Tropical fruits and coffee are two of the products with opportunities in a market with great potential for growth, but challenging at the same time for Costa Rica and Central American entrepreneurs.

Tropical fruits and coffee are two of the products with potential market growth in China

Former Costa Rican ambassador to China, Marco Vinicio Ruiz, shared his experience with a group of Panamanian entrepreneurs in a forum organized by the National Council of Private Enterprise.

“… The challenge is not just to put the product on Chinese soil, but to have someone to receive it: ‘Despite the treaty, I do not feel there is a lot of transparency in Chinese customs offices. It depends a lot on which customs office the product enters through. A lot of the time it is important to have an importer who knows the ins and outs, and who can be trusted.”

Prensa.com reports that “…In such a large market there are importers and distributors. Forget about selling straight to a supermarket.” Furthermore, ” …’Chinese people are very bureaucratic. In the public sector, a number of requirements have to be fulfilled, something that can be slow, even overwhelming’, says Ruiz”.

“It is fundamental to know the culture and the customs of this ancient, pragmatic, loyalist ally of paperwork and bureaucracy,” said Ruiz to a room full of Panamanian businessmen.

“… The paperwork and processes for sending a product to China are complex. No matter how much a factory complies with international regulations, the Chinese authorities will send their inspectors in to evaluate it before making any decision.”

Ruiz said that last year 106 Costa Rican companies exported 164 products to China. Having said that, he added that the Chinese businessman respects a lot (the entrepreneur) who, interested in doing business, takes a plane to know the country headed to become the first world power.

“And the same thing happens in the opposite direction. Anyone who invites a Chinese entrepreneur to Panama will be more successful than not. Seeing and touching what they are going to buy is decisive for the Asians,” said Ruiz.

The former ambassador added that “tourism is key”, noting that Costa Rica’s strategy was to have many Chinese investors visit the country as tourists, and that would later return as investors.

But warned that doing business with the Chinese is a long process.

“In the case of the Costa Rican pineapple, which is recognized worldwide, China took three years to send its officials to do the inspection rigor: the waiting list of countries that want to enter the Asian giant is extensive,” said Ruiz.

The ambassador noted that doing business with China on an individual basis will mean little success. “Without public-private alliance one does not land in China,” concluded Ruiz.