Saturday, July 20, 2024

US resumes avocado and mango inspections in Michoacán

The governor of Michoacán Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar confirmed on Monday that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will resume inspections of avocado and mangos in the state after a ten-day suspension following an incident that threatened two USDA employees.

Governor Ramírez also said that officials from both governments had agreed on a new security model for the avocado export sector.

Employees in an avocado processing plant in Michoacan move around large carts of avocados
The suspension cost local avocado growers approximately US $52 million. (Juan José Estrada/Cuartoscuro)

Why did the USDA suspend avocado and mango inspections?

Two USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) inspectors were reportedly detained and/or attacked during a road blockade in Aranza, a town in the municipality of Paracho, Michoacán on June 14. In response, the USDA paused avocado and mango inspections and the State Department reissued its Level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory for the state.

When will inspections resume?

On Friday, Salazar issued a statement saying APHIS employees would gradually return to packing plants in Michoacán. 

“It’s still necessary to make progress to guarantee the safety (of the health safety inspectors) before we can achieve full functioning,” Salazar said in his Friday statement.

Salazar traveled to the state capital of Morelia on Monday to meet with Governor Ramírez Bedolla and private sector representatives to discuss the security issues, concluding with a press conference announcing the lifting of the suspension.

Michoacan Gov. Alfredo Ramirez Bedolla standing at a podium
Michoacán Governor Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla downplayed the incident cited by the U.S. government, in its decision to pause avocado inspections, saying that the two inspectors were caught up in a civil demonstration and were never in real danger. (Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla/Twitter)

Mexico’s Agriculture Minister Victor Villalobos thanked Salazar in a post on X, saying that “this reflects what can be achieved working together for a common goal: the well-being of producers, workers and inspectors, their families and communities; as well as the environment and its natural resources.”

AMLO weighs in on the suspension

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador criticized the suspension during his Monday morning press conference.

“We’d prefer that the U.S. government avoid unilateral actions. We’re on good terms … that’s not the way to handle things,” López Obrador said. “Why such high-handedness? We could have talked this through instead of halting exports.” 

The president dismissed the alleged attack as a minor incident but said he respects the way the U.S. government works. Despite complaining that “this sets a poor precedent,” he did express gratitude toward Ambassador Salazar for working to resolve the issue quickly.

How much have avocado and mango producers been affected?

Representatives of the avocado export industry said the suspension — which didn’t affect fruit exports already in transit, but did halt other exports — cost growers approximately US $52 million, according to the newspaper La Jornada.

Exporters claim that the damage was particularly severe since demand for avocados increases ahead of the July 4 U.S. Independence Day celebrations, even more so than for the annual NFL Super Bowl game in February.

Avocados are a top Mexican agricultural export to its northern neighbor worth billions of dollars each year. The state of Michoacán is Mexico’s No. 1 avocado producer and exporter. 

Mango producers say they lost roughly US $30 million, claiming that about 5,000 tonnes of mango were affected.

Producers in Michoacán say the security concerns are not limited to U.S. inspectors. Farmers in the state have long dealt with extortion rackets perpetrated by powerful organized crime groups seeking to profit from the lucrative trade.

With reports from La Jornada, El Universal and Reuters

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