chile exports

In early November, a Chilean court will rule on a US$108m lawsuit brought by 126 Chilean fresh fruit export companies against the nation’s Agriculture and Livestock Service (SAG) agency.

Chile’s exporters claim that SAG has overcharged them for years for mandatory fruit inspection and certification services carried out by the agency. And the exporters want their money back.

The history of the lawsuit dates back to 1990 when SAG first issued a decree setting forth the fee it charges fresh fruit exporters for providing them the inspection and certification services that are mandated by foreign markets. Chile’s fresh fruit industry exports more than 200m cartons of fresh fruit each year and the inspection process certifies to foreign buyers that Chile’s fruit is pest free.

Exporters at that time expressed concern that SAG’s fee was overstated because it included costs that were not directly related to the inspection and certification services that were rendered.

Still, it was not until 2007 that Fruit Exporters Association (Asoex) president Ronald Bown formally complained about the allegedly unfair inspection fees to Chile’s Comptroller General. And the Comptroller General agreed with Mr Bown’s position.

“The Comptroller ruled that the fees we are charged could only be based on costs directly related to the services that we were given,” said Mr Bown to Chilean daily newspaper El Mercurio. “And that SAG could not include it its fee schedule costs that were not directly related to the inspection and certification work done for us.”

Although the 2007 victory at the Comptroller General’s prompted SAG to lower the fees it charges fruit export firms, the companies decided to try to get back the money they overpaid in previous seasons – hence the now pending lawsuit for US$108m.

If the lawsuit is successful, companies receiving a settlement include: Dole Chile (US$4.7m), Unifrutti Traders (US$3.6m), Del Monte (US$3.3m), David Del Curto (US$3.2m), Copefrut (US$2.7m), Agricom (US$2.1m), Frusan (US$2m), Subsole (US$2m), Chiquita (US$1.9m), Rucaray (US$1.8m), Aconex (US$1.6m), and Río Blanco (US$1.5m).