Delays importing food called costly to consumers

Residents and visitors are paying 20 percent extra for food products because foreign shipments are taking an excessive amount of time to clear agricultural inspections.

That is the view of Randall Benavides Rivera, president of the Cámara de Exportadores e Importadores de Productos Perecederos, the perishable food chamber.

He and Mario Montero of the Cámara Costarricense de la Industria Alimentaria brought their complaints this week to the legislature’s Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Agropecuarios.

Benavides said that the process of bringing food products into the country was prolonged and increases the retail price paid by the consumer. He said that sometimes 12 to 15 days are required for a shipping container to clear agricultural inspections. The cost of keeping a container in government hands is about $350 a day, including renting the space, the container and the electrical hookup, he said.

The additional costs, he said is passed on to the consumer and estimated that importing to  Costa Rica take up to three times as that in the United States or a country like El Salvador.

Montro was even more blunt. He said that importers have lost all credibility in the institutions involved. He noted that in May 2015 the Ministerio de Agricultura y Gandería inexplicably and unilaterally halted importations from Chile.

A legislator who is a member of the committee, Danny Hayling Carcache, said it was clear that the Servicio Fitosanitario del Estado had infringed on a number of international agreements. The service is part of the agricultural ministry. He said that the agricultural health service appears to have taken decisions that are more political than technical.

The Servicio Fitosanitario del Estado has been in the news for blocking the importation of hass avocados from México and other products from Chile.  Hayling cited complaints of the sanitary service putting products into quarantine over alleged plant diseases that are not enumerated in the laws covering the agency.

U.S. Ambassador S. Fitzgerald Haney has been involved in the controversy defending U.S. products.

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