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Producers celebrate the departure of avocados from Jalisco. Producers celebrate the departure of avocados from Jalisco.

As trade talks loom, US halts avocados

Jalisco producers upset after last-minute snag stops historic shipment

Amidst steadily growing worries over the future of Mexico’s trade with the United States comes an incident on the border that some might think is a presage of things to come. But what will Americans say if there’s no guacamole to go with their Super Bowl nachos?

Five trucks carrying a shipment of 100 tonnes of Jalisco avocados were stopped last Wednesday at the Mexico-U.S. border and rejected by American authorities.

The director of the avocado producers’ association of Jalisco was surprised by the decision issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as producers in the state had been working alongside that agency for months to meet its technical requirements.

“We are unaware of what happened,” said Ignacio Gómez, adding that it was not clear if the decision was related to President Donald Trump’s assuming office on Friday.

The Rural Development Secretariat of Jalisco stated that last May the USDA officially certified the avocado production of several municipalities, granting them an export-grade qualification.

However, more administrative barriers went up, further delaying permission for the fruit’s export. But further negotiations cleared the way.

The endorsement in their pocket, producers from the municipality of Zapotlán el Grande shipped the first batch of avocados aboard five trucks with an official ceremony last Monday where representatives of the federal government and the USDA were in attendance.

Two days later, the shipment was stopped at the border in Reynosa, Tamaulipas due to “setbacks in the implementation of the required protocols,” as the Rural Development Secretariat of Jalisco explained it.

On Friday producers decided to redirect part of the shipment to Canada and the remainder to the domestic market.

Apparently, the agreement between both countries was that Jalisco avocados would be granted access to the U.S. if that country’s potatoes could enter the domestic market in return.

That part of the agreement “got complicated” earlier last week, triggering the USDA’s rejection of the Jalisco avocados, said the state’s Rural Development Secretary.

“This will pass simply as an awkward moment,” said Héctor Padilla, who acknowledged the anger of producers but urged that everyone involved must move on because “in the end what we’re looking for is to open up an important market for the producers and business people of the state.”

“. . . Negotiations with the United States are always variable, never comfortable. This is not the first incident, but we’ll get nowhere by fighting,” he said.

“We are not in a hurry to sell, it isn’t that we have no markets. We are interested in entering [the U.S.] because it is a market that we want to win . . . Our fruit is currently sold in 18 or 19 countries.”

“The fruit of Jalisco is of the best quality, thus we’re in no emergency situation. It’s no big deal if they do not open their doors now,” asserted Padilla.

But what if they do close the doors on both Jalisco and Michoacán avocados? A columnist with the Spanish newspaper El Independiente suggested on Friday that the avocado was a key in the debate over imposing tariffs on Mexican products.

American voters, wrote Marta García Aller, might not take kindly to an import tax that causes avocado prices to skyrocket and makes Super Bowl guacamole a luxury.

“In a time of post-truth politics, it’s the most unexpected things that raise awareness among the population,” she wrote. “And the stomach is one of those things.”

García cited the rising price of Marmite in the United Kingdom and the fact that it became a symbol over the fear of inflation that Brexit (the U.K.’s exit from the European Union) would cause. Comparing Marmite (“a peculiarly British spread,” wrote García, being kind) to avocados is a bit of a stretch, but perhaps the analogy is valid.

“Should Trump renegotiate NAFTA,” the columnist concluded, “not even something as American as the Super Bowl might be safe.”

Source: Milenio (sp), El Informante (sp), El Independiente (sp)

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