Connecting Central America

Central America offers many high-quality products that appeal to the European Union (EU) markets. To promote stronger cooperation between the two regions,  the EU-Central America Association Agreement was signed in 2012. This agreement has created interesting opportunities for traders by making it easier and cheaper to import products from and export to Central America. 

In 2018, the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI) started the Connecting Central America project. The aim of the project was to help small and medium-sized entrepreneurs (SMEs) and cooperatives become more competitive in the European market. Also, its goal was to generate extra export volume. 

Project details

CBI carried out the Connecting Central America project together with the Secretariat for Economic Integration of Central America (SIECA). SIECA coordinated the project, and the European Union financed it. The project took place in the Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.
The Connecting Central America project was part of the Central American Regional Economic Integration (INTEC) project, which was carried out with several local partners

CBI's activities focused on many sectors in Central American countries. The goal of this project was to help SMEs become competitive in the EU markets and to generate an extra export volume of €50 million. 

64 companies took part in this export coaching project: 

  • 8 from the cocoa and cocoa products sector; 
  • 13 from the fish and seafood sector;
  • 17 from the fresh fruit and vegetables sector; 
  • 26 from the coffee sector. 



This project achieved many great results: 

Training and workshops 

The 64 participating SMEs from Central America received individual training from CBI experts. Also, the SMEs participated in several online and offline workshops on topics related to exporting to the EU. The topics included: 

  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR) sessions;
  • European market access requirements training;
  • Sales workshops; 
  • Market trends and research; and 
  • GAP training, such as 'how to use organic fertilisers'. 


Export volume and employment

All participants developed an export marketing plan. The additional export volume of the participating SMEs reached €105 million, almost double the original target. Also, the change in number of employees exceeded the target. The target for additional employees was 10%, but the project resulted in an 81,1% rise. 

Corporate social responsibility

All project participants worked on a CSR roadmap for their business. Some participants have already obtained the GLOBAL G.A.P. and or BRC certifications. These certifications take sustainability, labour conditions and the environment into account. The SMEs also achieved high scores on CBI's CSR cluster. 59 companies scored a 3 or higher (on a scale of 4), whereas we expected 48 to achieve this. 

Business contacts

Companies from all 4 sectors exhibited in Europe during trade fairs, such as the Seafood Expo Global, Fruit Logistica, Chocoa and World of Coffee. During the COVID-19 pandemic, CBI successfully organised targeted online B2B matchmaking sessions. 

During the 4-year project we counted 1193 new business contacts for SMEs. This exceeded the expected 800 contacts.                                                                                  

Get involved as an importer

Are you a European importer interested in products from companies in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua or Panama? Contact CBI to get more information or to meet with the suppliers from this project. 

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Anne-Marie Roorda Ask your question

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