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CARIBBEAN MARKETS FOR AMERICAN GOODS
I. CENTRAL AMERICA
Central America, in common with the other countries making up the Caribbean group, is distinctly an agricultural region dominated by a small number of products. The success or failure of these crops influences to a marked degree the prosperity of the countries, and consequently the volume of trade. This is forcibly illustrated by the fact that coffee is responsible for over 75 per cent of the exports of Salvador, 35 per cent of the exports of Nicaragua, about 30 per cent of the exports of Costa Rica, and well over 75 per cent of the exports of Guatemala ; sugar represents 12 per cent of Nicaragua's exports, 5 per cent of Salvador's, 7 or 8 per cent of Costa Rica's, and 5 per cent of Guatemala's. Bananas make up almost 10 per cent of Guatemala's exports, about 20 per cent of Nicaragua's, approximately 50 per cent of Costa Rica's, and from 65 to 70 per cent of those of Honduras.
It is therefore apparent that the harvest time and the crop-selling seasons will be the major purchasing seasons. Accordingly, it is not surprising to find that actual export figures from the United States to Central America denote two distinctly marked purchasing seasons. An analysis of our monthly exports for the 12-year period 1913 to 1924, inclusive, shows highest total exports for that period in the months of October and December, there being a marked falling off in February, March, and April, with distinctly higher figures, approximating the totals of the fall and winter months, in May and June, and again dropping off during the summer months of July and August.
The above analysis refers to total exports by values from the ['nited States to all of Central America for the 12 years between 1913 and 1924. It is interesting to note that, despite wide variations in total yearly exports, there is a remarkable uniformity shown by general increases and decreases year by year according to the seasons ndicated above. Coffee, which is the most important single product of Central America, is picked from August to December, and the Top is practically all shipped by June; the sugar season extends approximately from December to May, while bananas represent a more venly divided all-year-round product, with the heaviest shipments aking place between April and September.
The extent to which the above-mentioned commodities enter into he commercial life of the country determines in a large measure he fluctuations in the monthly import trade of the particular ountry. For example, in Honduras, where coffee and sugar are ut minor crops, the seasonal variations are much less noticeable han in the other Central American countries with the exception of
Panama. In Honduras, in fact, a survey of several years show heaviest importations from the United States in the first thre months of the year—in anticipation of the banana crop, rather tha after it has been harvested.
Guatemala and Salvador, on the other hand, show very pro nounced increases in April, May, and June, dropping in the su ceeding months of the summer but rising markedly in Septembe and usually showing the greatest totals in November. Nicaragu also shows distinct increases in November, December, and January November being the highest month and July and August usuall the lowest, while Panama, because of the unique nature of its trad shows an even level month by month, although a slight increase observable during the last months of the year in anticipation of th tourist trade.
Statistical tables for a period of years bring out the fact thi there is an almost identical variation in the exportation of principi commodities from the United States to Central America, coincidin in general with total seasonal shipments. The following table show the chief commodities imported and the period of heaviest export tion by months from the United States to the individual countri of Central America in 1924:
The great purchasing seasons in Central America are therefore those which immediately precede our greatest export period to that region, namely, January, February, March, July, August, and September.
HOW TO SELL TO CENTRAL AMERICA
Considering Central America as a unit, the usual method for large merchants is to do business directly with the manufacturer or exporter in the United States. This is by no means the sole method, however, as in many cases sales are effected through commission agents with sample displays. Direct dealings are the general rule
with the larger merchants in practically all the Central American countries.
The main contact, however, should be made personally and not through printed matter. Central American merchants and importers, in common with so many others, have their mails crowded with papers, letters, and general advertising material, much of it in defective Spanish, and even though these be hurriedly read through, as a general rule they do not open a market. Such printed matter is, however, valuable as follow-up material. The original contact, and one to be renewed periodically to be most effective, should be a personal sales trip undertaken by the export manager or a competent representative.
In selecting commercial travelers to represent the firm great care should be exercised to choose high-type men, who not only can understand the habits of the people but who have a command of Spanish. It is of great importance that such men be thoroughly posted on customs regulations and transportation conditions, as otherwise losses of time and merchandise may very well result.
As pointed out above, the greatest purchasing seasons in Central America—that is, the most appropriate seasons for selling trips through this region—are January to March, and July to September, This, of course, applies only to general exports, as there are certain commodities which, because of their very nature, are of value at seasons other than those mentioned above. This would be the case, for example, with sugar-milling machinery, importations of which would take place probably at the conclusion of the grinding season.
CANVASSING CENTRAL AMERICA
In the following proposed route, schedules and time-tables have been used which are the latest available at the time of writing. It should be remembered, however, that time-tables and fares are subject to change without notice, and the steamship and railroad companies should be consulted for verification and exact times of departure. All prices are given in United States currency, as payment for transportation charges and hotel bills can be made in practically all towns and cities mentioned in American dollars.
COMMERCIAL TRAVELERS' ROUTE COVERING CENTRAL AMERICA
Central America can, of course, be approached in several different ways. The following route is recommended as a feasible and practical way to cover the various countries, permitting the commercial traveler a sales tour through Mexico at the conclusion of his trip through Central America.
Sailings.-From New York to Cristobal, Canal Zone: Vessels of the United Fruit Co. leave every Saturday at 11 a. m., going via Habana, Cuba, and arriving at Cristobal on the second Tuesday out. Among the other lines having sailings from New York to Cristobal are the Panama Railroad Steamship Line, the Grace Line, the South American Steamship Co., and the Pacific Steam Navigation Co.
In this connection it must be borne in mind that the start of the journey may equally well be made from New Orleans, San Francisco, or Los Angeles. The start from New York has been chosen merely as being representative and convenient.
Cristobal (Colon), Panama.Samples possessing no commercial value are admitted free of duty, while others are admitted under bond; and samples must be reexported through the port of entry unless formal notification to the contrary is given. A license is required of travelers to do business in Panama, being approximately $25 for periods ranging from one to six months. Municipal licenses vary in length and cost.
The most important commercial cities in Panama are Colon and Panama City, the chief wholesale houses being located in these two centers. Panama City is reached from Colon via rail in about two hours and at small cost.
Hotels at Colon: The Washington, Grand Imperial, Royal, Astor. Rates vary from $3.50 to $7 a day. Hotels at Panama City : Tivoli, European plan, meals a la carte, rates, $3.50 and $4.50 a day; Hotel Central, American plan, $3.50 to $7 per day; Hotel Internacional, Ameriean plan, $4 and $5.50 a day; and others. (The Washington Hotel at Colon and the Tivoli at Panama City are owned by the United States Government.)
Cristobal to Port Limon, Costa Rica. United Fruit Co. vessels leave Cristobal Wednesday afternoon, arriving at Port Limon the following day. The fare is approximately $25.
Port Limon is the Atlantic terminus of the transcontinental railroad across Costa Rica. Samples of no commercial value are admitted under duties of approximately 2 centavos per pound (about 14 cent Unit d States currency), but samples with value must pay full duties, returnable under certain conditions. The customs inspector should be consulted. There is also a small duty on advertising matter. No Government license is required to do business in Costa Rica, but the various municipalities impose a license fee in varying amounts. Charges for baggage will necessarily depend upon the number of pieces and will be levied on total weight. The traveler should be prepared for rather high rates on this score.
The three important commercial centers in Costa Rica are Port Limon, San Jose (the capital), and Puntarenas (the Pacific port). Other cities can well be canvassed from these three centers, as desired. Port Limon has a small population, but is the center of the important fruit trade and the headquarters of an important commercial area. It is the chief port of the Republic.
Hotels in Port Limon: The Lodge (privately owned), Park, Londres, Caribe, and America. Rates vary from $3 to $6 a day, American plan.
Port Limon to San Jose.—Daily trains leave Port Limon around 9 a. m. for a run of approximat:ly 6 hours. The distance is slightly over 103 miles, and the fare about $2.50. San Jose is the capital of the country and the chief commercial center. Hotels in San Jose: Grand Hotel Français, American plan, rates $3.50 to $10 a day; Washington Hotel, American plan, $3 to $8 a day; Europa, American plan, $3 to $5 a day; Continental, American plan, $1.50 a day. The larger wholesale houses have their headquarters in San Jose. The city also affords convenient headquarters for canvassing the near-by smaller cities. It should be remembered that the traveler is allowed only a small amount of baggage free on the railroad, th: rest being payable at the rate of about 1 cent per pound.