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MANAGUA, Nicaragua – The Central American nation has increased its exports of agricultural goods to several countries, including the United States, after the sector struggled in recent years because of natural disasters and political instability.
“Compared to 2010, the statistics to date show an increase of more than 32% in exports to the United States,” said Roberto Brenes, general manager of the Export and Investment Center of Nicaragua (CEI), a public-private organization that supports exporters. “This is significant because compared to other Central American nations, Nicaragua leads in export value increase.”
Total exports to the United States from Nicaragua rose to US$4 billion in 2010, according to CEI.
The East Coast of the United States, specifically from New York to Miami, Fla., is the primary destination of Nicaraguan products, with the most sought-after goods being coffee, melons, watermelons, cereals and potatoes, according to CEI.
California also is among the biggest consumer of jellies and pickled goods produced in Nicaragua, according to CEI.
“The United States has become a key region for export growth in Nicaragua,” Brenes said. “It is now the final destination for the majority of the products exported by the country.”
The United States’ diverse population, which features millions of Latinos, is a major reason why it has emerged as a major consumer of Nicaraguan-made products.
“Agricultural goods have grown around 10% per year in exports to the United States, catering to the needs of people from Latin American Caribbean origin, which are large consumers of root vegetables,” said Álvaro Cantilever, business manager of Nicaraguan export company Agropecuaria de Exportaciones S.A. “Today, these type of exports represents US$12 million [a year] in sales, US$10 million more than six years ago.”
Fisheries and seafood exports are also growing.
“We are currently exporting more than a million kilograms (2.2 million pounds) of fresh and frozen fish to Mexico and the United States,” said Iván Carmanlinghi, export manager at NICALAPIA, a company specializing in fish exports. “This represents a growth of more than 40% in relation to last year and that will allow us to close 2011 with exports totaling US$11 million, which equals 10 million kilograms (22.2 million pounds) of fish and seafood.”
The stellar numbers in exports represent a major change compared to the 1990s, when Nicaragua reported US$250,000 in exports annually, Brenes said.
The new wave of exports could spark a financial turnaround for this impoverished nation of 5.7 million residents.
After the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) contracted 9.9% in 2009, the GDP grew 3% in 2010, according to statistics by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
“We are becoming an exporter nation and there is no turning back,” Brenes said. “We are a country with a 22% annual growth rate in exports, and we keep that pace because we export competitive items.”
Nicaraguan producers are also selling their products in other markets. Nicaraguan companies totaled US$200 million in exports to Europe in 2010, according to CEI. The most sought-after products were organic coffee and cocoa, honey, cigars, sesame seeds and fruits and vegetables.
“Our aim is that during this year we reach the US$2 billion in exports threshold,” said Guillermo Jacoby, vice president of the Association of Producers and Exporters of Nicaragua (APEN). “We need to enter new markets and further negotiate in promising markets such as Mexico.”
Mexico and Nicaragua have had a Free Trade Agreement since 1998. The agreement has favored Mexico, with exports totaling US$118 million to Nicaragua in 2010, while Mexican businesses purchased US$25 million in Nicaraguan goods last year.
“Opportunities abound in Mexico for us,” Jacoby said. “But we definitely need to close that commercial gap. We have the treaties, we have the mechanisms and we have to close those gaps as soon as possible.”
Another market Nicaraguan producers are eyeing is Belize, Central America’s only English-speaking nation.
“We are not taking advantage of the fact that the Belizean market is in Central America,” Brenes said. “When we go there, we see jellies imported from England, milk from Germany. We could perfectly supply their market with our products.”