The United States issued a ban on avocados imported from Mexico after one of its agents carrying out inspections in Michoacán received a threatening message.
The United States suspended all imports of avocados from Mexico on February 12 “until further notice” after a threat received by a U.S. plant safety inspector in Mexico.
The inspector works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services.
Mexico’s Agriculture Department said in a statement that one official of the U.S. health authorities received a threatening message on his official cellphone. He was carrying out inspections in Uruapan in the state of Michoacán, the department wrote.
Michoacán is the only state of Mexico with phytosanitary certification that allows exports of avocados to the United States.
For more than a year now, Michoacán has been particularly subject to drug cartel violence between members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Cárteles Unidos.
For instance, the city of Aguililla has been at the center of a territorial fight which forced residents of the city to leave home.
Last week, the Mexican army raided several dozen cities in Michoacán to restore law and order. The aim is to expel the Jalisco Cartel and deal with the Cárteles Unidos to discuss pacification.
In Michoacán, gangs extort money from avocado growers by threatening to kidnap and kill them. The U.S. has been worrying for years that drug cartel violence would spill over to threats against U.S. inspectors.
After a similar incident in 2019, the USDA warned Mexico it would suspend the program if the inspectors’ safety wasn’t guaranteed.
The United States, the largest client of Mexican avocados
With 2.56 million metric tons of avocados between June 2020 and July 2021, Mexico is the largest avocado producer in the world, accounting for 30% of global production.
The United States accounts for 80% of Mexican avocado exports. The U.S. anticipated buying 1.04 MT in 2021-2022.
The U.S. grows about half the avocados it consumes and 90% of its imports come from Mexico. It was only in 1997 that the U.S. lifted a ban on Mexican avocados that had been in place since 1914 to prevent a range of weevils, scabs and pests from entering U.S. orchards.
The ban was implemented on the eve of the Super Bowl, a night where guacamole is eaten en masse in the U.S. But the ban didn’t affect the Super Bowl as “Mexican avocados have already been exported. […] Americans already enjoyed the avocados”, said Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at his daily news briefing.
He also said producers who wanted to compete with Mexican products, or political factors, played a role in the decision.
“In all of this there are also a lot of political interests, there is competition. They don’t want Mexican avocados to get into the United States because it would rule in the United States because of its quality”, López Obrador justified.
López Obrador explained the bans were more about an overall political attitude of countries towards Mexico.
The avocado ban was the latest of several actual or potential sanctions last week on Mexican exports.
On Thursday, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office filed an environmental complaint against Mexico for failing to stop illegal fishing to protect the critically endangered vaquita marina, the world’s smallest porpoise.
And on Monday, Mexican fishing boats in the Gulf of Mexico were prohibited from entering U.S. ports, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. Mexican boats illegally poached red snapper in U.S. waters in the Gulf for years.
“We don’t need foreigners telling us what to do or placing sanction on our country’s fishermen”, López Obrador said last year.
The president of Mexico advocates for local communities and national sovereignty.
In an attempt to increase Mexico’s energy sovereignty, AMLO planned energy reforms that make the United States worried.
The president of Mexico also recently evoked “taking a pause” from relations with Spain, which he still views as the former colonizer.
Update: The United States announced on February 18 imports of Michoacán avocados resumed after increased security measures.