(Oct. 17) NEW ORLEANS — Mexico had an increased presence at PMA’s Fresh Summit 2002 convention and exposition. The country had the largest booth available, representing 70 companies, and it brought more than 200 representatives.

But Mexico’s heightened participation at Fresh Summit had a purpose.

Javier Usabiaga, secretary of agriculture for Mexico, announced a countrywide initiative called Mex Best that will launch officially in March at Antad — Mexico’s version of the Food Marketing Institute’s convention and exposition.

Usabiaga said Mex Best, which has many components, was designed to increase Mexico’s share of the North American produce market. He said that currently, Mexico supplies about 17% of U.S. produce imports, representing more than $2.5 billion dollars for Mexico.

One key component of Mex Best is the government-sponsored seal of quality that reads “Mexico Selected Quality” or “Mexico Calidad Selecta.” Companies must be certified to use the seal, which guarantees quality and food safety.

Usabiaga said the goal of the seal was to put quality and food safety of Mexican products on the minds of North American consumers. At Fresh Summit, certified hass avocados using the seal were on display.

Another key component of Mex Best is the start of promotion boards, which will be allowed in Mexico beginning next year, Usabiaga said. That includes Mexico’s version of a 5 a Day program called Health and Farm Foundation (Fundacion Campo y Salud), scheduled to launch in March.

“We have to have the same promotions and programs in the three countries,” Usabiaga said. “We want to do our share as a market to increase demand and consumption.”

Mexico also launched its version of the Fruit & Vegetable Dispute Resolution Corp., Ottawa, at Fresh Summit on Oct. 14.

Matt McInerney, chairman of the DRC and executive vice president of Western Growers Association, Irvine, Calif., and Roman Gomez, chairman of the DRC in Mexico,signed paperwork launching the DRC — Mexico A.C., based in Mexico City.

“This entity and agreement we have signed is a link that was needed so we can understand the North American market,” Usabiaga said. “It is a tool necessary for confidence in trade. Now we have an entity in which three countries decided to come together and put in the hands of the industry the ability to solve problems and be fair.”

Gomez said that previously, Mexico didn’t have a proper system for inspection services. But since the government formed a credible inspection service over the past few months (offices are being established in Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara), the road was paved for the Mexican affiliateof the DRC.

Stephen Whitney, president of the DRC, said the commitment by the Mexican government to the creation of a government-run inspection service provides a better environment for the DRC to operate in Mexico. He also said the regulations governing the international DRC will prevail in Mexico.

McInerney said that with Mexico’s involvement in the DRC, there’s now a physical presence in Mexico that should lay the foundation for membership growth. By the end of the year, Mexico hopes to have more than 200 companies on board.

Miguel Angel Garcia Paredas, director general for Consejo Nacional Agropecuario, Narvarte, Mexico, said the DRC in Mexico could also become important for the domestic industry.
“We will use it internally to resolve disputes, and we want to provide a code of practice for Mexico,” Paredas said.
A direct buying program and FACE Agricola, two other components of Mex Best, also help assist trade between the three countries. Under the direct buying program, the government will link grower-shippers in Mexico directly to retailers in the U.S. to help eliminate unnecessary handling of the product and bring a better price to the producer.

To support the direct buying program, the government implemented FACE Agricola, which involves the purchase of accounts receivable by Mexican financial institutions. Mexican producers doing business with U.S. or Canadian retailers will get a discounted payment for their shipment from financial institutions within 48 hours of receiving the payment acknowledgement issued by the retailer.