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Meeting between Rainforest Alliance, retailers, importers and banana producers

Meeting between Rainforest Alliance, retailers, importers and banana producers


On November 27th, banana producers and exporters from seven Latin American countries (Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama and the Dominican Republic) convened a roundtable with major European retailers and the private certifier Rainforest Alliance (RFA) to reach a common position that would end the conflict over RFA’s new 2020 certification standard. Although the meeting’s agenda expressly excluded any discussion of prices and focused exclusively on the 2020 certification program, the certifier declined the invitation on the grounds that antitrust legislation prevented them from attending.

Three weeks later, on December 18th, RFA convened the same type of meeting, inviting retailers and producers, with the difference that the agenda -imposed by RFA-, in addition to expressly excluding any discussion related to prices as the one convened by the producers, this time also excluded some crucial points for the industry such as the Sustainability Differential and Shared Responsibility.

The meeting could have been a unique opportunity to solve the pending issues on the implementation of the standard. However, the producers believe that it has been a lost opportunity.

The producers consider that “the format of the meeting did not allow for the resolution of the pending issues. More than a space for dialogue, the presentation has been monopolized by RFA. They were practically telling us that the norm is already closed and they are not going to accept changes”.

Since the beginning of the year, producers have denounced the “consultation process” that RFA has carried out as being filled with deficiencies in participation. Producers say that “while the certifier has received our communications, it has not included our comments in the drafting of the standard. We see no intention of reaching consensus”.

On the other hand, the presented Action Plan does not answer in a concrete and exact way how the new standard will be implemented and RFA has not yet determined the mathematical calculation to define the Sustainability Differential or the distribution of the Shared Responsibility. Banana producers say that “both producers and retailers must have a clear understanding of who should pay the sustainability premium, and how much. This is a key aspect to avoid future misunderstandings”.

Lastly, Latin American producers reject RFA’s latest statement: “RFA was not interested in reaching consensus, the dialogues have not been constructive, the proof is that we have insisted on this point and yet they have launched a standard that lacks a clear definition of the responsibilities of each party. This standard is unacceptable”.

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Rainforest Alliance and the shared responsibility

Rainforest Alliance and the shared responsibility
Press release and photos: EU Public Affairs

Last Friday, November the 27th, banana producers and exporters from seven Latin American countries called for a tripartite roundtable with main European retailers and the private certifier Rainforest Alliance. The main objective was to reach a common position that would put an end to the conflict over new certification standards imposed by Rainforest Alliance.

Despite Rainforest Alliance’s refusal to attend, guilds and retail groups agreed that Rainforest Alliance has the obligation to define the concept of Shared Responsibility, as well as creating a specific committee for its development, composed by representatives of producers and retail groups.

Banana growers stated, “We are curious about RfA’s refusal to participate in the dialogue, especially considering that they themselves have established the requirement for a Shared Responsibility following the Sustainability Differential”. In addition, they clarify “it is not a discussion about prices, it is a discussion about how to make the frog seal fair again, with added value, and created according guidelines that will not jeopardize the sustainability of banana producers”. To this end, producers have requested a meeting with the certifier’s Board of Directors, the date of which has yet to be defined.

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Latin American banana sector criticises Rainforest Alliance process

Latin American banana sector criticises Rainforest Alliance process

Latin America’s banana industry has slammed the Rainforest Alliance certifying body for being out of touch with today’s market realities. According to representatives of the sector from Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica and Guatemala, which account for a combined 65% of the global banana crop, Rainforest Alliance has failed to consider their opinions when developing certification criteria. Producers claimed that the latest standard published two weeks ago contains crucial differences with the 2019 rules and was not the result of due consultation. 

At a meeting between the representatives of the sector and Rainforest Alliance, the main issues of contention related to the significant challenges facing the region, such as the economic impact of Covid-19, TR4 and Black Sigatoka. The representatives also complained of the pressures from European retailers to impose lower and lower prices. It was also pointed out that the Rainforest Alliance rules do not take into account the social and environmental regulations imposed by individual governments, and that this inclination to regulate in parallel causes inconsistencies in the whole chain, not to mention that it is a sort of regulatory anomaly. Moreover, the decision to ban the use of drones has also been questioned.

The meeting ended with Rainforest Alliance committing to convene working groups between their representatives and Latin American producers. Producers are calling for the RA to delay the enforcement of the new standards until January 2022.

Photo: AEBE

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Algeciras Port improves its connectivity with Latin America

Credit: Algeciras Port


Handling 4.7 million tons or 37% of the Spanish horticultural cargoes, Algeciras Bay Port became one of the principal ports for fruit & vegetables operators  


The Port of Algeciras is the largest Mediterranean port for all cargo traffic and the largest Spanish port. It is located in the Strait of Gibraltar, a transit way for 9 out of 20 principal maritime routes. Thanks to the strategic geographical location of Algeciras Port, it operates as the distribution centre for Southern Europe, Mediterranean countries and Northern Africa.

“Our current connectivity along with our competitive transit times make Algeciras the natural gateway for reefer cargo coming from Latin America and heading to South Europe, North Africa and Med” says J. Javier Lopez, Head of commercial division. “We connect directly with more than 200 ports, it takes just 7 days to come from Natal (North Brazil) and we are one hour away from Morocco by RORO and feeder service”

As a novelty in 2019, Algeciras has improved its transit times for import flows coming from some of the main producing countries in Latin America as Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico and Dominican Republic.

A wide range of services
offered by the Port community companies

With 109,4 million tons of total cargo (2019), the Port of Algeciras ranks the fourth among top EU ports. “We handle nearly 380,000 TEUS of import- export full cargo, some 56,000 TEUS of them are reefers, which is very important for us,” informs Mr. Lopez. “Furthermore, our Port community is highly specialised in reefer cargo, and the largest fruit exporters from South America keep trusting in our port capabilities.”  The current cold storage capacity in the port and surrounding area exceeds 30,000 pallets, and a wide range of services for refrigerated and frozen goods is offered. These companies cover load, storage, cargo consolidation and distribution to customer centers. They also handle custom office paperwork or quality controls, providing an extra value throughout the import and export process. Thanks to the unique border inspection post open for 24 hours 365 days a year, perishable commodities are released within 24 hours upon arrival. At present, most part of the Spanish horticultural cargoes (4.7 million tons or 37%) is carried out through Algeciras Bay Port.

The Port of Algeciras has 2 terminals: APMT and TTI-Algeciras, which was the first semiautomatic terminal in South Europe. They jointly fulfil 5.000 reefer connexions. New container services from Latin America and South Africa have emerged, ship capacity has increased, growing yearly around 10%, and the Port has been optimizing and automatizing all the logistic processes to become more efficient yet. Thanks to constant investment into its infrastructure, the Port of Algeciras can attend to the megaships (+23,000 TEUS) of the three shipping Alliances: 2M, The Alliance and Ocean Alliance.

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LATAM fruit producers reject EU limits on residues


Latin America’s banana producer and export organisations have roundly rejected the EU’s decision to reduce maximum residue limits (MRLs) and are committed working together to reverse the measure. All foods intended for human or animal consumption in the EU are subject to a maximum residue limit of pesticides in their composition to protect people’s and animals’ health. 

The EU regulates the limits applicable to the different food products and sets a maximum limit applicable by default, which is the one that generates problems for producing countries, such as those in Latin America. However, the LATAM organisations declared in a press release that the EU measure interferes with molecules that are fundamental in the production and export of fruit and are fundamental for the control of diseases and pests in banana and banana plantations. They claim that productivity would be seriously compromised as crops would not be able to successfully tackle pests and diseases. These strict measures are not currently in place in other demanding markets like the US and Japan. 

The organisations involved at the meeting in Costa Rica were the Association of Independent Banana Producers (APIB) of Guatemala; Ecuadorian Association of Banana Exporters (AEBE); Banana Marketing and Export Association (ACORBANEC) of Ecuador; Association of Producers of Colombia (AUGURA); the National Banana Corporation (CORBANA) of Costa Rica; the National Chamber of Bananas (CANABA) of Costa Rica; Association of Independent Banana Producers (APROBAN) of Costa Rica; BANAPIÑA of Panama; National Chamber of Producers and Exporters of Melon and Watermelon of Costa Rica (CANAPEMS); Banana Growers Association Belize (BGA). 

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Latin American banana exports worth $5.6 billion

Latin American banana exports worth $5.6 billion

Latin America and the Caribbean is the world’s largest banana-exporting region. Estimates point to a total combined export value of around US$11 billion for bananas and major tropical fruits from Latin America and the Caribbean, of which bananas accounted for about US$6 billion, according to data published by FAO. Between 2016 and 2018, the total production volume of bananas in the region was an estimated 30 million tons per year, while total exports reached an annual average of 13 million tons, representing 80% of world banana shipments, worth US$5.6 billion per year.

Source: FAO


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All about blueberries in Latin America

All about blueberries in Latin America

Find out why Chile is in a leading position, how Argentina seeks to differentiate itself based on the taste of its blueberries, what is changing in terms of Mexico’s blueberry expertise, and more.

Peru establishes itself as major player in region

“Peru has been able to capitalise on its own knowhow in a relatively short time, but even when production volumes have been growing rapidly there are questions to be answered,” according to Pro Arándanos president Miguel Bentin. There are currently an estimated 2,400 ha planted, plus an additional 800 under way, which means 20,000 t are expected for the 2016 campaign. And by 2018, there will be double the area under cultivation, reaching at least 45,000 t of produce. While the Biloxi variety predominates, there is significant growth in Emerald, Spring High, Ventura and Snowchaser, among others.“We took the initiative to foster the creation of the association when the industry was very young, seeking to grow in an orderly way and generate genuine collaboration between the companies so there would be a transfer of knowledge. The main need is for an association to represent us in accessing markets and distributing the supply,” Bentín said. The main export market is the US, which takes up 54% of the total, followed by Holland, the UK and Hong Kong, with 83% of the volume shipped by sea. The Latin American countries complement each other, with each having its own place in the market, which is why it is very important to open up new markets, Bentín said.

Mexico grows along with its expertise

Mexico is a relatively young player which did not see the blueberry as a real option until seven years ago. It went through a learning process until it found varieties suited to its climate and learned to handle these cultivars, particularly in the area of pruning and bringing them to market. About three years ago, when the sector realised there was potential, various opportunities opened up for it. Today, Mexico has 4,500 ha planted, producing 15 million kg of fruit, and Driscoll’s vice president Mario Steta estimates this area could be doubled in five years. Undoubtedly, the profitability has been quite reasonable, although the average yield is not where it should be. Also, Mexico is creating a very wide season, achieving a total of 9 months’ supply by starting very early for the autumn window and ending very late in mid-spring. Among its strengths are that it supplies all four of the main berries, which gives it an advantage over other suppliers. And processing technology is bringing particularly strong benefits for one of those berries, the blueberry, and with that very good returns. As for the challenges, the main one is farm labour, which also links to the concept of social responsibility and the availability of suitable areas. Steta stressed that “genetic improvement in varieties must not only adapt to the environment and technology, but make it easier for workers in the field, a resource that is becoming increasingly scarce.”

Uruguayan blueberries ready to enter China

Uruguay has a very compact area in its north with few companies, but they’ve been adapting to the market’s needs in varieties and are now internationally recognised. “This year we expect 2,500 t of produce compared to last year’s 1,800 t. We think this will be a good season, despite the slow demand we seem to have now in our traditional markets, such as the US and Europe,” said Marta Bentancur, Upefruy’s head of international development. Uruguayan blueberries already reach the US and Canada, and major countries in Europe, but the big news is that very soon they may also enter China. “Recently we were visited by the Chinese sanitary delegation and they were fully satisfacted with our processes, quality and infraestructure,” Bentancur said. Uruguay will host the China-LAC CCPIT Business Summit 2017, the main summit between China, Latina America and the Caribbean. “There is a big public-private effort working on access to Asian markets. This year, in addition to China, we want to reach other countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and India,” Bentancur said.

Chile in a leading position

“We have plenty of challenges, but also opportunities,” said Chilean Blueberry Committee executive director Andrés Armstrong. Chile, experienced in blueberry production and export, confronts new blueberry-producing countries from a position of leadership as it already has a sufficient production volume and base to trade and develop markets around the world. “Chile has a strong position as a global supplier of blueberries,” Armstrong said. It currently has more than 15,600 ha in production and its fresh blueberry exports are expected to exceed 94,000 t this season. Chile is present in China and Korea, markets which have helped boost exports to Asia overall, the continent which last year accounted for 9% of its total export volume. In the medium and long term it will be more important to address the production capacity, since there are many developing markets with potential for growth,“ he said. The benefits of varietal conversion in Chile will be more obvious next year, when production is forecast to rise about 10%. Labour and productivity costs are the main challenges, since their availability and competition with other crops hamper future growth. “As of this season, there is a high penetration of new packaging technology in Chilean industry. Who knows how this will progress in future and if at some point we will be able to mechanically harvest the blueberries for the fresh market,” Armstrong said. “We are always examining how we do things, from the field to the end consumer, as part of our ongoing effort to do things better.”

Argentina seeks to differentiate itself by taste

Argentina is a significant supplier of blueberries in the off-season for the Northern Hemisphere. Its production regions grow early or ‘first’ fruit with marketable volumes from September. The three major production areas are the northeast, which contributes 52% of the total volume; the northwest, with 40%, and the centre, with 8%. There is a total of 2,750 ha of produce equivalent to 17,500 t of fruit for 2016. “The Argentine blueberry stands out in the world market for its excellence in quality and especially for its exceptional flavour. This is mainly due to our climate and varieties, since we have undergone a significant change in varieties of nearly 85% of the total area planted. In addition, 95% of exports are sent by air to reach the destination country immediately, thus prolonging the fruit’s shelf life,” said Argentinean Blueberry Committee (ABC) president Carlos Stabile. The ABC is focusing its promotional activity on the fruit’s flavour and also looking to differentiate on origin. The US remains the largest market, with sustained growth but at a mature rate, followed by the UK, which is characteristic for selling by variety. Other markets include Europe, Canada and Asia, with 80% of produce that is sent to the latter continent going to Singapore, Hong Kong and the UAE, and permission to export to China imminent. 

Blueberries image by Jeremy Ricketts via Unsplash under CC0 License

This article appeared in edition 146 of Eurofresh Distribution magazine. Read more from that edition online here.
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