Ecuadorian trade mission brings new company reps to Miami
By Paola Iuspa
Representatives of about 10 companies from Ecuador this week visited Miami for the first time looking to buy and sell products ranging from wood floors and flowers to construction supplies and legal services.
A delegation of 20 business people from Guayaquil, Loja and Machala transformed the Hotel Ramada Dupont Plaza into temporary headquarters for three days until Wednesday.
With not much free time to enjoy the view of the Miami River running just outside the hotel, the Ecuadorian exporters and importers met with more than a dozen of Florida counterparts during 130 person-to-person appointments scheduled for the three-day mission, organizers said.
Pedro Barquet, director of Indumad, an industrial manufacturer of tropical wood, said he was in town to identify buyers, distributors and representatives of his products, including treated and dried wood, wood floor and moldings.
"We want to bring to the American market the finished wood floor that only our company produces," he said Monday while lunching with other delegates in the hotel restaurant. Mr. Barquet said he planned to meet with 15 Florida-based companies interested in his products. His goal, he said, is to achieve sales in Florida of up to $80,000 a month.
After his country officially adopted the dollar in 2000, Mr. Barquet said, trade with the US has been slowly but steadily increasing.
"The dollarization has been beneficial to us," he said. "Right before it, we used to have constant devaluation of our national currency, el sucre. And it would hurt us."
Mr. Barquet said he would get orders at a quoted price one day only to find manufacturing costs shot up days later, swallowing his profits.
Since the currency conversion, Ecuador's inflation dropped to a current 22.4%, from 90.1% in 2001 and 60.7% in 1999, according to the Ecuadorian American Chamber of Commerce in Guayaquil.
Jorge Farah, the chamber's executive director, said he brought the delegation to Miami after representatives of the Florida Foreign Trade Association approached him with the idea. The trade mission is part of the association's TRADE-USA program. Headed by Ralph Puga, the Florida Foreign Trade Association quarterly invites Latin American delegations in an effort to increase trade with Florida. The City of Miami's International Trade Board, Enterprise Florida, the US Department of Commerce and the Miami-Dade Trade Mission Center of the Americas were co-hosts for the three-day event, Mr. Puga said.
With about 12.8 million inhabitants, Ecuador increased trade with Florida in the past year. Among Latin American nations, the South American country ranks No. 12 in trade with the state. Sales volume jumped to $1 billion last year from $767 million two years earlier, according to Enterprise Florida, a private and public partnership created to increase international trade and attract new businesses to Florida.
Ecuador ranks No. 21 in terms of Florida-origin export destinations, with sales reaching $373.3 million last year from $149.5 million in 1999.
Some trade mission delegates wanted to promote investment opportunities in Ecuador such as oil drilling, oil refinery and gold mining, Mr. Farah said.
"We are also looking for partners and capital venture for some other small projects," he said.
While other delegates said they didn't expect to sell or buy while in Miami, they wanted to meet as many potential buyers and sellers as possible.
"We want to analyze prices, product quality and designs," said Fressia Abad de Serrano, general manager of FADESE, a wholesale distributor of construction supplies in Ecuador. "We are looking for products that will sell fast." She said she planned to meet with 18 Florida companies.
Ramiro Guaricela, general manager of Blooms of Ecuador Corp., which produces and exports flowers, said his goal is to expand business in Miami. He already has six clients, with 30% of his monthly flower production committed to Miami.
About 50% of Mr. Guaricela's flower exports go to Italy. About 10% go to New York and another 10% to Canada, he said.
"We want to contact new clients and increase our Miami production volume," he said.
Ms. Abad de Serrano and Mr. Guaricela said they are trying hard to increase trade with the US. But they said the 18% interest they pay in Ecuador on letter of credits and other lending hurts.
"We have had the same interest rate since Ecuador was dollarized," she said. "They said they are going to reduce it but it never happens."
Mr. Barquet said things are not so bad. He said Ecuadorian importers pay high interests, but exporters pay about 14%.