With support from U.S. importers and non-specialty crop ag groups, Mexican avocado exporters sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue asking for swift action on a May 2016 final rule that approved avocado imports from all of Mexico.
The USDA currently allows only Mexican avocados grown in the state of Michoacán state to enter the U.S.
The letter said the final rule was based upon a detailed pest-risk analysis that showed expanding the program would not jeopardize the phytosanitary security of U.S. growers.
Although the issue is not specifically related to the ongoing negotiations on NAFTA, the letter alluded to the “strong unity” shown by the American Farm Bureau and similar organizations in NAFTA countries Mexico and Canada in another letter sent to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and his counterparts in those countries. In that letter, the farm groups expressed an eagerness to work with them and expand on gains achieved through NAFTA.
Besides produce marketers and associations, pork, grain, egg and other ag groups signed the letter requesting prompt action on Mexican avocado access.
The letter said that the final rule requires the implementation of an operational work plan which specifies in detail the phytosanitary measures that will comply with USDA’s regulations governing the import of avocados from Mexico. That operational plan, the letter said, has already been developed and was mutually negotiated and agreed upon by both countries.
“However, over one year has passed since the publication of the final rule and the work plan still needs to be signed,” according to the letter. “Without an official work plan, Mexican avocado access to the U.S., except for the State of Michoacán, remains nonexistent.”
Ron Campbell, government relations representative of APEAM, the Avocado Producers of Mexico, said the letter was sent Sept. 26 but the USDA has not responded other than to say the agency has received the letter. He said there are no issues that should further delay avocado access from Jalisco and other states.
“The final that was published said there was no additional phytosanitary risk associated with expanding the program to other parts of Mexico,” he said. Campbell said all that remains is for the USDA to sign the work plan agreed to by both countries.
With f.o.b. prices approaching near $90 per carton for Mexican avocado imports in September, Campbell said that U.S. demand has outpaced supply for avocados this year and supply from Jalisco could have helped meet demand. Jalisco is the state in Mexico most ready to export to the U.S.
The USDA said in 2014 that Jalisco produced about 90 million pounds of avocados. If all the fruit exported to the U.S., the USDA said Jalisco would account for 8% of total U.S. imports. That would not have a large impact on the U.S. avocado market or California producers, the USDA said,
Will Wepsala, legislative and public affairs representative for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said in an e-mail that the two countries must finalize and bilaterally sign an operational work plan. He said the USDA does not have a timeline for the process.
Press reports in the past have linked expanded Mexican avocado access to the quest for full market access for U.S. potatoes in Mexico, an issue that has been tied up in the Mexican courts.
In August, SAGARPA, the department of agriculture for Mexico, was ordered to continue to ban fresh U.S. potatoes from most of the country.
U.S. potato growers have been shipping to the 26-kilometer zone since 2003, and access was supposed to expand in 2013 to include all of Mexico, but opposition and court challenges from potato growers in Mexico has delayed that opening.