Since the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement entered into force in 2012, Colombia has emerged as a leading importer of U.S. pork and a promising market for U.S. beef. Last year shipments of U.S. pork to Colombia reached nearly 100,000 metric tons valued at $222 million, while beef exports set a new record of 6,724 metric tons valued at $26 million. But 2020 has been a very challenging year for exports to Colombia, due mainly to COVID-19 related restrictions on economic activity but also compounded by a loss in value for the Colombian peso.
Don Mason, U.S. Meat Export Federation representative in Colombia, says restaurants and other foodservice operations were hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions, but activity is gradually beginning to return.
"Been a challenging year for meat imports into Colombia, but those meat importers are starting to make some good progress in the last couple of months," Mason says. "Even before COVID hit, they started off with exchange rate issues, closing out 2019 and coming into 2020, the dollar went way up and that started impacting importers' ability to price product, and then of course, COVID came along.
"It's been a long haul for Colombia. They had complete or partial lockdowns really from March clear through Sept. 1, a severe impact on food service. Of course, restaurants completely shut down for a long stretch in there and then they were able to do walk up and home delivery and that sort of thing. There was an initial serious impact on retail as well, but that situation has much improved and some of the food service product has actually been redirected into that retail stream."
Mason says many Colombian companies also recognized they needed to change their point of sale activities, online presence and brand promotions, and they've come to USMEF for assistance.
"We've been able to help them, stepping up their game," Mason says. "We've actually helped some of the businesses that didn't even have an online presence, build out an online presence and help them with their delivery services."
Colombia's meat processing sector is a major user of U.S. pork raw material and continues to be a "bright spot," says Mason. Some facilities are facing some labor-related challenges, but are managing to operate at or near full capacity.
"Processors in Colombia took a short dip, but recovered quite quickly and they're producing hotdogs and lower cost protein options that consumers are snapping up," Mason says. "They did have some challenges, but by and large, our major importers that use our product for processing have actually had pretty good success of keeping their plants running. They've had some lockdowns that impacted how workers can get to work and so on, but early on in the process, meat processors in Colombia were categorized as high priority industries."