Latin America is a region that is characterized by being a net exporter of agricultural products, having in this category all goods that are classified in the first 24 chapters under the Customs Tariff. In other words, the region as a whole exports more agricultural products than those that it imports. This is true for the region as a whole, and for each country in particular, with one exception, Venezuela, which is a country in deficit in terms of its foreign trade of agricultural products. This means that it imports more than it exports.
Is it possible to reverse this relationship? Is it possible to turn Venezuela into a net exporter of food? Is it possible to take a great leap forward in the field of agricultural exports? We believe so. This is entirely possible. There are many factors or variables that must be taken into account in order to achieve such a goal, but it is not impossible. What’s more, we believe that it is a long-term goal, requiring as a preliminary step some sort of agricultural revolution. We believe that even with the current quality and productivity levels, it is possible to increase agricultural exports with a series of measures in the logistics, health, institutional and customs field, among which we can mention the following:
Agricultural products do not circulate on the international market today – or at least do not penetrate the major consumer markets of Europe and North America – if they do not comply with stringent health standards. For instance, it won’t be possible to export most fruits and red meats if they have not been checked of being free of the fruit fly or foot-and-mouth disease. Hence, the fight against these two scourges, among others, should be turned into greater state goals, behind which the entire country’s institutional capacity, from both the public and private sector, is put to work. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and some friendly countries that have been successful achieving these goals can provide rapid cooperation in this matter.
This should be done using clear and categorical laws and through rapid and transparent procedures. This would prevent taxes from being exported and free exportable products from cost elements that limit their international competitiveness. Likewise, the exporting process requires rapid, paperless and non-invasive or destructive customs formalities, in order to prevent exportable goods from taking more than a day to get from the farm or manufacturing company to the hold of the ship. Such a goal is entirely possible, since countries that export fresh fruits have achieved it without any problem.
The transport logistics, warehousing, and the cold chain, have to ensure the speed, low cost, safety and quality of the product. It is necessary to eliminate unnecessary tolls, insecurity on the roads and highways, the poor state of the same, reduce waiting times in ports prior to shipment, the paperwork, the controls and bureaucracy as much as possible.
The Single Window for Foreign Trade, which is a reality in almost all of the continent, is one of the possible mechanisms that would save time and money, reduce unnecessary paperwork and increase international competitiveness.
We need to find market niches, on the international market, to place special quality products of greater value. There is a growing demand for organic and low-sugar products. The traceability of the products being offered is also important today. All of the above requires internationally recognized certifying companies.
Finally, on a non-exhaustive, but merely illustrative, list, it is necessary to take everything relating to e-commerce seriously, which requires not only a nice web page, but to expedite the treatment process of small shipments in customs, as well as to generate payment mechanisms and access to the international banking system that are not only an expression of the desire of governments to get their hands on all the funds flowing across their borders.