Machinery hiccup hits Colombian pitahaya exports to Korea, Japan -

Machinery hiccup hits Colombian pitahaya exports to Korea, Japan

Despite a free trade agreement (FTA) coming into effect between Colombia and South Korea, a machinery deconfiguration has put dragon fruit exports to the country and Japan on hold along with U.S. negotiations. Grower group Asoppitaya is seeking investments to rehabilitate its vapor heat treatment (VHT) equipment to get back on track with these prospective markets. 

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When visited Asoppitaya's packing plant in Pereira in August last year, the group's general manager Sandra Garcia was excited for an upcoming inaugural shipment to South Korea.

But it did not come to pass.

"Last year we managed to have everything ready to export to Korea, but unfortunately we had an electrical failure and the machine was deconfigured," she says.

The VHT machinery is supposed to keep the fruit, also known as pitahaya, at 46°C (115°F) for approximately three hours to meet the East Asian country's specifications.

The treatment is also required for exports to Japan, and forms a vital part of negotiations for U.S. access.

"We didn’t manage to configure it because it has to be done by a Japanese technician, so our attempt failed.

"It cost us a lot of money but we’re still going to try again and we’re looking for foreign investment to bring a Japanese technician.

"It’s a large investment that has to be made in repairs, we’re talking about US$50,000 and as small growers for us that’s a lot of money."

Garcia says discussions are underway with a South Korean company to provide the capital necessary to get the machine back on track, but she is open to further support.

She hopes the funding can be secured for repairs by the end of this year, getting the machine operational for the 2017 season.

In the 2015-16 deal, Asoppitaya exported 28 metric tons (MT) of pitahayas worldwide, to markets including Hong Kong, Singapore, Brazil, Canada.

When asked about the FTA with South Korea, Garcia says tariffs will be gradually reduced to zero over the next five years, and she will also try to use the agreement to improve some aspects of the export protocol.

"Specifically for pitahaya, the phytosanitary rules are not negotiated as it’s a sovereign right of every country. But what can be negotiated in line with the FTA would be the reduction of some costs to be able to comply with the rules," she says.

"In this case it'd be about organizing the feesof the inspector which are very high, between transport, food, overseas calls. It cost us almost 30 million pesos (US$10,230).

"An important message is that as small growers and business, we want to know the opportunities of every agreement very well. A lot of the time growers don’t make the most of these agreements because they’re not known in the productive sector."

What else could benefit from the Colombia-South Korea FTA?

In a search of Korea International Trade Organization (KITO) statistics, bananas appeared as the main fruit crop Colombia has shipped to the country in the past.

However, the last registered exports were in 2013 when 164MT were shipped, down from 360MT in 2011 and a much higher figure of 908MT almost two decades prior in 1993.

In a release, ProColombia has said there will be a staged reduction in tariffs to zero over five years for bananas and a minimum of seven years for pineapples.