Rick Alcocer speaks at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. ( Courtesy Canadian Produce Marketing Association )

Outgoing CPMA chairman Rick Alcocer, senior vice president of sales for Salinas, Calif.-based Duda Farm Fresh Foods, has worn a suit and tie more often in the past year than in his 30-plus years in the industry.

As the first “imported” Canadian Produce Marketing Association leader ever, though he’s served on the CPMA board for 17 years, Alcocer was immediately plunged into trade discussions on both sides of the border in support of the Canadian produce industry.

“I’ve been doing business here since the 1990s as a grower-shipper,” he said, “but being able to see the Canadian industry from the legislative and regulatory side has really helped me understand the interdependence we share in this industry, and the importance of effective legislation to keep it all moving smoothly.”

Traveling with CPMA president Ron Lemaire, Alcocer met with state senators, state assembly members and members of Congress and their staff to lend support to Canadian trade efforts on produce.

“I alone met with over 20 stakeholders,” he said, “while CPMA staff and volunteers held more than 90 meetings with politicians, political staff and senior bureaucrats, 60 of them discussing NAFTA.”

He was also active on market access and trade with emerging markets such as China and within the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“At Fruit Logistica in Berlin it was amazing to see the number of countries around the world unified under the umbrella of fresh fruit and produce,” he said.

Last fall, CPMA hosted two Ready for Trade luncheons in Ottawa and Vancouver with more than 20 foreign embassies to support ways to connect their produce industries to the Canadian market. Discussions focused on trade, food safety and doing business in Canada.

“The trade file will be ongoing,” Alcocer said, “but I’m confident we have a clear vision and message to government to ensure there are no barriers to trade when supporting existing markets and when developing new markets.”

As for NAFTA, “if negotiations turn out wrong for the produce industry it could mean lost business and unemployment in the agriculture sector in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, and ultimately much higher prices on fresh produce,” he said.

“On the bright side, among all the industries involved in NAFTA, the produce industry is probably the most aligned. All three countries want little to no change, and we all love free borders. A few adjustments need to be made, but these are miniscule compared to the overall issues some other industries are dealing with.”

After a year spent talking and listening, he said he’s amazed at the camaraderie and the desire among all three countries to work out something positive and move on.

Lemaire said Alcocer’s collaborative leadership style has been essential to address the issues and challenges facing the CPMA membership in the past year.

Alcocer said the Vancouver convention, organized by BC Fresh president Murray Driediger and his group of volunteers, is already a great success, and he’s looking forward to bringing his family up to Canada.

But the long-time rock and roll fan said he’s most excited about the closing night’s entertainment, Randy Bachman.

“I’ve never stayed up past midnight at one of our dinners,” he said, “but this year I’m going all night long.”