The main talking points included: quality, quantity and price; the growers’ treatment; and the sector’s industrialization to expand the types of product exported
(New York, May 9, 2014). The XXII Dominican Week in the United States (SemDomUSA) wrapped up last Friday night at CUNY’s (City University of New York) Dominican Studies Institute (DSI) with two events concerning the agricultural exports sector.
During the closing, William Malamud, Executive Vice-President of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Dominican Republic (AMCHAMDR), reminded us that SemDomUSA 2014 was in memoriam of Dr. Heredia Bonetti, the event’s primary founder and promoter. He also spoke of the quality of activities, and how the initiative would continue throughout the rest of the year in efforts of providing the subjects at hand the follow-up necessary to see concrete projects through; mutually beneficial and multi-faceted projects between the Dominican Republic and the United States.
Congressman Charles Rangel, aspiring Congressman Adriano Espaillat and the New York City Councilman Ydanis Rodríguez were present throughout different points of the events course and shared a few words.
Before the formal closing, a final panel took place. “Dominican Agricultural Exports: Accomplishments and Challenges within the DRCAFTA frame” was presented by CUNY Professor and DSI promoter Ramona Fernandez, and moderated by José Nelton González, President of the AMCHAMDR Commerce Facilitation Committee.
President of the Exports and Investments Center of the Dominican Republic (CEIRD), Jean Alain Rodriguez, was one of the first panelists. He recounted, stats included, the labor the Danilo Medina government has been doing to impulse agriculture production and exports on different levels. He said,
“The 2013 national exports represented $4 billion dollars. Excluding services, the agriculture and fishing exports represented 22% of the total, a 4% increase versus the previous year valued at $1.78 billion dollars. 42% of this, $746 million, was destined towards the USA.”
Rodriguez said that the CEIRD’s support towards the government’s sector propulsion strategy is based on the execution of internationalization programs and new businesses, fairs, commercial missions, consults, and partnerships with the growers. “Over two thousand people have been trained in the past twenty-one months.”
Rodriguez referenced a current agreement with the National Supermarket Association (NSA) to generate potential commercial relationships between growers and US supermarkets to foster exports. He also commented on a future market study that’s being constructed for a better comprehension of possible business opportunities. The CEIRD President mentioned the upcoming work they face, since they wish to certify the produce’s quality, and pointed out that the rejection of products that reach foreign ports has sensibly reduced. He explained,
“The challenged consists in modifying the primary exportation system and increasing productivity. Today, products have bigger and better access to international markets, including USA.”
Osmar Benítez, Executive Vice-President of the Junta Agroempresarial Dominicana (JAD) spoke second. He made references to current and past studies that present business opportunities in the United States. However, studies aside, he clearly explained some basic concepts that help when working with produce and exports. He said,
“There is a gigantic market we could conqueror. What’s missing? Exportable supply. We want to export and the backup to do so, but we lack capacity to take advantage of that market. We can’t meet the demand. We are working to expand the quantity and diversity of products, and increase the exportable capacity. There is also a lack of creativity to sell products that can be transformed and sold differently, and others that we treat as waste that can be sold in different markets.”
The JAD exec recognized that there is work to be done in the phytosanitary side of things. Regardless, he also thinks that politically there is the lack of will necessary to embark other markets, like in the US; the removal of prohibitions that exist over some products. “And build the necessary infrastructures – a cold chain – to maintain the products’ quality and care. We see that kind of will exists to make changes. And we have to strengthen these bonds in order to make the most out of DRCAFTA,” he explained.
James Biles, Associate Professor of Sociology and a core faculty member in the International Studies Program at CUNY, spoke of the connection between production and consumption. His speech focused on the growers’ protection through a better distribution among the profits generated by these exports. He said,
“High agricultural surface chains have taken over the production chain and transformed it. This obligates small growers to work with quality, quantity and price, and many times, they can’t meet the demands made by transnational businesses.”
President of Hunts Point Economic Development, Josefina Infante emphasized during her words the importance of teamwork when taking the opportunities, and the need to foster an industrial culture in the agriculture and fishing sector, so to produce exportable products; even if they’re not of national consumption. Infante said,
“We also need to work on health and food safety measures and produce what is demanded. For example, it’s not the avocado, but the avocado pulp. You don’t have to produce to produce for exports, but produce industrially to export what is being bought. And bonds must be strengthened and we must learn to make the most of timely commercial opportunities. Also how and to whom you sell to, comprehend the game rules, the culture here. We should train people to understand and how to compete in this dynamic industry. Industrialize without taking away what the Dominican Republic needs to eat.”
The last speaker was Angel Núñez, National Supermarket Association (NSA) Vice-President. After he explained the organization made up of concentrated local supermarkets in ethnical neighborhoods, and sharing the competition among big chain stores, he highlighted how important it is for their members to have ethnic products in an ever specialized, subdivided, large market. “And we have to deal with that. As well as the Dominican Republic has to constantly adapt to new market requirements,” he said.
Like Josefina Infante, he mentioned the importance of industrialization, like transforming the products from their natural state to one that will allow for more time to negotiate and ship. He spoke of the importance of having a quality control center, and the establishment of suggested retail prices for the destined market to avoid extortions. Also, the organization of intermediate markets to buy merchandise in the country and ship it to their representatives. “And that all implies paying attention to the grower.”
Núñez said that his supermarkets find value in leveraging their space as a promotional tool, and that, when on a tight budget, they emphasize service quality and customer relations. “And we must teach the public to appreciate our merchandise, culture and products.”
Lastly, he said that the NSA cannot solve the competition issue. “The product must be competitive. Everything sells here, but we can’t fool the consumer. We need consistency in type and size of product. And we offer market insights to determine what product to have and in what condition because I talk to my audience directly.”
After a few questions, the torch was passed to the final activity; the opening of a photograph exhibit called “Interior: Dominican Republic Harvests”, part of the VICINI collection.