Latin America to see continued fresh produce growth
July 8, 2019

More growth opportunities are dead ahead for Latin American fruit and vegetable growers, according to a new 326-page report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

The report, giving the outlook for 2019-2028, said there are “strong growth opportunities” in the Latin America region to produce high-value fruits and vegetables. That trend, according to the report, will help provide better opportunities for small land holders. 

Since 2000, the report said fruits and vegetables gained considerable importance in Central America, Mexico and Chile.

Research by INIA, Chile’s chief agricultural research institution, has contributed to a 1,000% increase in nut exports from 2001-2011 and a big increase in blueberry output. “From being practically an unknown fruit to farmers only two decades ago, today Chile is an important blueberry producer and exporter in the Southern hemisphere,” the report said.

U.S. trade statistics show that Chilean berry exports to the U.S. (excluding strawberries) rose from about $19 million in 2000 to $465 million in 2018.

Future growth

The report said Latin American and Caribbean production of fruits and vegetables have grown considerably in the last few decades, with most volume of exports bound for the U.S. and Canada. Free trade agreements have spurred that growth, according to the report.

In addition to the North American Free Trade Agreement, the U.S. has the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) and separate trade agreements with Chile, Colombia, Panama and Peru.

While Mexico has traditionally been the main fruit and vegetable supplier to the U.S., the report said Central American countries and Chile have played an increasingly important roles in the U.S winter fruit and vegetable market.

For example, USDA trade statistics show that U.S. imports of fresh fruits and vegetables from Central America more than tripled from 2000 to 2018, rising from $920 million in 2000 to $2.94 billion in 2018.

Likewise, U.S. imports of fresh fruits and vegetables from South America more than tripled from $1.27 billion in 2000 to $4.37 billion in 2018.

U.S. imports of fresh fruits and vegetables from Mexico from 2000-2018 grew at an even faster clip, rising from $2.04 billion in 2000 to $12.1 billion in 2018.

In 2017, Mexico, Peru, Guatemala and Costa Rica accounted for 75.4% of U.S. total fresh vegetable imports, according to the report.

For fresh fruits, the report said nine Latin American countries represented 92.3% of total U.S imports, led by Mexico, Chile, Guatemala and Costa Rica. 

Over the past two decades, harvested area of fruits and vegetables in Mexico increased 26.2% to 4.6 million acres. That compares with increases of 42.2% in Chile and 45.8% in Central America.

“The region’s traditional fruit and vegetable production and exports (Mexican tomatoes and avocados, Chilean grapes and peaches, Central American bananas and pineapples, for example) have risen considerably and have expanded to include, for example, Chilean cherries and cranberries; Central American chillies and peppers, and eggplant; and Mexican blueberries and raspberries,” the report said.

Reflecting favorable weather and labor conditions, Latin American and Caribbean countries may continue to enjoy a comparative advantage in fruit and vegetable production in the future, according to the report. That could be further strengthened by improving storage technology, infrastructure and production practices, according to the report.

Looking ahead, the report said that global population growth and improvements in per capita incomes will help fuel a 1.4% annual growth rate for bananas and tropical fruit in Latin America and the Caribbean over the next ten years. Bananas will account for about half of tropical fruit output, according to the report. Exports will grow at an even faster rate.

“Preference changes towards higher consumption of tropical fruits in developed regions, particularly in the case of avocado, should meanwhile stimulate a further expansion in trade,” the report said. The report said banana and tropical fruit exports from Latin American and the Caribbean are projected to grow at 1.7% annually between 2019 and 2028.

“Latin America/the Caribbean will continue to be the main source of global supplies in bananas and tropical fruits, with its share in global trade projected to remain close to 80% by 2028,” the report said.