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Connecting Central America

  • Duration:
    2018 to 2021
  • Cocoa and Cocoa Products, Coffee, Fresh Fruit and Vegetables, Fish and Seafood
  • Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama

Closed for applications

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The ‘Connecting Central America’-Programme aims to strengthen 60 Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) and cooperatives from Central America, between 2018 and 2021, in becoming (more) competitive on the European market.

The Central American Regional Economic Integration (INTEC) project is a project financed primarily by the European Union and coordinated by SIECA which aims at strengthening the economic integration in Central America (CA) and maximizing the benefits of the implementation of the Association Agreement signed between the European Union and Central America by reducing regional constraints to competitiveness and diversification in CAAs. One of its three project components aims particularly at strengthening Central American capacity to trade in goods and services. Within the context of this component, the EU and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands signed a cooperation agreement to jointly promote the advantages for Central American SMEs of the Association Agreement between the EU and Central America.

In this context, CBI executes the initiative "Connecting Central America"​ to support 60 Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) and cooperatives from Central America, between 2018 and 2021, in becoming (more) competitive on the European market.

The objective of "Connecting Central America" ​​is to strengthen the Central American capacity to market goods and services, through advice and support to SMEs in carefully selected value chains and the joint implementation with Business Support Organisations from the region. The performance of companies in Corporate Social Responsibility and the joint participation of Central American SMEs in European fairs are essential pillars of this initiative. The objective is for 48 SMEs to generate an additional export volume of € 90 million at the beginning of 2023.

Project details

CBI interventions are focused on specific selected sectors and take into account the entire value chain. The first step in the preparation of any CBI intervention is thus the selection and analysis of sectors/value chains. The selection of sectors and value chains in this project is based on a set of criteria, such as:

  • European market demand and opportunities in the sector;
  • relative size of the sector in Central American exports, export potential, and comparative advantage;
  • the importance/size of the sector in each of the CA countries;
  • the potential of the sector / value chain for intra-regional collaboration and intra-regional trade;
  • the number of SMEs in the sector with potential for the European market and in need of technical assistance;
  • potential impact on export growth and employment generation;
  • the possibilities the sector offers to generate a positive CSR impact – with a specific focus on gender, decent labour & responsible value chains;
  • and possibilities offered by the sector for value added products.

The following four sectors are selected for this project: 

  1. Specialty Coffees
  2. Cacao & derivatives
  3. Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
  4. Fish and Seafood

In these sectors, CBI has conducted Value Chain Analyses to identify market opportunities and bottlenecks in the chains, potential solutions, and defined strategies, both at micro (company) and meso (sector) level, to overcome bottlenecks and grasp the identified opportunities. Based on the outcome of these analysis, four sectors have been selected for the project. At the same time, partnerships have been sought and formalized with Business Support Organisations (BSOs) in Central America, in order to jointly address the identified bottlenecks and implement the strategies at micro- and meso-level.

Project participants

Central American SMEs, cooperatives and producer groups that want to (increase their) export to the European market, applied for participation in the course of 2018. Women-led companies were specifically invited to apply for participation. Pre-selected companies and cooperatives did undergo an ‘export audit’ and a financial audit by CBI experts and developed an action plan that will prepare them for the European market. Based on the audits, a final selection of participants was  made in the first quarter of 2019, based on criteria such as a company’s track record, production volumes, quality level, financial situation, willingness and ability to invest in product and/or process adaptations and/or certifications relevant for the European market and the willingness to invest in CSR.


CBI implements its activities in close collaboration with local partners. Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) weresigned in the second semester of 2018 with these partners, in which roles and responsibilities of each partner are described. Partners are public (e.g. official Trade Promotion Organisations) or private (exporter associations, sector associations, Chambers of Commerce). In these partnerships, CBI contributes with EU market expertise (through experts, trainers and market research) and the organisation of events in Europe, while local partners in Central America contribute with knowledge of the local situation and a network in the local SME community, as well as the organisation of events in the region.

Implementation phase

From March 2019 onwards the participating companies and cooperatives are receiving technical assistance. Individual coaching will focus on the implementation of the action plan made during the Export Audit and will take place during on-site visits as well as from a distance. This individual coaching will be complemented by group training sessions on general issues relevant for the European market, such as ‘European Market Access Requirements’, ‘Market Research’, or ‘Export Marketing Planning’, etc. in 2019, the participants  will also participate in a ‘Market Orientation Mission’ to Europe and develop an Export Marketing Plan (EMP) They will also receive support in the next years on the implementation of Corporate Social Responsibility within their organisations and will receive technical expertise in areas such as certification or access to finance.

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Participants that successfully pass the previous steps will move on to the European Market Entry stage, in which the focus is on establishing sustainable relationships with European buyers. Project participants will implement their on-line and off-line marketing strategy in this phase, with support from the CBI consultant, and will participate in European trade fairs or buyers’ missions to Central America.

Get involved as an importer

Are you an European importer interested in products from the above sectors from Central America? Please click here to get involved in this project!