,766 13,721
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, June 1995

The primary Latin American markets for U.S. products were Mexico, Panama, Colombia, and Venezuela, while the major suppliers of U.S. imports were Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. From 1994 to 1995, U.S. imports of vegetables rose 15 percent by value and fruit imports rose 6 percent by value. The continued increase in trade of fruit and vegetable products suggests that the markets and supply sources for these commodities may have potential growth in the Western Hemisphere and other world markets.

Several factors have contributed to this growth in trade. Communications have improved considerably in the last decade, reducing the time it takes to negotiate terms of trade, as well as the time needed to process and carry out orders. Many advances have also been made for storing, handling, and processing of products, enabling them to be transported rapidly across borders without spoilage (U.S. Department of Agriculture, June 1994).

The creation of bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements in the Western Hemisphere has also helped to increase the flow of these agricultural products across borders. An example is the creation of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) in 1983 which "stimulated investment, production, and exports of Caribbean and Central American agricultural products," thus increasing the value of U.S. imports of these products by 5 to 10 percent per year (U.S. Department of Agriculture, June 1994). The CBI, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and other free trade agreements in harmony with the goals of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) pursue the reduction of customs duties or protective tariffs imposed on products at national frontiers.

The agreements also eliminate nontariff barriers such as importing/exporting licensing requirements, import/export restrictions, and contradictory sanitary and phytosanitary standards which directly impede the entry of imports into a country (Bolin; Hillman; Thrupp). The reduction of trade barriers is very important to firms engaged in the fruit and vegetable trade.

Objectives

The primary objectives of this research are (1) to determine in depth, the nature and characteristics of U.S. and Latin American firms engaged in fruit and vegetable trade and (2) to determine in depth, barriers to trade encountered by these firms. This information should be useful to firms already trading internationally in fruits and vegetables and those looking for international opportunities. The information should provide important insights into the conduct of business operations, inroads and obstacles to trading fruits and vegetables between Latin America and the United States. Policy makers should also be able to use this information to accommodate smoother trading relations among countries.

Procedure

The data for this analysis were gathered by designing and carrying out two different surveys. One survey was sent to U.S. companies that engage in fruit and vegetable trade with Latin America. The second survey (in Spanish) was sent to Latin American companies that trade in fruits and vegetables with the United States. The data were then analyzed to reveal common characteristics among exporters and importers by primary trading origin - U.S. and Latin American.

Data Base

A list of companies which appeared to be engaged in trade with Latin America and their addresses were collected through The Blue Book. A total of 800 survey questionnaires were sent out to companies in various states, particularly California, Texas, Florida, Washington, and Arizona. These are the primary states with substantial volumes of fruits and vegetables moving in and/or out of the United States. Several companies were no longer engaged in trade with Latin America while others had moved leaving no forwarding address. These obstacles decreased the sample size resulting in 63 usable questionnaires.

For Latin American firms, the design of the questionnaire was the same as that for the U.S. companies, although written in Spanish to obtain a higher response rate. The list of companies was collected by contacting the regional U.S. Agricultural Trade Offices in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Venezuela. These regional offices covered additional countries also. Other sources included the IPL (Intercom Projects, Ltd.) Enterprises, Inc. (The Central American Business Directory), telephone companies in El Salvador and Guatemala, and El Directorio de Oferta Exportable de El Salvador. A list of 200 Latin American firms was formed from these sources. Forty-six completed questionnaires were received by fax or mail.

Results of the Survey Responses

U.S. Company Responses

This section is a presentation of survey results taken from the 63 questionnaires received from U.S. companies engaged in fruit and vegetable trade with Latin America. Their organizational structure revealed that over three-fifths of the respondents were corporations, while 12.5 percent were partly owned by Latin American companies (table 3). Almost one-fifth were owned by individuals, all U.S. citizens except for one Colombian. Another one-fifth were partnerships, with nearly 20 percent of them having at least one Latin American partner. Only one company surveyed was registered as a cooperative. There was some evidence of Latin American ownership of U.S. companies that trade in fruits and vegetables.

Table 3. Organizational Structure of U.S. Companies.
Structure Frequency Affiliation Frequency
Individual Owner 12 (18.75%) Citizenship
U.S. 11 (91.67%)
Colombian 1 (8.33%)
Partnership 11 (17.19%    
Yes 2 (18.18%)
No 9 (81.81%)
Corporation 40 (62.50%) Share Owned by Latin American Co.
0.00% 35 (87.50%)
50.00% 2 (5.00%)
100.00% 3 (7.50%)
Cooperative 1 (1.56%)    
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses.
Source: Results from survey of U.S. companies.

Regarding the methods used for export sales to Latin American markets, it was found that three-fourths of the sales were made directly through either a wholesale distributor, a retail outlet, an agent, or some other form not specified by the respondents. The most frequent sales pattern was via a wholesale distributor, followed by a retail outlet (table 4).

Table 4. Method of Sales to and Purchases from Latin America.
Transaction Method of Transaction Frequency
Sales (Exports) Direct 28 (75.68%)
Wholesale Distributor 14 (63.64%)
Retail Outlet 4 (18.18%)
Agent 2 (9.09%)
Other 2 (9.09%)
Indirect
Purchases (Imports)
Direct 47 (90.38%)
Agent 12 (41.38%)
Wholesale Distributor 10 (34.48%)
Retail Outlet 0
Other 7 (24.14%)
Indirect 5 (9.62%)
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses.
Source: Results from survey of U.S. companies.

For fruit and vegetable imports, the responses were somewhat different. Direct purchases were still preferred almost 10 times over indirect purchases. However, an agent was most widely used, about two-fifths of the time for direct purchasing, followed by a wholesale distributor, just over one-third of the time.

The decision-making responsibilities of exporting firms varied widely. Over three-fifths of the companies with exporting functions had exporting departments or specific persons in charge of exporting (table 5). Half of the exporting companies appeared to be decentralized with respect to exporting since the decision to export was either taken by a specific person in charge of exports or by the head of the export department. About 15 percent of the companies placed the responsibility on the general manager, and only 29 percent relied on the president of the company for making such decisions. Freight forwarding agents were used by about 28 percent of the exporting companies.

Table 5. How an Export Order Is Carried Out Inside the Company.
Export Decision Making Frequency
Company Contains/Uses:
Person in Charge of Exporting 26 (32.10%)
Exporting Department 24 (29.63%)
Freight Forwarding Agent 23 (28.40%)
Other 8 (9.88%)
Decision to Export Made By:
Person in Charge of Exports 22 (31.88%)
President of Company 20 (28.99%)
Head of Department 13 (18.84%)
General Manager 10 (14.49%)
Other 4 (5.80%)
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses.
Source: Results from survey of U.S. companies.

Of the companies involved in exporting, about one-third of their total produce was exported (table 6). About 40 percent of those exports went to Latin American countries, mostly Mexico and Brazil. However, for those companies involved in importing, over half of their produce was purchased abroad. Between 84 and 90 percent of the imports came from Latin American countries along, mainly Chile, Mexico, and Guatemala. These companies relied heavily on Latin American suppliers for most, if not all, of their produce.

Table 6. Percentage of Total Fruit and Vegetable Volume Exported and Imported by U.S. Companies.
Exporters/Importers Fruits Vegetables
————— percent —————
Exporters
Total Volume Exported 32.48 33.53
Exports to Latin America 38.46 42.88
Importers
Total Volume Imported 51.76 59.68
Imports from Latin America 84.07 90.39
Source: Results from survey of U.S. companies.

The Demand for Fruit and Vegetable Imports

The demand for imports and exports varied by season as expected. For about 44 percent of the imports the demand was year round, compared to only about one-fourth for exports (table 7). For almost 49 percent of the imports, the demand was only for the peak season from October to June, while the demand for exports was between June to November (45 percent).

Table 7. U.S. Company Indication of Time Frame for Greatest Import and Export Demands as a Percentage of Total Produce Volume.
Time Frame Imports from Latin America Exports to Latin America
————— percent —————
Year Round 43.92 25.38
Peak Demanda 48.63 45.01
Rest of Yearb 7.45 29.61
a Peak demand for imports was from October to June, while for exports it was from June to November.
b For imports, the Rest of the Year was comprised of July to September, while for exports it was from December to May.
Source: Results from survey of U.S. companies.

Business Relations with Latin American Firms

Importers were generally satisfied with their Latin American suppliers (table 8). Only 6.25 percent found the service less than satisfactory. However, respondents offered suggestions about how service could be improved. Quality control (over 31 percent of the comments) was the most frequently-mentioned service problem. This was followed by standardizing sizes, weights, and packaging. Also better knowledge of the U.S. market, including the cultural differences and making payments on time accounted for 10 percent of their comments. Among the "other" comments were such things as conforming with U.S. chemical residue regulations, having better communications including speaking English and sending representatives to the United States, and having better pre-cooling and cooling facilities.

Table 8. Experience of U.S. Companies with Latin American Suppliers and Improvements Needed.
Rating and Needed Improvements Frequency
Rating of Experience
Satisfactory 34 (70.83%)
Marginal 11 (22.92%)
Less than Satisfactory 3 (6.25%)
Improvements Needed
Quality Control 19 (31.67%)
Standardization 6 (10.00%)
Know U.S. Market 6 (10.00%)
Payments on Time 6 (10.00%)
Shipments on Time 4 (6.67%)
Other 19 (31.67%)
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses.
Source: Results from survey of U.S. companies.

Decision to Import a Product

Getting involved with a certain area of the world or a specific country is generally preceded by a series of decisions. The factors that influence these decisions can be an array of aspects such as those summarized in table 9. In the survey, the U.S. companies pointed out that almost 30 percent of the time, the most relevant factor for importing from Latin America was the ability to provide consistent quality. The ability to provide shipments within a specified time frame and the ability to provide adequate volume, each accounted for about one-fifth of the comments. Price was relevant about 17 percent of the time. However, as mentioned by some of the respondents, to maintain a business relationship in the long run, incorporation of all of these factors plus honesty and flexibility are necessary. The other responses were timely and correct documentation, products that are allowed into the west coast of the United States, and U.S. market demand.

Table 9. Factors Influencing the Firm's Decision to Import a Product from Latin America.
Factors Responses
———percent———
Ability to Provide Consistent Quality 29.21
Ability to Provide Shipments within Time Frame 21.39
Ability to Provide Adequate Volume 19.22
Price 16.78
Special Packaging 11.38
Other 2.02
Total 100.00
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses. Method used came from Hogg and Craig, 1978, pp. 269-278.
Source: Results from survey of U.S. companies.

For trading with a particular country, the factors influencing a firm's decisions become more specific as shown in table 10. The most influential of these factors, over one-fourth of the time, was having had previous transactions with a given country. The next most important factor was having been contacted by the buyer or seller from a specific country. These were followed by any type of restriction (seasonal tariffs, standard tariffs, or nontariff barriers) that might hinder trade. Exchange rates were important mostly for exporting due to weaker or volatile currencies against the dollar.

Table 10. Factors Influencing the Firm's Decision to Export/ Import Commodities to/from Specific Counties in Latin America, as a Percentage of Total Responses by Exports and Imports.
Factors Exports Imports
—————percent—————
Previous Transactions 26.91 28.85
Contacted by Buyer/Seller 22.82 26.39
Restrictions 21.83 21.25
Exchange Rates 19.13 11.65
Other 9.31 11.86
Total 100.00 100.00
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses. Method used came from Hogg and Craig, 1978, pp. 269-278.
Source: Results from survey of U.S. companies.

Sources of Market Information

How the surveyed firms obtained market information was assessed and is presented in table 11. The most popular response, accounting for 40 percent of the total, was relationship contacts or networking with several contacts such as clients, suppliers and traders or exporters by phone, fax, or word of mouth. The second most popular response was trade publications such as industry newspapers, magazines, and newsletters. This was followed by public organizations such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and, more specifically, the Foreign Agricultural Service. The rest of the sources were market news reports, visits to the country in question or offices in that country, and satellite down-link via a DTN (Data Transmission Network Corporation) machine operating in the United States and Mexico. The Chamber of Commerce, own marketing analysis, the World Trade Center in Tacoma, Washington and private services were listed under "other" market information sources.

Table 11. Sources of International Market Information.
Sources Frequency
Relationship Contacts 40 (40.40%)
Trade Publications 16 (16.16%)
Public Organizations 13 (13.13%)
Market News Report 5 (5.05%)
Visits to Country 5 (5.05%)
DTNa 4 (4.04%)
Other 16 (16.16%)
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses.
a DTN - Data Transmission Network Corporation.
Source: Results from survey of U.S. companies.

The question regarding sources of market information was further explored for greater detail (table 12). Knowledge of electronic information systems and benefits was assessed. It was found that only about one-third of the respondents knew of such systems. Those mentioned were DTN, e-mail, Internet, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Office of International Cooperation and Development. These were ranked as very beneficial and reliable sources of information. Of the respondents unaware of any such systems (two-thirds), 70 percent of them indicated that an electronic information system would be beneficial to their company.

Table 12. Benefits of an Electronic Information System.
Item Frequency
Knowledge of Electronic Information System(s):
Yes 21 (34.43%)
No 40 (65.57%)
If Yes, Names of the Systems Mentioned:
DTNa - information via computer/satellite
E-mail - very informal
Internet - very beneficial
California Department of Food & Agriculture — posting of commodities of specific countries
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office ofInternational Cooperation & Development
If No, Would it Be Beneficial?
Yes 28 (70.00%)
No 12 (30.00%)
a DTN - Data Transmission Network Corporation.
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses.
Source: Results from survey of U.S. companies.

Sources of Market Price Information

An evaluation of price discovery methods in a market can provide an indication of the relative marketing sophistication and power of the market participants. The most commonly-used method for both exports and imports, about one-third of the responses, was to compare prices with the competition in the market as observed in table 13. For exports, the next most common method was price setting by the company itself. However, for imports the second most commonly-used method was client specified pricing. Although the category "market forces" was not specified in the questionnaire, most of the "other" responses, or about one-fifth for exports and one-seventh for imports, mentioned this factor as relevant. The other responses identified for imports were quality of the product and product availability from other areas, while for exports only season of the year was specified.

Table 13. Most Utilized Method for Commodity Price Setting.
Pricing Exports Imports
—————percent—————
Compare with Competition 33.71 32.43
Set by Respondent's Company 28.57 18.92
Market Forces 19.64 14.86
Set by Client 12.50 29.73
Other 3.57 4.06
Total 100.00 100.00
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses. Method used came from Hogg and Craig, 1978, pp. 269-278.
Source: Results from survey of U.S. companies.

Pricing in international trade can be complicated because of extra factors in the international realm that may affect prices such as duties and tariffs, all differing by country and commodity and sometimes by season of the year. The survey indicated that almost three-fourths of the time the quoted export price did not include tariffs or duties as shown in table 14. In other words, the importer was responsible for knowing the extra costs of tariffs and duties when quoted prices by the exporter.

Table 14. Responses Regarding Inclusion of Tariffs and Duties in Commodity Price Quotations.
Exports/Imports Price Includes Tariffs and Duties
Yes No Sometimes
—————percent—————
Exports
Vegetable 23.53 70.59 5.88
Fruit 17.86 75.00 7.14
Imports
Vegetable 36.67 26.67 36.66
Fruit 50.00 25.00 25.00
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses.
Source: Results from survey of U.S. companies.

On the import side, the responses were less definitive. For example, vegetable prices "always" included tariffs and duties nearly 37 percent of the time and "sometimes" 37 percent of the time. Thus, 26 percent of the time vegetable prices never included tariffs and duties. On the other hand, fruit import prices always included tariffs and duties. Apparently, a large percentage of the time Latin American exporters pay U.S. tariffs and duties and include these charges in produce prices paid by U.S. companies.

Trade Barriers

The different types of trade barriers that exist were divided into three groups (table 15) for the purpose of ascertaining which, if any, had the most impact on fruit and vegetable trade between the United States and Latin America. It was found through the survey that for both exports and imports, nontariff barriers were the most important as indicated about two-fifths of the time. The category of nontariff barriers was most often mentioned as the most important trade barrier needing removal. Some of the comments from traders were that the United States should eliminate the protection of farmers who are protected through import restrictions and who sell expensive products, and that despite NAFTA, nontariff barriers continue to increase while existing regulations have yet to diminish.

Table 15. Most Important Trade Barriers in Trading Fruits and Vegetables with Latin America.
Trade Barrier Exports Imports
———percent———
Nontariff Barriers 41.13 37.08
Seasonal Tariffs 30.36 35.50
Standard Tariffs 28.51 27.42
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses. Method used came from Hogg and Craig, 1978, pp. 269-278.
Source: Results from survey of U.S. companies.

The second most important barrier was that of seasonal tariffs which applied to exports and imports. For imports this barrier was almost as important as nontariff barriers. The third category encompassed standard tariffs.

All three categories, standard, seasonal, and nontariff barriers were considered important. Moreover, the percentage responses regarding importance among the three categories of trade barriers were not that different. The U.S. companies seemed to agree that even with the existence of tariffs, measures to lower tariffs or just to simplify tariffing procedures can reduce the cost of doing business.

The important nontariff barriers were identified from the survey as fruit and vegetable size restrictions, maturity, color, and appearance restrictions, and food safety regulations (table 16). By far, the most important nontariff barrier was for food safety regulations for both imports and exports. The U.S. companies not only pointed out that nontariff barriers were the barriers with the most impact but also mentioned them most often as the barriers that needed to be eliminated to expand exports and imports into the Latin American and U.S. markets, respectively. The restrictions on maturity, color, and appearance were important more than one-fourth of the time for exports and somewhat more important for imports. The third category, restrictions on size, was also important, more so for imports. On the export side, companies reported a long list of barriers such as exchange rates, transportation problems, quotas, and the lack of internal financing.

Table 16. Most Important Nontariff Barriers to Trade for Fruits and Vegetables with Latin America, Based on Percentages of Total Responses.
Restrictions Exports Imports
———percent———
Food Safety Regulations 39.37 41.54
Maturity, Color, Appearance 27.53 28.44
Size 17.08 20.75
Other 16.02 9.27
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses. Method used came from Hogg and Craig, 1978, pp. 269-278.
Source: Results from survey of U.S. companies.

Food Safety Inspection

Since food safety regulations are such an important part of the nontariff barrier category, it should be of interest to know exactly where the food safety inspection took place. For example, if most of the inspections occur at the point of entry, such procedures could compound the inefficiencies imposed by trade barriers in the form of untimely delays which can be critical for highly perishable commodities. Locational information for food safety inspections is provided in table 17. The results indicate that for imports the inspection occurred over half of the time at the port of entry. The rest of the time the inspection for imports took place mainly at the farm or export terminal. The other site mentioned was the customer's plant or warehouse. The sites for inspection of exports were more evenly spread. More than 35 percent of the responses indicated on-farm inspection, almost one-fourth of the time at the export terminal, and about 34 percent at the port of entry. The other sites were not specified by the respondents. To the extent that inspections are concentrated at a central location such as the port of entry, serious and costly inefficiencies may result. The evidence suggests that this may be the case.

Table 17. Responses for Location of Final Food Safety Inspection for Trade in Fruits and Vegetables with Latin America.
Location Exports Imports
———percent———
Port of Entry 33.77 50.77
Farm 35.41 21.40
Export Terminal 24.58 24.16
Other 6.24 3.67
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses. Method used came from Hogg and Craig, 1978, pp. 269-278.
Source: Results from survey of U.S. companies.

Latin American Company Responses

This section is a presentation of survey results taken from the 46 questionnaires received from Latin American companies engaged in fruit and vegetable trade with the United States. The organizational structure of these companies reveals that a U.S. presence was smaller than the Latin American presence in U.S. companies (tables 3 and 18). Survey respondents were almost equally divided among individual owners, partnerships, and corporations (table 18). All individual owners were nationals of the country where the business was located. For the partnerships, only one company had among its owners a U.S. citizen. Only one corporation was partly and another wholly U.S. owned. None of the survey respondents were cooperatives.

Table 18. Organizational Structure of Latin American Companies.
Structure Frequency Affiliation Frequency
Individual Owner 16 (34.04%) Citizenship
Mexico 8 (50.00%)
Costa Rica 4 (25.00%)
Venezuela 2 (12.50%)
Panama 1 (6.25%)
Guatemala 1 (6.25%)
Partnership 16 (34.04%) U.S. Partner?
Yes 1 (6.25%)a
No 15 (93.75%)
Corporation 15 (31.91%) Share Owned by U.S. company
0.00% 13 (86.67%)
50.00% 1 (6.67%)b
100.00% 1 (6.67%)c
Cooperative 0 (0.00%)
a U.S. citizen in Costa Rican partnership.
b U.S. company owns 50% of Mexican corporation.
c U.S. company owns 99% of Mexican corporation.
Source: Results from survey of Latin American companies.

Latin American companies responded very similarly to U.S. companies as to how they carried out sales and purchases of fruits and vegetables internationally. Direct trade for imports or exports was preferred over indirect trade. This was also the response from U.S. companies (table 19). Also for Latin firms, the most frequently used method was the wholesale distributor for exports, followed by an agent and then a retail outlet. The "other" methods of direct selling used were unspecified. For imports, it was the same situation with the wholesale distributor being utilized most, while agents were second. Latin American respondents did not purchase (import) from retail outlets. No other means of importing was reported by Latin American respondents.

Table 19. Method of Sales to and Purchases from United States.
Transaction Method of Transaction Frequency
Sales (Exports)
Direct 20 (60.61%)
Wholesale Distributor 10 (50.00%)
Agent 6 (30.00%)
Retail Outlet 1 (5.00%)
Other 3 (15.00%)
Indirect 13 (39.39%)
Purchases (Imports)
Direct 21 (80.77%)
Wholesale Distributor 12 (57.14%)
Agent 9 (42.86%)
Retail Outlet 0
Other 0
Indirect 5 (19.23%)
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses.
Source: Results from survey of Latin American companies.

The method companies used to export and who made the final decision for the transaction are described in table 20. More than three-fourths of the companies had either an exporting department or an individual in charge of exporting. Less than five percent of them used a freight forwarding agent. Under the "other" category, two of the respondents mentioned other departments as the ones involved in exporting, such as sales, marketing, and/or the operations department. Two other firms mentioned that the company's function in Latin America was solely as an exporting company, while two others did not specify their responses. The final decision for an export sale was largely made at the top, either by the president of the company, more than one-third of the responses, or by the general manager, one-fourth of the responses. This implies that either these businesses were small or that export transactions were considered highly sensitive, requiring top management decisions. Only one-fourth of the time was the decision made by either the person in charge of exports or by the head of the exporting department. The same two companies mentioned that the company partner in the United States makes the final decision.

Table 20. How an Export Order Is Carried Out Inside the Company.
Export Decision Making Frequency
Company Contains/Uses:
Exporting Department 20 (45.45%)
Person in Charge of Exporting 16 (36.36%)
Freight Forwarding Agent 2 (4.55%)
Other 6 (13.64%)
Decision to Export Made by:
President of Company 18 (36.73%)
General Manager 12 (24.49%)
Person in Charge of Exports 7 (14.28%)
Head of Department 5 (10.20%)
Other 7 (14.28%)
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses.
Source: Results from survey of Latin American companies.

Of the companies surveyed, those which were involved in exporting sold almost all of their produce abroad. Some 85 percent of the fruits and 81 percent of the vegetables handled were exported (table 21). Of the exports, more than half of the fruits and about two-thirds of the vegetables went to the U.S. market. Of the companies surveyed which handled imports, about two- thirds of the volume of fruits imported came from the United States. Of the vegetables imported, an impressive three-fourths of the imports were from the United States, mostly by respondents from Mexico and Venezuela. These findings imply that on the export side, the United States is the largest single market for these companies, and on the import side the United States is their single largest supplier.

Table 21. Percentage of Total Fruit and Vegetable Volume Exported and Imported by Latin American Companies.
Exporters/Importers Fruits Vegetables
———percent———
Exporters
Total Volume Exported 85.00 81.00
Exports to the United States 53.96 65.50
Importers
Total Volume Imported 58.71 32.36
Imports from the United States 60.64 76.29
Source: Results from survey of Latin American companies.

The Demand for Fruit and Vegetable Imports

The early fall season (October to January) is the time of the year when the surveyed com-panies faced the greatest demand for imports of fruits and vegetables (table 22). This stems from the fact that the United States tends to import mostly products that are also domestically grown but which are not available year round. Most produce enters the United States generally between Nov-ember to June when domestic supplies are low or when prices are sufficiently high to attract outside sources. About 33 percent of the demand for imports was year-round. The year-round demand for exports was similar at about 35 percent of total exports.

Table 22. Latin American Company Indication of Time Frame for Greatest Import and Export Demands as a Percentage of Total Produce Volume.
Time Frame Imports from the United States Exports to the United States
——————percent——————
Year Round 33.10 35.41
Peak Demanda 37.59 60.98
Rest of Yearb 29.31 3.61
a Peak demand for imports was from October to January, while for exports it was from November to June.
b For imports, the months comprising the Rest of the Year were February to September, while for exports they were July to October.
Source: Results from survey of Latin American companies.

Business Relations with U.S. Firms

Latin American companies were almost all satisfied with their experiences with U.S. suppliers (table 23). Nevertheless, there were some suggestions for areas of improvement. Of those with suggestions, three-fourths suggested that U.S. suppliers could give better service in the form of more understanding of the economic and cultural situation outside of the United States, offering better credit of up to 30 days, more communication with the Latin American company including communication in Spanish, and providing more information about products, quality control, and reduced transaction costs. Although quality control, as an area for improvement, was mentioned by Latin American firms, it was not the major issue. This is in contrast to the position of many U.S. companies, where concerns over quality control were considered paramount.

Table 23. Experience of Latin American Companies with U.S. Suppliers and Improvements Needed.
Rating and Needed Improvements Frequency
Rating of Experience
Satisfactory 16 (94.12%)
Marginal 1 (5.88%)
Less than Satisfactory 0
Improvements Needed
Better Service 15 (75.00%)
Understanding Situation Outside U.S.
Better Credit - Up to 30 Days
More Communication
Quality Control
Reducing Costs of Handling
Other 5 (25.55%)
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses.
Source: Results from survey of Latin American companies.

Decision to Import a Product

How Latin American firms choose suppliers or even decide to import from the United States was influenced by several factors. The U.S. firm's ability to provide consistent quality was the most important attribute (table 24). The abilities to provide special packaging and adequate volume were also important. Price, however, was not as important as might be expected. Product attributes were deemed more important than price.

Table 24. Factors Influencing the Firm's Decision to Import a Product from the United States.
Factors Responses
———percent———
Ability to Provide Consistent Quality 29.21
Ability to Provide Special Packaging 21.26
Ability to Provide Adequate Volume 18.00
Ability to Provide Shipments within Time Frame 17.08
Price 9.16
Other 5.29
Total 100.00
Note: Percentage calculated by number of responses. Method used came from Hogg and Craig, 1978, pp. 269-278.
Source: Results from survey of Latin American companies.

Another question was formulated to obtain insight into the factors that influence a firm's decision regarding the country or countries with which to trade. For Latin American exporting firms, all factors were ranked similarly, with restrictions faced in the U.S. market being the most mentioned obstacle (table 25). The exchange rate was considered the most important factor, closely followed by being contacted by a potential buyer or seller, and previous transactions with firms. Other factors that influenced firms' decisions were market demand, price, volume that the potential client could carry, sales contract, and distance to be traveled.

Table 25. Factors Influencing the Firm's Decision to Export/ Import Commodities to/from Specific Countries, as a Percentage of Total Responses by Exports and Imports.
Factors Exports Imports
———percent———
Restrictions 22.84 22.32
Exchange Rates 20.37 25.21
Contacted by Buyer/Seller 19.44 22.71
Previous Transactions 19.13 21.50
Other 18.22 8.26
Total 100.00 100.00
Note: Percentage calculated by number of responses. Method used came from Hogg and Craig, 1978, pp. 269-278.
Source: Results from survey of Latin American companies.

For importers, the distribution of results was fairly uniform. However, somewhat more important in this case was exchange rates. The stronger the currency of an importing Latin American country in the world market, the more purchasing power it has, and consequently, the less expensive are U.S. products. Being contacted by a potential buyer or seller was ranked second, followed closely by restrictions that products from the area of origin may encounter when crossing the border into the importing country.

Sources of Market Information

Market information is crucial in making marketing decisions. For Latin American companies the most common source of information on the international market was relationship contacts, such as clients, distributors, and suppliers, generally by phone or fax (table 26). Next came international publications mainly from the United States, such as The Packer (Vance Publishing Corp., Shawnee Mission, KS) and reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Other sources of market information mentioned several times were specialized agents communicating generally by fax, some government services for those in exporting, offices of respondent firms in the United States, and trade trips. Under the category of other responses were such things as trade fairs, Internet, The Blue Book, daily bulletins of prices, Pronet, and Bancomext (a Mexican bank that helps in developing businesses in exporting).

Table 26. Sources of International Market Information.
Sources Frequency
Relationship Contacts 18 (29.03%)
International Publications 13 (20.97%)
Specialized Agents 10 (16.12%)
Own Company Offices 5 (8.06%)
Trade Tips 3 (4.84%)
Government Services 2 (3.23%)
Other 11 (17.74%)
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses.
Source: Results from survey of Latin American companies.

The use of an electronic informational system as a source of market information was generally beneficial to 44.74 percent of the respondents (table 27). Electronic information systems mentioned included the Internet, CompuServe, SIESBAN or System of Statistical Banana Information operated by UPEB or the Union of Banana Exporting Countries, Interfax, and the Electronic Blue Book. Of those respondents who did not know of such a system being in operation, 85.71 percent of them said that they would find it beneficial for their business.

Table 27. Benefits of an Electronic Information System.
Item Frequency
Knowledge of Electronic Information System(s):
Yes 17 (44.74%)
No 21 (55.26%)
If Yes, Names of the Systems Mentioned:
Internet - very beneficial
CompuServe
SIESBANa - very beneficial, operated by UPEBb
Interfax - received by computer
Electronic Blue Book
If No, Would it Be Beneficial?
Yes 18 (85.71%)
No 3 (14.29%)
a SIESBAN - Sistema de Informacion Estadistica Bananera.
b UPEB - Union de Paises Exportadores de Bananos.
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses.
Source: Results from survey of Latin American companies.

Sources of Market Price Information

The results for the important question regarding price discovery are given in table 28. The price was generally set through comparison pricing with the competition for exports and imports. For exports, the next most common method was that the client, that is, the U.S. importer, set the price about 30 percent of the time. The price was set by the responding Latin American company for exports only about one-fifth of the time, as compared to one-third of the time for imports. For imports, the price was never set by the client; in this case, the U.S. company supplying the produce. Other methods used for setting the price of exports included prices being fixed by the government and being set according to costs.

Table 28. Most Utilized Method for Commodity Price Setting.
Pricing Exports Imports
———percent———
Compare with Competition 43.24 61.54
Set by Respondent's Company 21.62 30.77
Set by Client 29.73 0.00
Other 5.41 7.69
Total 100.00 100.00
Note: Percentage calculated by number of responses. Method used came from Hogg and Craig, 1978, pp. 269-278.
Source: Results from survey of Latin American companies.

The perspective of the Latin American respondent on the handling of duties and tariffs in pricing fruits and vegetables is presented in table 29. The responses were quite different depending on whether the pricing was for exports or imports. The responses even differed for the vegetable exports versus fruit exports. The respondents indicated that vegetable export prices included duties and tariffs 60 percent of the time. By comparing these results with the U.S. results, it should be noted that the responses are inversely related. The price of U.S. exports generally did not include duties and tariffs which is corroborated by results for the Latin American import prices which also generally did not include tariffs and duties.

Table 29. Responses Regarding Inclusion of Tariffs and Duties in Commodity Price Quotations.
Exports/Imports Price Includes Tariffs and Duties
Yes No Sometimes
——————percent——————
Exports
Vegetable 60.00 33.33 6.67
Fruit 41.67 54.17 4.17
Imports
Vegetable 35.72 57.14 7.14
Fruit 35.72 57.14 7.14
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses.
Source: Results from survey of Latin American companies.

Trade Barriers

The nontariff barriers were reported to be the most important trade barriers to the Latin American companies - exporters and importers alike. For exports, nontariff barriers were three times more important than standard or seasonal tariffs, and for imports, nontariff barriers were the most relevant two-fifths of the time (table 30). This suggests that there were many burdensome nontariff barriers for shipping fruits and vegetables into the U.S. market as well as into the markets of the Latin American countries. When asked which nontariff barrier should be removed, the respondents indicated import quotas (this applies only to some Latin American countries), control of the exchange rate by some countries, bureaucracy on all sides of the borders, and inequality in commercial dealings.

Table 30. Most Important Trade Barriers in Trading Fruits and Vegetables with the United States.
Trade Barrier Exports Imports
———percent———
Nontariff Barriers 63.11 39.20
Seasonal Tariffs 19.40 35.13
Standard Tariffs 17.48 25.67
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses. Method used came from Hogg and Craig, 1978, pp. 269-278.
Source: Results from survey of Latin American companies.

However, the most restrictive trade barriers were the complicated regulatory procedures of food safety regulations or phytosanitary barriers (table 31). Some companies indicated that strict regulations enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for certain agricultural products, such as mangoes and limes, are not applied to all countries equally. Some respondents offered a solution to the problem: establish equal quality standards and phytosanitary prerequisites at all borders. For respondents importing fruits and vegetables, the control of and insecurity surrounding the exchange rate were also important as indicated in "other" responses.

Table 31. Most Important Nontariff Barriers to Trade for Fruits and Vegetables with the United States, Based on Percentages of Total Responses.
Restrictions Exports Imports
———percent———
Food Safety Regulations 37.38 31.09
Maturity, Color, Appearance 32.52 24.34
Size 27.65 16.21
Other 2.45 28.36
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses. Method used came from Hogg and Craig, 1978, pp. 269-278.
Source: Results from survey of Latin American companies.

Food Safety Inspection

The food safety regulations or phytosanitary barriers were usually imposed at the port of entry which is the Latin American country's border for imports or the U.S. border for exports (table 32). The other two categories, at the farm or at the export terminal, had almost the same percentage of responses. Two problems with inspections at the port of entry, pointed out by the respondents, were that customs personnel usually did not work on Saturdays and that direct crossing to U.S. transportation centers was not permitted, thus causing difficulties in going through customs. To alleviate this problem, a firm representative commented that a system of pre-inspection of produce at the farms should be established so that the product is not detained unnecessarily at the entry port.

Table 32. Responses for Location of Final Food Safety Inspection for Trade in Fruits and Vegetables with the United States.
Location Exports Imports
———percent———
Port of Entry 44.00 48.31
Farm 26.67 25.26
Export Terminal 25.34 26.43
Other 3.99 0.00
Note: Percentages calculated by number of responses. Method used came from Hogg and Craig, 1978, pp. 269-278.
Source: Results from survey of Latin American companies.

Summary and Conclusions

The globalization of markets has been facilitated by technological advances in communications, storage, handling, and processing. In concert with such progress, bilateral and multilateral agreements have reduced trade barriers, stimulating investment, production and exports.

In light of the market globalization process, the purpose of this study was to determine, in depth, the nature and characteristics of U.S. and Latin American firms engaged in fruit and vegetable trade and to determine, indepth, barriers to trade encountered by these firms. This study provides insights into the conduct of business operations as well as inroads and obstacles to buying and selling fruits and vegetables between Latin American countries and the United States. Such information should prove extremely useful to companies looking for international opportunities as well as firms already trading internationally.

The surveyed firms indicated that the primary factors impacting their export/import decisions were trade barriers, exchange rates, being contacted to do business, and familiarity with trading partners. The most important trade barriers were nontariff in nature such as inspection procedures and phytosanitary regulations. Regarding exchange rates, weak currencies inhibited imports while strong currencies inhibited exports. The volatility of currencies was also problematic.

Surprisingly, the U.S. and Latin American companies were very similar in their responses about the fruit and vegetable trade. They tend to be similar in the way the companies are structured, in their heavy reliance on each others' supplies and markets, as well as in their sources of market information. How they conducted their business transactions was also comparable - both set prices mostly by comparison. They also faced the same marketing problems, such as cultural and language differences, trading restrictions, and exchange rates.

Despite trade liberalization in recent years, nontariff barriers have gradually become more prevalent in the fruit and vegetable trade of the 1990s. About 58 percent of all the agricultural exports to the United States from Latin America are subject to nontariff barriers. For both U.S. and Latin American companies, nontariff barriers were the most complicated barriers and affected transactions of fruits and vegetables the most. Respondents generally concluded that for trade to grow and prosper, nontariff barriers would have to be the first barriers removed. This is consistent with one of the objectives of the recently-completed Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations (GATT).

U.S. companies were generally satisfied with the service received from Latin American companies. However, they did make suggestions for improvement, mainly closer attention to quality characteristics such as standardizing fruit and vegetable sizes, weights, packaging requirements, and residue tolerance regulations. Communication in English was also indicated as important. Latin American companies were more concerned with receiving better quality service from U.S. firms. Latin American firms wanted U.S. firms to be more accommodating and show greater interest in Latin America through trade trips and communication in Spanish.

Some regulations are necessary to protect the national as well as the international consumer. However, respondents commented that some regulations were established to protect inefficient producers. Tariff and nontariff barriers generally raise revenue for the government as well as the price of the foreign commodity to make the domestic commodity more appealing. The main intention is generally, not to benefit the consumer, but to protect the producer. Thus, trade barriers do not always have their foundations in consumer protection. A respondent's comment summarizes the situation, "it is still a very restrictive and controlled business, and does not allow us to better serve the consumer because of too many 'rules,' " which exemplifies the obstacles still to be overcome in international fruit and vegetable marketing.

References

Bolin, R.L. The World Impact of NAFTA. The Flagstaff Institute, 1994.

Hillman, J.S. Nontariff Agricultural Trade Barriers. Lincoln, Nebraska, University of Nebraska Press, 1978.

Hogg, R.V., and A.T. Craig. Introduction to Mathematical Statistics. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1978.

Produce Reporter Company. The Blue Book. Fruit and Vegetable Credit and Marketing Service. Carol Stream, Illinois: Produce Reporter Company, Spring 1995.

Thrupp, L.A. Bittersweet Harvests for Global Supermarkets: Challenges in Latin America's Agricultural Export Boom. World Resources Institute, 1995.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service. Foreign Agricultural Trade of the United States. An Economic Research Service Report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, Calendar Year. 1994 Supplement, June 1995, September/October 1995 and November/December 1995.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service. Situation and Outlook Series, Western Hemisphere. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, June 1994.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service. Situation and Outlook Yearbook, Vegetables and Specialities. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, August 1985 and August 1995.

Status and Revision History
Published on Feb 2, 2009
Re-published on Apr 21, 2009
Reviewed on Apr 25, 2012
Reviewed on Mar 28, 2017