DENVER – One of the fastest-growing regions for US pork exports is Central America. Exports there climbed almost 50 percent in value to $93 million in 2010 and they are up by another 15 percent so far in 2011.

To date, most of this growth has been in Honduras and Guatemala. Marketing strategies have led to this success, said Gerardo Rodriguez, US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) director of trade development. El Salvador and Costa Rica will be further developed as growth markets this year, with Costa Rica being especially attractive because of its relatively high-income level, he added.

Although Panama is also a potentially strong market for US pork, high tariffs currently make for a difficult economic climate. However, if the US-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement is ratified by Congress, that could soon change.

“In the case of Honduras besides working on the educational side where we train not only the importers and sales staff, we also work directly with retailers,” Rodriguez said. “Most of them are foodservice companies. The hotels and restaurants go to these retailers and they purchase products there.

“Now in the case of Guatemala, it is the biggest country regarding a population; of people who live far away from the city,” he added. “It’s a little more difficult for us to try to reach them. So that’s another reason we started working with big importer companies in order to try and reach the most amount of population of the country.

“We are going to start working in new markets,” Rodriguez continued. “We are going to start working in El Salvador and Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a country where people have a better income than some other countries in Central America.”

Although Panama is a promising market for US pork, Rodriguez explains that ratification of the US Panama Free-Trade Agreement is necessary in order to make it more economically feasible.

“All the different countries I mentioned have a tariff benefit for having this free-trade agreement with the US,” he added. “In the case of Panama, if they don’t have this free-trade agreement, we have to pay in pork 65% to 75% tariffs. This is very difficult. The moment the free-trade agreement is signed, we are going to be there.”