Super Bowl Sunday is a football game and thousands of tons of God’s gift to western civilization, guacamole, AKA mashed ripe avocado, lemon juice, crushed garlic, diced tomatoes and a touch of hot jalapeño chiles — maybe America’s favorite snack.
That’s “thousands of tons” of avocados from Mexico to be savored by Americans for breakfast, lunch, dinner and Super Bowl parties.
Avocados are Mexican – Aztec word: aguacatl. Spanish conquerors discovered them in 1519 when they embarked on their several years-long conquest of Mexica. Avocados, like corn, vanilla, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turkeys and chocolate, were integral parts of the “Colombian Exchange.” That is the “label” for what has changed how the world eats to this day.
Corn, which is the most widely eaten food in the world today did not exist in Europe, Africa or Asia in 1519; nor did chocolate, vanilla, potatoes, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and on and on.
Corn did not exist in the wild. It was developed over centuries by Mexican Indian agronomists in the Valley of Mexico. Its Mexican Indian name, maize. Wheat existed in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, rice in Asia but neither existed in the Western Hemisphere.
Cattle and horses existed in Europe, Africa and Asia but not in the Western Hemisphere. Chickens came from Asia. Turkeys were domesticated by Mexican Indians and introduced to the world by Spaniards.
Avocados are native to Mexico. When leaving the Valley of Mexico and going south towards the Pacific Ocean one is struck by the view of miles of dense tropical forests when leaving the foothills into la tierra caliente, the hot lands. The forests are wild avocado trees as far as one can see.
Avocados could not be taken individually to Spain as they ripen days after being picked so the enterprising Spanish explorers simply dug up entire fruit-bearing trees and took them to Spain.
All in all, the “Colombian Exchange” initiated by Cristopher Columbus changed the world. Chinese, Korean, Japanese, German and Dutch food adventurers are continuing that world food revolution by snapping up avocados from Mexico; they do, however, have miles to go before they catch up with American avocado consumers.
Southern California congressmen in the early 1900s interfered with market forces by convincing the U.S. Congress to ban Mexican avocados from the U.S. They did so to protect avocado growers in California’s San Diego, Orange and Ventura counties. They claimed that a Mexican fruit fly would destroy nascent California avocado groves.
The U.S.-Mexican-Canadian free trade agreement of 1994 allowed limited importation of Mexican avocados east of the Mississippi River (1997). After extensive testing in 2000, the entire U.S. welcomed Mexican avocados. In 2016, 900,000 tons of Mexican avocados were imported into the United States, 50,000 tons just for Super Bowl Sunday consumption.
Amid cries that the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is the worst U.S. trade agreement and that NAFTA partners, Mexico and Canada, are ripping off the U.S. through large trade deficits, there are 300,000 joyful Mexicans that love Americans.
Mexican avocado growers, mostly in the state of Michoacán, north by west of Mexico City, cultivate over 100,000 acres of avocados. They produced the 900,000 pounds of avocados exported to the United States in 2016, 52,000 pounds to Japan and excited Germans and Dutch so much that avocado exports to Germany increased in 2016 by 237% compared to 2015 and an even larger 283% to the Netherlands.
NAFTA didn’t lower tariffs on Mexican avocados, it loosened import restrictions and set up new rules that allowed them to enter the U.S. en masse. Avocados are a perfect example of why NAFTA is, perhaps, the world’s most successful trade agreement.
Many California avocado growers continue to work despite higher costs of water and labor. Some are abandoning their tax-credited groves. Nonetheless, thanks to Mexico and Chilean avocado groves, American consumers have all the avocados they can eat at prices comparable to what they were decades ago.
Now enters a movement to tax imports and to subsidize exports from America; a Border Adjustment Tax. This, we are told, will help American industry and raise money so Congress can spend more.
Avocados (cars, televisions, etc.) will cost Americans more; some of the 300,000 Mexicans involved in growing and selling avocados will lose jobs and come illegally to the U.S. Mexico will undoubtedly apply an import tax on American goods and services that will cut American exports to Mexico, costing some Americans their jobs. Quid pro quo.
Mexico buys $13 billion more of American oil and oil products than it sells to the U.S. while it has a $2 billion surplus on avocados (1/26th of the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico). Why disrupt that?
Raoul Contreras is the author of “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade” and “Murder in the Mountains: War Crime at Khojaly,” both published by Floricanto Press. He formerly wrote for the New American News Service of The New York Times.