These are dark times—especially for avocado lovers. Between President Donald Trump’s threats to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and his proposed 20 percent tax on goods imported from Mexico to build that wall, there’s a good chance that, at some point in the near future, there will be fewer avocados available to Americans, and those that will make it to grocery stores are going to be more expensive and of lower quality. So when you hear that 100 tons of avocados from Mexico were turned away at the US border last week, it’s easy to freak out and chalk it all up to the pending avocado apocalypse. (Avo-pocalypse? Sorry. Bear with me here.)
According to a report from Univision, on Monday, January 16, five trucks filled with 100 tons of avocados left the state of Jalisco, Mexico, for the United States—only to be rejected at the border three days later, on January 19, by the USDA.
Most of the 2 billion tons of avocados exported to the United States every year come from the state of Michoacán, Mexico, but in May 2016, the USDA Under Secretary Edward Avalos traveled to Jalisco to announce that Haas avocados from this state would be also allowed to enter the United States in order to bolster Mexico’s ability to supply over, year-round. There had previously been concerns about an “invasive species of Mediterranean fly which infests the Jalisco crop,” according to the Independent, and the USDA worked with avocado producers to mitigate that problem and make Jalisco avocados suitable for export.
That’s part of the reason this export—and subsequent halt—of avocados was a big deal. These avocados were the first to be exported from Jalisco to the United States. The trade publication Produce News even reported that there was a “planned celebration in Laredo, TX” to greet the shipment.
And sure, right now you might be thinking that we can thank Trump for ruining the avocado trade with Mexico. But this conflict actually isn’t his fault. The problem, rather, is with potatoes.
American growers tried to export potatoes to Mexico, but their shipment was denied at the border. So the Americans did the same with these avocados, in retaliation for the halted shipment of potatoes. As Héctor Padilla, the minister of Rural Development for Jalisco, told Mexican newspaper El Economista, the US government “would not ensure the entry of potatoes from the United States into Mexico, and as a consequence, the North Americans said: Well then the avocados can’t enter either.”
“That’s essentially the problem behind it,” added Avocado Producers and Exporting Packers Association of Mexico (APEAM) advisor Ramon Paz in an interview with Fresh Fruit Portal. “The organized potato growers of Mexico have been very effective in advancing their protectionist agenda, and the market hasn’t opened to American potatoes so the Americans won’t sign the avocado agreement.”
Mexico’s Agriculture Secretary José Calzada reassured the public that Trump isn’t to blame for this. “It has nothing to do with that. That was last week and the new Administration in the United States hadn’t arrived yet,” he said in an interview with Grupo Formula, as reported by Fresh Fruit Portal. After all, the shipment went out while President Barack Obama was still in office, and the avocados were stopped at the border the day before Trump was inaugurated.
According to Yindra Dixon, a public affairs specialist at the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, confirmed that the avocados from Jalisco are "not yet allowed into the United States" but added that this kind of delay is actually pretty normal when it comes to figuring out market access. "APHIS published a final rule in 2016 that would allow importation of fresh Hass avocado fruit into the continental United States, Hawaii and Puerto Rico from all areas of Mexico subject to a systems approach, but that access has not begun yet," she explained in an email to Extra Crispy. "The current systems approach in place applies only to Hass avocados imported from the Mexican state of Michoacán. So, before shipments can begin from Jalisco, the two countries must finalize and bilaterally sign an operational work plan."
But given America’s newly strained relationship with Mexico, even if this one trade dispute gets resolved, it seems like getting your hands on a ripe avocado will only become more of a challenge in the future—even if this trade dispute gets settled. Might be time to look into growing your own avocado tree, after all.
This story has been updated to include comment from the USDA.