(Aug. 13) SANTIAGO, Chile — More than 2,000 fruit growers and exporters, some of whom had traveled distances close to 1,000 miles, on Aug. 8 decried the exchange rates to do business with the U.S., saying it’s one of the factors putting extreme pressures on the fruit industry there.

The emergency meeting was organized by Fedefruta, which is Chile’s fruit growers’ association, and ASOEX, its export association.

For the past five years, the industry has been buffeted by the high value of the Chilean peso in relation to the U.S. dollar, said ASOEX president Ronald Bown.

“The crisis we are suffering is not one of our own making,” Bown said.

The high value of the Chilean currency is a by-product of the sustained high price of copper, which Chile exports in vast quantities. Concerns expressed at the meeting were that high copper prices would irreparably damage the fruit industry by driving the small- and medium-sized producers out of business.

Arturo Costabal, executive vice president of Unifrutti Traders Ltd., said Chile’s image in export markets needs to be improved, citing a successful a campaign in New Zealand.

Other speakers highlighted the fact that government resources dedicated to Chile’s Servicio Agricola y Ganadero, the country’s agriculture department, had not risen in recent years, undercutting efforts to battle plant diseases.

Among a series of demands put forward by speakers were calls for more immigrant laborers to be permitted to work in peak season and relaxation of the country’s strict labor laws.

Bown said that only through unifying the agricultural sector could progress be achieved.

Talking about government economic policy, Jose Ramon Valente, executive director of the economic consultant firm Econsult, said that while certain measures could be taken to alleviate the situation, he feared worse was to come.

“Agriculture in Chile has suffered a 30% loss in competitivity since 2003,” he said.

Chilean exporters discuss challenges
Ronald Bown, president of the Santiago-based Chilean Exporters Association, speaks to the media at the first national meeting of Chilean fruit producers Aug. 8. The meeting was organized in response to mounting economic pressure and other issues causing concern in the country’s produce industry.