USMEF Market Expo Team Sees Opportunities in Panama

PANAMA - After two days of meetings in Peru, the 2013 US Meat Export Federation (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 US-Panama Trade Agreement, Panamanian demand for US beef and pork is surging.
calendar icon 20 March 2013
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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.

"I feel we’ve opened up some major channels here for US pork and beef," Mr 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 (14 March), the team was briefed by Arlene Villalaz, USDA/FAS agricultural specialist for Panama. She highlighted the surging interest in US 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 US 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.

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 US beef and pork in its dishes, and he is excited that the US-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 Mr 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 US pork and beef cuts, and the group was able to observe a US beef tasting demonstration El Rey Supermarkets is conducting in cooperation with USMEF and importer/distributor Pedersen Fine Foods.

"I am very impressed with the level of demand for US meat, both here in Panama and in Peru," said Emmet, Nebraska, 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 US industry works together to achieve success in the international marketplace. This sentiment was articulated by Shane Meyer of Diller, Nebraska, 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," Mr 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."

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