Although famed for its banana exports, not to mention a range of tropicals, Ecuador has lagged behind its Andean rivals when it comes to agreeing favourable EU trade tariffs. But all this looks set to change with the imminent signing of a new trade agreement
As 2016 gradually draws to a close, Ecuador perhaps has more reason than most South American nations to anticipate the beginning of the new year. The reason is that November will finally see the signing of a long-awaited Trade Agreement between Ecuador and the EU, which will deliver improved access to the country’s principally exports to Europe, including its hugely important banana exports.
Although negotiated back in 2014, the deal is only due to come into force in early 2017, and will mean that Ecuador will be able to benefit from preferential trade terms that have been available to fellow members of the Andean Community, Colombia and Peru, since 2013.
Juan Patricio Navarro, director of ProEcuador’s Netherlands office, says that the expected finalisation of the agreement will, at last, give the country’s exports the same status as those of its principal competitors, Peru and Colombia.
Until now, he says Ecuador had been less competitive than many of these rival countries, with distinct prices, disadvantageous costs due to trade tariffs, and a lack of access to certification protocols for its exporters. With the signing of this agreement, Navarro says the nation will be able to compete at the same level as its competitors from the beginning of next year.
A government agency with 31 branches around the world, ProEcuador’s principal function is information and networking, according to Navarro, in the form of gathering information for exporters and buyers decisions alike to make informed decisions and help close deals, while at the same time sharing this information through its network of contacts. In this sense, he says ProEcuador plays a fundamental role, which is that of matchmaker or facilitator.
“We aim to expand Ecuadorian exports at a global level and add greater depth to the presence of Ecuadorian products in international markets by finding more partners and buyers – from traders through to supermarket representatives – interested in our products,” Navarro explains.
“We work a lot in B2B, but we’re also trying to work in B2C, above all to strengthen our supplies to these markets by understanding exactly what it is the consumer is looking for, what they value, what types of products they want to eat, and how are trends developing.”
Navarro says one of the key strategies used by ProEcuador is to contact buyers who might be interested in Ecuadorian products, then highlighting not only what is have available at the time, but also developing relationships of trust between the potential supplier and buyer.
“We do this by facilitating communications between suppliers and buyers, by providing information, finding out what the buyer requires, what kinds of conditions they require and what kinds of restrictions might exist in the market,” he says.
“We work with small, medium and large producers who are looking to develop a supply chain and arrive at an agreement with a buyer for the next season.”
Another key function of ProEcuador is to act as a point of contact between European importers seeking a specific product and the relevant growers able to provide it. “We sit down with the network of suppliers we have in Ecuador to identify whether the exporter exists in Ecuador and straight away we put together a shortlist and arrange conversations between the suppliers and buyers,” outlines Navarro.
If the product is not available at the required time due to pre-existing trade agreements, the agency still puts the buyer in touch with the producer and asks them if them if they would still be interested the following season.
According to Navarro, one of the big strengths of Ecuador as a country is its fresh fruit and vegetable exports. Of course, Ecuador’s best-known product at a global level – of which it is not coincidentally the largest worldwide producer – is the banana, with Europe among its main markets. Although he describes bananas as being the “anchor” of the country’s fruit exports, Navarro is keen to emphasise that Ecuador offers a full range of tropical products, from standards such as pineapple and avocado through to exotics such as physalis and tamarillo.
Although seasonal and not produced in huge volumes, the focus for Ecuador is very much on complementing larger northern and southern hemisphere producers.
“We don’t look to compete with South Africa or Brazil, but rather look to fulfil the need to our European buyers to maintain a presence of these products all year round,” says Navarro.
In fact, it is in the European market in particular that ProEcuador sees strong opportunities for growth.
“Europe is a mature market, but a market which is always demanding new products and improved quality,” explains Navarro. “In Europe, there exist markets for each and every fruit and vegetable that Ecuador produces, and with the diversity and demand that Europe has, there are always opportunities to do business.”
When speaking of Europe, he says that Ecuador not only works in fresh produce, but also provides industry with semi-processed fruits, concentrates and juices – a service the agency is aiming too publicise during its participation at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference.
“The principal message that we’ll be looking to transmit at the show is that Ecuador is back with a great deal of strength and excitement,” Navarro concludes.