For decades, the U.S. closed its doors to Mexican avocados; Today it needs it to meet its growing demand

2019 will see record imports of Mexican avocados into the United States: almost 90% of the one million tons of avocados consumed by Americans will come from the neighboring country, which leads the world in production. After being banned for decades in the U.S. – alleging phytosanitary issues, especially invoked by California producers – the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement opened the doors of the U.S. market to this Mexican product, first with reservations and since 2007 without restrictions. The arrival of Trump to the presidency marked a decline in imports, but since then they have not stopped rising.

The interest in healthy food has led to an increase in avocado consumption in the world

▲ Interest in healthy food has led to an increase in avocado consumption around the world

article / Silvia Goya

Social trends such as veganism or "real fooding" have increased the global production of avocados, a fruit valued for its healthy fat and vitamin content, which enlivens a multitude of dishes. In the United States, moreover, the food tradition of millions of Hispanics – the avocado is born from a tree native to Central and South America (Persea americana) – has encouraged the consumption of a product that, like few others, marks relations between the United States and Mexico.

The department The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicts that in order to meet the growing national consumption of avocados (which has multiplied by 5.4 since 2000, from 226,000 tons to 1.2 million in 2018), in 2019 the country will have to increase its imports significantly, so that they will constitute 87% to 93% of the country's economy. availability of product. This will mean an increase in imports from Mexico, which in 2018 already contributed 87% of avocados from abroad. This need for imports is due in part to production problems in California, the state with the highest production in the US (around 80%), well ahead of the second, Florida, and a major litigator in the past to prevent the production of the skill of the Mexican avocado.

Donald Trump's first year in the White House saw a slight decrease in Mexican avocado imports, which in 2017 fell to 774,626 tons. However, in 2018 a new record was reached, with 904,205 tons, with an increase of 17%, in a context of non-materialization of the trade threats launched by the Trump Administration, which finally agreed to the renewal of the free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. Last year, imports from Mexico accounted for 87% of total avocado purchases abroad; the rest, up to 1.04 million tonnes, corresponded to those from Peru (8%), Chile (2.5%) and the Dominican Republic (2.5%).

History of a veto

The B The rise in avocado sales in the U.S. has attracted the attention of drug cartels, which have clashed to control the business in some Mexican states such as Michoacán – the major producer of avocados, especially of the Hass variety, which is the most commercialized – giving rise to a "new drug trafficking." However, the history of controversy between the two countries over this berry goes back a long way. It was in 1914 that the then U.S. Secretary of Agriculture signed a notice A quarantine decree declaring the need to ban the import of avocado seeds from Mexico due to a weevil that the seed carried. In 1919 the "Quarantine of Nurseries, Plants and Seeds" was enacted. That framework was in place for decades.

During the 1970s, the discussion of the entrance of Mexican avocados in the U.S. market remained in the political spotlight due to the insistence of officials from Mexico's Plant Health Service. Investigations in several Mexican avocado-producing states, however, found weevils in some of the seeds, which did not allow the regulatory policy of the Animal and Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) to be changed. department U.S. Department of Agriculture. For this reason, in 1976 the USDA, in a letter addressed to its Mexican counterpart, stated that it should continue "as in the past, against the issuance of permits for the importation of avocados from Mexico."

Following these events, U.S. policy on avocados from neighboring China remained restrictive until trade liberalization and harmonization of sanitary and phytosanitary measures began to change the context in which governments examined plant health and import issues. For most of the twentieth century, the policy of protection had been to deny access to products that could harbor pests; In the last decade, however, the rules began to change.

The creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 and the World Trade Organization in 1995 paved the way for new Mexican requests for access to the U.S. avocado market. Although the goal One of the main aspects of NAFTA was the elimination of tariffs by 2004, and it also provided for the harmonization of sanitary and phytosanitary measures among trading partners. Nonetheless, this free trade agreement explicitly recognizes that each country can establish regulations to protect human, animal, and plant life and health, so when the risk of pest infestation is high, the country has legitimacy to put restrictions on trade.

With the implementation of NAFTA in 1994, the U.S. government came under increased pressure to facilitate the importation of agricultural products from Mexico, including avocados. This led to a shift in USDA's phytosanitary policy toward a new "mitigation or technological solutions" policy. APHIS is the branch of government in charge of implementing the phytosanitary provisions of NAFTA in the case of the United States. This body considered that fruit flies – present in a wide variety of species – could also be found in Mexican avocados, so officials from Mexico's Plant Health Service had the difficult task of proving that this insect was not present in their avocados and that those of the Hass variety were not susceptible to attack by the Mexican fruit fly. Between 1992 and 1994, Mexico submitted two plans for work with their respective investigations. The former was rejected while the latter, despite pressure from the California Avocado Commission (CAC), was accepted.

This second plan called for Mexican avocado access to 19 of the 50 U.S. states during the months of October through February. At the end of June 1995, the USDA issued a proposal of rule which described the conditions under which Hass avocado grown on approved plantations in Michoacán could enter the U.S. It was at the end of 1997 that the USDA published a rule authorizing the importation of these avocados to the United States. This was the first time the USDA used the so-called "approach systems" to manage the risks posed by quarantine pests.

At the end of the second shipping season, in February 1999, Mexico requested the expansion of the programme to increase the issue of U.S. states to which it could export and allow the shipping season to start a month earlier (September) and end a month later (March). In 2001, the USDA met with the Mexican Plant Health Service and agreed to consider expanding the importing states to 31 and import dates from October 15 through April 15. The good relationship established between Presidents George W. Bush and Vicente Fox had a clear influence on this expansive movement.


Imports in tonnes. In 2018, imports of 1.04 million tonnes (87% from Mexico) [source: USDA]

Imports in tonnes. In 2018, imports of 1.04 million tonnes (87% from Mexico) [source: USDA]



For five years, Mexican avocados had been shipped to the U.S. without detecting a single pest. Although the expansion of Mexican avocado imports seemed inevitable, the CAC filed a lawsuit against the USDA from California, alleging that Mexican avocados did have pests. In response to this, the USDA carried out a research and published in 2003 a draft from "assessment pest risk" which confirmed that Mexican avocados did not carry the fruit fly.

The USDA had shifted from its previous position of domestic protection to a new position that benefited imports. Thus, in 2004 the USDA issued a new rule to expand the import program to all 50 states for 12 months of the year. This rule It envisaged that in California, Florida and Hawaii the importation of avocados would be delayed for up to a year in order to test the effectiveness of the proposed regulations. Therefore, until January 2007, Mexico was not allowed to export avocados to California and Florida; Since then, it has been allowed to export to all states year-round, quickly making the U.S. the world's largest importer of Mexican avocados.

Until 2017, the import of Mexican avocados remained stable; However, as previously indicated, with the arrival of Trump to the White House, relations between the US and Mexico once again faltered around various issues, one of them being the export of food from Mexico to the US, with avocados as an emblematic case. The new U.S. president threatened a 20% tariff on Mexican avocados to finance the wall he intended to build on the border.

In June 2018, Trump again threatened to impose a 25% tariff on avocados, and later in May 2019 threatened to impose a 5% tariff on all goods from Mexico.

In March 2019, when the migratory wave occurred, the US president threatened to close the border with Mexico and consecutively withdrew his decision, however, the simple fact that Trump threatened to close the border has already caused the price of avocados to rise by 34%.

U.S.-Mexican avocado relations remain unstable. Although much progress has been made since the implementation of NAFTA, various interests are still at stake that could lead the US to reduce the import of Mexican avocados. It is difficult for avocados to escape the uncertainty inherent in the bond between the United States and Mexico.

More blog entries