Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Wisconsin companies can connect with Nicaraguan customers and distributors at the Americas Food and Beverage Show in Miami in October.

Nicaragua is considered to be the least developed country in Central America. With a GDP of $19.9 billion (PPP) and a total population of 6.2 million, Nicaragua has a relatively small labor force compared to other Central American countries. The average GDP per capita is about $3,300, and approximately 45 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, whereas the average proportion living below the poverty line throughout Latin America is 33 percent.

Nicaragua imports $6.2 billion worth of goods annually, which gives the country a negative trade balance by more than $1 billion. The principal import sources are the U.S., China, Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica. U.S. exports of goods to Nicaragua in 2016 were $1.5 billion, up 16 percent from 2015 and up 96 percent from 2006.

The top export categories in 2016 were machinery ($224 million), mineral fuels ($188 million), electrical machinery ($115 million), and knit apparel ($90 million). U.S. total exports of agricultural products to Nicaragua totaled $221 million in 2016. Leading domestic export categories include corn ($53 million), soybean meal ($44 million), prepared food ($15 million), wheat ($14 million), and pork and pork products ($11 million). U.S. exports of services to Nicaragua were an estimated $414 million in 2015 (the latest data available), 3.2 percent more than in 2014. Leading services exports from the U.S. to Nicaragua were in the travel, transportation and financial services sectors.

The agricultural sector, including livestock, forestry and fisheries, suffers from drought, floods, poor irrigation systems, limited infrastructure and thin credit markets. Despite these challenges, primary agriculture is an important sector in the Nicaraguan economy, accounting for 20 percent of GDP. Coffee, beef, sugar, tobacco, fruits, vegetables, shrimp and lobster are among the leading Nicaraguan agricultural products. On the other hand, wheat, yellow corn, rice, soybean oil and soybean meal are among the leading Nicaraguan agricultural imports from the U.S.

The majority of imports in Nicaragua are purchased through a local importer, distributor or wholesaler. Local distributors and agents generally handle distribution and sales of imported products through wholesale, self-service (supermarket or convenience store) or retail ("mom and pop" store or informal vendor) channels. Sales and marketing techniques in Nicaragua are similar to those employed in the U.S. Trade fairs and industry-specific shows are common. Nicaraguan companies have begun to adopt modern marketing techniques, including door-to-door advertising, point-of-sale promotions and internet sales. Spanish-language sales materials are a must.

The Americas Food and Beverage Show is the largest food and beverage trade event in the Western Hemisphere. The 22nd Americas Food and Beverage Show will be held Oct. 1-2, 2018, in the Miami Beach Convention Center. In 2016, more than 11,000 people attended from 92 countries. (The 2017 was canceled due to Hurricane Irma.) The trade show is particularly interesting for attracting potential customers and distributors from Latin America.