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Obstacles for Chilean grapes in the international market

The situation is currently difficult for Chilean producers and exporters of table grapes, the most important fruit species for local exporters. Exports were worth US$ 1,136 million last season, which translated into a fall of 11.1% compared to the 2016-2017 campaign. Also, the acreage devoted to this grapes represented 20.8% of the total fruit-growing area in 1997, while last year this percentage stood at 15.3%.

The drop in the returns generated by table grape shipments and the lower interest in expanding the fruit's plantations has been evident, especially in the northern regions.

The president of Empresas Sutil and director of the National Society of Agriculture (SNA), Juan Sutil, said that the main hurdle is that table grape varieties with a greater presence in Chile are no longer accepted by the international markets. "Varieties such as the Flame, Sultanina, Crimson and Red Globe are the most common in Chile. All have difficulties attached, although the most efficient producers could manage to achieve good results with the Sultanina and Crimson," he said. The entrepreneur said that, in any case, "switching to other varieties will be necessary; in fact, about 20% of the local acreage is in that process, but he sees complexities in the shipments of grapes from Atacama and Coquimbo. "The window that Chile had to ship its earliest harvests abroad was lost there. Countries like Peru, Brazil and the United States have later varieties, which are more appreciated by foreign markets," he said.

The president of the Sociedad Agrícola del Norte and also director of the SNA, María Inés Figari, defines the situation of table grapes in the Coquimbo Region as "sad. Growers have been hit very hard by their difficulties, as their sales have not been yielding good results," she said. In the opinion of the trade union leader, another of the difficulties is just how old the plantations are in the area. "In the region, the average plantation is 24 years old. This entails a serious problem, since those varieties are not appreciated abroad. Unfortunately, table grapes were almost a monoculture until these difficulties started," said Figari.

The president of the Association of Agricultural Producers and Exporters of the Copiapó Valley (Apeco), Lina Arrieta, has a similar outlook. "In the past, more than 50% of our table grape exports were going to the United States. This has now changed, and Asian buyers demand more resistant varieties, because the journey to these markets is longer," she said.

Figari said that one of the alternatives is to promote the sale of raisins, either directly or through third parties. For his part, Sutil suggests that citrus and almonds could yield good results in the area. Arrieta said that Copiapó remains committed to grapes, but that citrus and olive trees could also have potential.

Peru, the United States and Brazil have become fierce competitors for domestic producers.

Source: El Mercurio

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