How Philadelphia’s Chilean & American Chamber of Commerce helps the ag trade

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Like most other organizations in the U.S., the Chilean & American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia (CACC) has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. The non-profit’s main source of income – its events – have either been canceled this year or moved online, creating big challenges for an entity that has been a major proponent of imports from Chile to some of the most important ports of entry on the U.S. East Coast. 

FreshFruitPortal.com spoke with Christina Lista, the Chamber’s Executive Director, and Miriam Borja-Fisher, Senior Business Development Manager for Western Fumigation and the Chamber’s Treasurer, to hear more about the organization’s critical work, the difficulties it has faced over recent months, and what it has planned for the future.

“This chamber really was built by the importers and service providers here, because they needed a place to get together and help the industry expand, especially through advocacy with government regulators,” Borja-Fisher explained. “The Chamber is very much business-focused, and as a group of American companies reaching out to agencies such as the USDA and FDA, the Chamber and its members are excellent facilitators for progress, ” Borja-Fisher said.

Founded in 1988, the Chamber’s members include importers and other organizations involved with the import of Chilean products through the ports of entry in southeastern Pennsylvania (Port of Philadelphia), southern New Jersey (Gloucester Terminal) and Delaware (Port of Wilmington). 

Those ports play a huge role in Chilean trade, collectively receiving around 70% of all fruit imports to the U.S. from the South American country.

“Our members are all competitors, but they come together under the chamber for a common cause,” Lista said. “And so through the chamber we maintain the strong ties between Chile and this region.”

Borja-Fisher added: “Even now there have been new markets that have opened up to Chile, I think the close ties between the Philadelphia region and Chile are still extremely strong.

“We are very connected to ASOEX (The Chilean Fruit Exporters’ Association), and we try to go every year to meet with the exporters, growers and the different organizations.”

Supporting the Chilean fruit industry through tough times

Over the last few decades, the chamber has raised the cause of Chilean exports on many key issues that could have greatly impacted trade.

“In 1989 we cooperated with the Chilean Government during the grape scare,” Lista said, referring to the incident involving two grapes from Chile allegedly found tainted with cyanide. “We also helped to facilitate Chile’s exemption from the Bioterrorism Act of 2002.” 

That act, implemented after the September 11 attacks, implemented additional restrictions on any country exporting food to the U.S. and would have significantly disrupted Chilean fruit exports.

The Fruit Exporters’ Association (ASOEX) asked the Chamber for help. Borja-Fisher and fellow Chamber Board Members were able to get ASOEX executives an audience with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) responsible for the ruling to demonstrate that Chile already had sufficiently rigid control systems in place.

“We were able to have Chile become the very first country to be exempted from that requirement. So that’s a very concrete way that we have helped the industry in the past,” Borja-Fisher said.

The CACC also stepped in in late 2013 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was on the verge of suspending Chilean blueberry imports over the prevalence of the European Grapevine Moth (Lobesia botrana). With its help, the USDA agreed to continue to allow blueberry imports if they were fumigated.  

“So the CACC has been extremely beneficial. We have many examples throughout the decades of where we’ve helped Chile on the regulatory front when things would have gotten very difficult and the market could have been inaccessible to them.”

Lista added: “We also have a big reach here in our community. I’m constantly working with different partners, like the City of Philadelphia’s Commerce Department and the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay, and we’re able to all band together.” 

“It continually happens every single time that an issue is raised, we all come together to support Chile.”

Covid-19 challenges and future events

This year has been particularly tough for the CACC, as it is funded largely through events which over recent months have been canceled amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We had to cancel our Annual Experience the Taste of Chile Dinner. We also had the 10th Anniversary of the Summer International Business Networking Reception planned for mid-summer, and I think we have to consider all of our events through the end of 2020 at least to be either virtual or completely canceled,” Lista said. “So there was a big loss of revenue for us.”

Fortunately, the CACC did have some major support from the Diamond State Port Corporation out of Wilmington, Delaware, who contributed US$45,000 to make up for the lost revenue from the canceled events.

But even though the CACC has not been able to host in-person events and bring the community together like it usually does, it has done some virtual programming, such as recently partnering with ProChile – which recently announced it is opening an office in Philadelphia – and the City of Philadelphia to host a webinar promoting the Chilean IT industry as part of the B PHL Innovation Fest.

“In addition to that, I’ve been working very closely with the agricultural department at the Chilean Embassy where we’ve been having virtual meetings with various Chilean trade associations, trying to figure out how we can partner together to capitalize on the CACC’s platform here and how we can continue to promote Chilean products in the Philadelphia region and serve as a virtual partner for them,” she said.

The CACC recently hosted a webinar in partnership with Chile a Digital Country entitled “Why Nearshoring IT Services is the Best Option NOW” and is in the midst of planning their annual Fresh Fruit Workshop, which will be virtual this year.

For updates, visit the CACC’s website at www.caccgp.com.

 

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