South American Produce: How To Export To The U.S. And Canada In 5 Steps

If you are a small to a medium-sized grower in South America or Central America, you may be looking to the U.S. and Canadian markets to sell your goods. The demand for high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables is large in both of these countries, so the opportunity is great. However, many exporters may wonder where to start. In this blog we will provide tips on how to get your fresh produce to these large markets in 5 steps.

Step 1: Understand Your Import Requirements

The first step in any export is to determine if the goods you want to ship will be allowed into the country which you want to ship them. This is also known as an admissibility check.

Are your goods admissible?

Maybe, maybe not. Each country, and sometimes each state, province, or territory, can have its own set of rules for import. These rules are set by each country's respective government and enforced by Customs and other government agencies that regulate specific commodities.

The Role of Participating/Partner Government Agencies

The reason these regulations are in place is to protect each country's economy, environment, and its residents from threat. In the case of produce, one of those threats is an invasive species of flora or fauna that can travel with the goods and make itself cozy in a foreign land. Some of these species may have no predators, in the case of pests, or animals that eat them (in the case of plants), and therefore flourish and potentially devastate local agriculture. In order to prevent this from taking place, many fruits and vegetables will be regulated by not only Customs but also Partner/Participating Government Agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in Canada.

Additional Organic Produce Import Requirements

Below is a summary of each country's import regulations.

Canadian Produce Import Regulations:

Considerations When Importing Produce Into Canada

U.S. Produce Import Regulations:

  • Admissibility and documentation requirements vary depending on the country of origin and type of produce you are importing. To ensure your produce is eligible for admission into the U.S. please reference the Fruit and Vegetable Import Requirements System (FAVIR).
  • All shipments from South America are required to obtain a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) import permit. You can obtain an import permit electronically through the e-permits system. Your permit will detail all import requirements. If you are not located in the U.S. you will need to have an agent in the U.S. to apply for the import permit.
  • Tomatoes, peppers, and tomato and pepper plants have special import requirements. Click here to review the special import requirements for these products.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables are exempt from nutrition labeling requirements.
  • Fruits and vegetables in their natural state and not advanced in any manner further than necessary for safe transport are exempt from the country of origin marking rules. However, the outermost container in which the article ordinarily reaches the ultimate purchaser must be marked to indicate the country of origin of the article whether or not the article itself is marked.
  • Producers and packers are required to be registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and have a valid FDA registration number.
  • You will need to provide information on how the goods were processed, what state they are in at import (fresh, frozen, sliced, whole, etc.), and how they are packaged.
  • Your invoice will need to declare the Foreign Supplier Verification Party (FSVP), as well as their contact name, email, and duns number. 
  • You will be acting as the Importer of Record (IOR). Therefore, you are the party ultimately responsible for the accuracy and completeness of the import declaration; as well as, the payment of applicable duties and taxes into the U.S.
  • Duty and tax must be paid upon importation into the U.S.
  • The rate of duty is determined by the tariff of the commodity being imported, the value of the goods, and the origin of the goods.
  • Certain import documentation is required to be presented to the border services officer at the port of entry.
  • Your import may be subject to a customs review, inspection or audit prior to, during, or after the importation. Additional fees may be levied by the U.S. Government for these services.
  • You are required to keep your import records for five years following the date of import and can be audited by Customs at any point during this time.

Utilize Free Trade Agreements 

Don’t be discouraged by the many steps you see above… importing often looks harder than it is, especially when you work with a Customs Broker. However, some importers may shy away from this endeavor as a result of import duties. This is where the benefits of Free Trade Agreements come into play.

Here is the good news, much of the fresh produce imported, except for mushrooms and potatoes, are duty-free into Canada and the U.S. (yes, you read that right… duty-FREE!). In addition, Canada has Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Peru, and Chile to reduce the duty on those products to zero. These agreements also clarify the pest risk assessments that your goods will undergo upon importation.

The U.S. has Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Peru and Chile as well, which could reduce the duties due or eliminate duty altogether. However, some fruits and vegetables will still be subject to a U.S. agriculture marketing fee based on the net weight of the shipment. A few commodities that are subject to this fee are as follows: limes, mangoes, potatoes, mushrooms, blueberries, raspberries, hass avocado, and watermelon.

Enlisting the help of a Customs Broker that operates in both Canada and the U.S. will greatly help you navigate these regulations with ease.

Need to import produce into the U.S. or Canada? We can help! Contact us.

Step 2: Determine The Best Mode Of Transportation

In order for your produce to arrive in the U.S. or Canada in optimal condition, there are several measures that must be taken, the first being the mode of transport.

The method of shipping you require is based on the type of produce and the required delivery time. Both air and ocean freight are transportation options from South America. 

Shipping via air freight will require compliance with the International Air Transportation Association's (IATA) perishable regulations. The air mode will provide the fastest route to your chosen delivery point, however, it can be quite costly. Air is best used for fruits and vegetables that have a short shelf life. We recommend that you speak to your transportation provider to determine if this is the best option for your needs.

Ocean freight has less specific transport requirements but it is recommended that ocean cargo follow regulations from the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Ocean freight can also be a more cost-effective, yet timely mode. Ocean is the most popular mode of transport for fruits and vegetables exporting out of South America.

The most important aspect of transportation is in choosing your carrier, which we will discuss next.

Step 3: Source Your Cold Chain Carrier

Temperature and timing are critical factors when shipping produce. You will want to select a Cold Chain partner that will help ensure your cargo is packaged using the correct insulated packaging, moved at the correct temperature in transit, and arrive quickly, safely, and on schedule.

Step 4: Review Your Export Steps

Some countries in South America have certain export regulations that must be met. We recommend that you work with a Freight Forwarding Agent in South America that is familiar with the export process for the specific commodity you want to ship. This Agent will review all the necessary steps you will need to take in order to export compliantly and help you do so.

Step 5: Export!

Now that we understand the import regulations of the destination country, the best modes of transportation, and the importance of selecting a capable carrier and knowledgeable agent, you are well on your way to exporting produce from South and Central America.

Happy exporting!

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About Author
Ralf Steinberg

Ralf has been working in the Freight Forwarding Industry for over 30+ years. He started his Freight Forwarding career in Bogota, Colombia at the age of 14 working in Export Department at Lufthansa. His professional career began in Bremen, Germany, and continued in Colombia and now in Toronto, Canada. In Colombia, Ralf was first in Buenaventura, Colombia (Ocean Operations) and then in Bogota, Colombia (Sea and Air Sales Manager). Ralf brings extensive international sales experience within the Freight Industry. In 2018 he was invited to speak at the CPMA Convention Workshop in Vancouver B.C., helping International Produce Suppliers to understand the importance of perishable transportation in their business.

While we strive for accuracy in all our communications, as the Importer of Record it is incumbent upon your company to ensure that you are aware of the requirements under the new regulations so that you maintain compliance as always.