Panama is starting 2010 with a boost to its fresh produce exports, as vice-minister for foreign trade José Domingo Arias announced at a press conference last week that Panama aims to rival Costa Rica as Central America’s largest exporter of pineapples.

Arias said Panama has great potential and is now in a position to exploit that, given the range of microclimates in its different regions, most importantly the Capira-Chorrera corridor in the west of the country. He added that so far, only 10 per cent of suitable area is dedicated to production in the regions benefiting from an ideal microclimate.

The government is encouraging exports with various measures, including a new law for investment in industry and investment certificates for agricultural exports. Trade agreements have also been signed with Cuba and Costa Rica and negotiations with Canada completed.

Arias believes that the melon, watermelon and pineapple sectors stand to be among the main beneficiaries of the new incentives. He said: “Pineapple production in Panama is very stable, so we can enter the market at times of shortage.”

He said that in 2010, Panama will increase the area under production of these three key export lines to 4,000 hectares, from 2,500ha in 2009.

However, there is still a long way to go before pineapple production reaches the scale of Costa Rica, where some 40,000ha are dedicated to the crop.