Trade Wars

US suspends imports of Mexican avocados on eve of Super Bowl | Economic news

By MARK STEVENSON, Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico has acknowledged that the U.S. government suspended all imports of Mexican avocados after a U.S. factory safety inspector in Mexico received a threat.

The surprise suspension was confirmed late Saturday on the eve of the Super Bowl, the biggest sales opportunity of the year for Mexican avocado growers — though it wouldn’t affect game-day consumption since those avocados had already been shipped.

Avocado exports are the latest casualty of drug cartel turf battles and extortion by avocado growers in the western state of Michoacan, the only state in Mexico fully licensed to export to the U.S. market.

The U.S. government has suspended all imports of Mexican avocados “until further notice” after a U.S. factory safety inspector in Mexico received a threatening message, Mexico’s agriculture ministry said in a statement. .

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“U.S. health authorities … made the decision after one of their officials, who was conducting inspections in Uruapan, Michoacan, received a threatening message on his official cell phone,” the department wrote.

The import ban came the day the Mexican Association of Avocado Growers and Packers unveiled its ad for this year’s Super Bowl. Mexican exporters have removed expensive ads for nearly a decade in an effort to associate guacamole with a Super Bowl tradition.

This year’s ad shows Julius Caesar and a group of gladiator fans outside what appears to be the Colosseum, easing their seemingly violent differences while enjoying guacamole and avocados.

The association did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ban, which hits an industry with nearly $3 billion in annual exports. However, this year’s Super Bowl avocados had already been exported in the weeks leading up to the event.

Since the United States also grows avocados, American inspectors work in Mexico to ensure that exported avocados do not carry diseases that could harm American crops.

It wasn’t until 1997 that the United States lifted a ban on Mexican avocados that had been in place since 1914 to prevent a range of weevils, scabs and pests from entering American orchards.

Inspectors work for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services.

It’s not the first time that violence in Michoacan – where the Jalisco Cartel is waging turf wars against a collection of local gangs known as the United Cartels – has threatened lawyers, the country’s most lucrative crop. State.

After a previous incident in 2019, the USDA warned of the possible consequences of attacks or threats against American inspectors.

In August 2019, a team of inspectors from the United States Department of Agriculture were “directly threatened” in Ziracuaretiro, a town just west of Uruapan. Although the agency did not specify what happened, local authorities said a gang stole the truck the inspectors were traveling in at gunpoint.

The USDA wrote in a letter at the time that “for future situations that result in a breach of security or demonstrate an imminent physical threat to the well-being of APHIS personnel, we will immediately suspend program activities. “.

Many Michoacan avocado growers say drug gangs threaten them or their family members with kidnapping or death unless they pay protection money, sometimes amounting to at thousands of dollars per acre.

On September 30, 2020, a Mexican APHIS employee was killed near the northern border city of Tijuana.

Mexican prosecutors say Edgar Flores Santos was killed by drug traffickers who may have mistaken him for a police officer and a suspect has been arrested. The US State Department said investigations “concluded that this unfortunate incident was a case of Mr. Flores being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The avocado ban was just the latest threat to Mexico’s export trade stemming from the government’s failure to curb illegal activity.

On Thursday, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office filed an environmental complaint against Mexico for failing to stop illegal fishing to protect the marina of the critically endangered vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise.

The office said it had requested “environmental consultations” with Mexico, the first such case it has filed under the US-Mexico-Canada free trade pact. The consultations are the first step in the dispute settlement process under the trade deal, which entered into force in 2020. If left unresolved, it could eventually lead to trade sanctions.

The Mexican government has largely abandoned attempts to impose a no-fishing zone around an area where the last vaquitas would live in the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of ​​Cortez. Nets set illegally for another fish, the totoaba, drown the vaquitas.

And on Monday, Mexican fishing vessels in the Gulf of Mexico were “prohibited from entering U.S. ports, will be denied port access and services,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said, in response to years of Mexican boats illegally poaching red snapper in the United States. Gulf waters.

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