McALLEN, Texas — Conventions are often showcases for providing shining examples of hope and opportunity.

The inaugural America Trades Produce conference offered that through networking events and presentations on Mexico’s advances in food safety and technology.

At the same time, the show didn’t ignore what’s on the minds of anyone doing business in Mexico: the growing violence tied to drug cartels.

“Yes, we have difficult times in Mexico,” said Ian Vega, director of operations in Mexico for Edinburg-based Frontera Produce Ltd.

“We have seen how fear has grown in the past few years. We have seen the increase of potential security risks in Mexico,” Vega said during the “Doing Business in Unsettled Times” panel.

Even so, he said, the business climate is still healthy.

“(My job) has taken me to a great amount of territory in Mexico, and I have seen how growers are working,” Vega said. “They are not stopping. On the contrary, the growers are still investing, they are improving their facilities.”

He predicted U.S. demand for Mexican fruits and vegetables will continue, and volumes will remain steady.

Andres Fernandez, director of Mexico and Central America for PrimusLabs, showed maps of the Mexican states with the highest levels of violence, and the major routes cartels use to ship drugs.

He advised people traveling in Mexico to get to know the locals, who tend to know what areas are safe and unsafe.

Jaime Chamberlain, president of J-C Distributing Inc., Nogales, Ariz., called Mexican president Felipe Calderon’s fight against the cartels admirable.

Chamberlain said the perception of Mexico being an unsafe country to live in or do business in is unfortunate.

“This is not what Mexico is about,” he said.

“I can’t stress enough to all of you to continue,” Chamberlain said, adding that maintaining a consistent supply to buyers is critical.

He said one of his biggest selling points is taking groups to the farms in Mexico, and while he still does this, it takes a little more convincing on his part.

Vega said Frontera hasn’t been directly affected, but said the company’s growers are cautious and vary their schedules.