- BBC News World, Mexico City
In the middle of Super Bowl weekend and while thousands of fans tasted guacamole in Los Angeles, the United States unexpectedly announced that it was temporarily stopping the importation of Mexican avocados.
The reason, according to Washington, was the threat received by one of its officials while inspecting this fruit in the state of Michoacán, where the so-called “green gold” has become a source of confrontation between organized crime.
The reasons are obvious: the avocado business moves millions of dollars and creates thousands of jobs thanks above all to the trade relationship between the two countries.
Mexico, the world’s leading avocado producer, has its northern neighbor as its main client. And in the US, where interest in this fruit has grown exponentially in recent years, most of the avocado that is eaten is Mexican.
The measure came into force last Friday, which was followed by a series of express meetings between authorities from both countries to analyze how to guarantee the safety of US inspectors and thus unblock exports.
And although Mexico has since been optimistic that the situation would be resolved very soon, the US responded Thursday that, almost a week later, his stance has not changed.
“We will resume these (avocado) inspections as soon as possible,” the US Department of Agriculture limited itself to saying in a statement, without specifying its opinion on the measures proposed by Mexico to untangle the conflict.
Why was the export stopped?
The US assures that its security team in Mexico considered “credible” the threat that one of its agricultural health inspectors in Michoacán received against him and his family.
Department of Agriculture officials work on-site in the Mexican state to ensure that agricultural products meet the requirements to protect their country from pests and diseases.
Shortly before receiving the threat, Washington reported, its inspector questioned the integrity of a particular shipment of avocado and refused to authorize it.
Currently, Michoacán is the only certified Mexican state that meets the requirements to export to the US. This is despite the fact that it is also grown in other nearby entities, which has sometimes caused tensions with neighboring producers.
This Monday, the Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador He assured that after the decision “there are many interests, economic, political, there is competition, they do not want the Mexican avocado to enter the US or to prevail due to its quality” in that country.
What solution did Mexico propose?
Since then, representatives from Michoacán and the US embassy in Mexico held meetings with local producers this week. to try to find a solution to the conflict.
Mexican authorities proposed several measures on Wednesday to reduce violence in the region, where extortion by cartels is common, and guarantee the safety of those who work in the avocado sector.
Among other proposals, it was contemplated the escort to trucks that transport the product, a radio communication network and a monitoring center to track vehicles, as well as the implementation of fixed and mobile checkpoints.
A permanent action cell was also put on the table with the Ministry of Public Security.
After these meetings, the Mexican participants were always optimistic about the dialogues and the position maintained by the US representatives regarding their proposals.
“We have had two work sessions and I think we are a few days away from the suspension being lifted, especially due to the response of the North Americans in the meetings,” said the governor of Michoacán on Thursday, Alfredo Ramirez Bedolla.
What did the US respond?
The ball was therefore now in the court of the US, which promised to analyze Mexico’s proposals and provide a response as soon as possible.
And this Thursday, although he did not express his opinion clearly on these measures, his government stated in a statement that his position remains the same.
“The Department of Agriculture hopes that this situation will be resolved in a way that ensures avocado exports can resume, while saving the lives of the people who work to put avocados on American tables.” are not at risk for simply carrying out their protection duties,” it reads.
“We must receive guarantees that the lives of our employees are not at risk (…). We will establish protocols to resolve the situation as soon as possible”, He adds without giving more details of expected deadlines or upcoming meetings between both parties.
In the text, the US is especially critical in assuring that “security incidents in Mexico have not been limited to the avocado program.”
Thus, he recalls how an employee of the Department of Agriculture who worked on its programs against fruit flies and citrus pests and diseases in northern Mexico was killed in 2020.
How does it affect both countries?
Although the avocado that was already being shipped to the US at the time the measure was taken on Friday was not affected, the impact that this blockade will have on both sides of the border will be enormous, based on the figures.
For Mexico, avocado is its third most important export product behind beer and tequila. Last year, it produced 2.45 million tons of avocado, of which 75% comes from Michoacán.
Slightly more than half of the total Mexican production is exported, and eight out of ten of those avocados are sent to the US. According to data from the Michoacán government, its export generates 400,000 direct and indirect jobs, about.
For this reason, local producers have already expressed their fear that this ban will last over time, cause them to lose their harvest or have to sell it at a lower price than to the US.
The Association of Avocado Farmers and Packers of Mexico denounced that, only during the first weekend of the ban, they suffered losses of US$20 million per day.
For its part, the dependence of the United States on this commercial relationship is not minor.
The climatic conditions and its crops mean that the country only produces around 10% of its total consumption of avocados.
In 2021, almost 90% of what the US had to export came from Mexico, which was about US$2.8 billion.
Now, consumers in the US are beginning to wonder when this measure will affect the price and availability of avocados in their markets, which for many Americans has become a product of the basic basket.
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