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Dominican produce trade to be boosted by New York office

by Tad Thompson | November 12, 2009
Emerging produce exporters in the Dominican Republic have an initial plan to grow their businesses first by focusing on the New York City market -- and a new office located in the city aims to help them find success.

A highly tangible part of that plan was set to become official Nov. 14 with the grand opening of the Dominican Agritrade Resource Desk in the Bronx, NY. The director of the resource office is Josephine Infante, whose parents long ago immigrated to the Bronx from the Dominican Republic. She is also the chief executive officer of the Hunts Point Economic Development Corp. in the Bronx.

The Hunts Point Economic Development Corp. has a close working relationship with New York's Hunts Point Terminal Market. In recent years, as interest grew in exporting produce by the Dominican Republic, Ms. Infante connected the market with Dominican suppliers.

Ms. Infante told The Produce News that the Dominican Agritrade Resource Desk is a joint venture between the Hunts Point Economic Development Corp. and "the Dominican government -- and in particular the ministry of agriculture."

The Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement in 2007 was also a motivator for closer trade between the United States and the Dominican Republic, Ms. Infante said.

There is a large Dominican population in New York, and the Big Apple is additionally a natural marketing area for Dominican growers because of the nature of Dominican businesses. She explained: "Every ethnic community when it comes to the U.S. tends to focus on a niche to find work. The Dominican community since the 1990s has been very successful in opening up bodegas - delis - and supermarkets." In New York City, "There are almost 400 supermarkets that are independently owned by Dominicans. And for every supermarket, there are 10 bodegas surrounding them."

Combined, Ms. Infante said, these business have an "enormous amount of reach and possibilities for the Dominican product. It was a natural partnership to increase the presence of Dominican product here, in partnership with the supermarkets and bodegas."

She said that there has been "enormous growth in the production of produce in the DR in the last five years." There are 1,900 greenhouses in the Dominican Republic's central highlands that grow products like cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers. The greenhouse technology has come from "Europe, Israel and Spain," she said.

Beyond the greenhouse products, Ms. Infante said that the Dominican Republic is a significant supplier of organic bananas for the European market. The Dominican Republic is Europe's greatest source for the cacao it needs to produce chocolate, she added.

Bell peppers and hot chili peppers are other significant Dominican Republic exports, as are tropical commodities such as coconuts, mangos, papayas, lemons, limes, avocados, pineapples, seedless watermelons, a variety of squashes, ethnic roots and Asian vegetables.

At this time, many of these items are shipped by sea container to Miami. But efforts are underway to maximize logistics efficiencies in reaching the New York market, Ms. Infante said.

Agriculture is the second largest business in the Dominican Republic behing tourism.

Ms. Infante emphasized that the new resource desk, which is located next door to her existing Hunts Point office within the city's meat market, is "an outreach" location intended to be used to build sales.

The Dominican Agritrade Resource Desk has two allied offices in the Dominican Republic to ease "business-to-business contact and to take all interested parties down there to start some programs together."

The Dominican offices are also coordinating grower training to help producers understand the needs of the U.S. market. Working in cooperation with Primus Labs, a large food-safety program is in the immediate future for Dominican growers.

Ms. Infante noted that the Dominican Republic's efforts to build exports will not be limited to New York. "We will be focusing on all of the East Coast," she said.

A key participant in this expansion is the National Supermarkets Association, which was created by Dominican supermarket owners in New York almost 20 years ago. This group has expanded its reach along the East Coast and was set to co-host a gala celebration of the Bronx's new resource desk on the evening of Nov. 14. About 1,500 people were expected to attend.