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US lifts Mexican avocado trade ban after threat to inspector

Exports of Mexican avocados to the US will resume after a threat to a US inspector resulted in a temporary halt to inspections, cutting off Americans’ primary supply of the popular fruit.

The US Department of Agriculture’s Plant Health Inspection Service on Friday said it had enacted additional measures to keep its inspectors safe after one individual received a threat on February 11. Inspections and exports will resume immediately, the US agency said.

The US’s halt to inspections of avocados last week came during peak growing season and just before the Super Bowl — one of the days with highest demand as viewers traditionally feast on guacamole while watching the American football championship.

The halt was ordered after a US inspector received a threatening phone call, Mexico’s foreign ministry said in a statement, though few details have been made public.

Michoacán is the only Mexican state with a licence to export avocados to the US. It has been rocked by extreme cartel violence in recent years. Its 2021 homicide rate was 56 per 100,000 people, according to government data, more than double the national average.

Avocados — known as “green gold” — have become one of Mexico’s most valuable agriculture exports as US per capita consumption has soared. In 2021, the US imported $3bn worth of avocados, with more than 90 per cent of that coming from Mexico, according to the USDA.

The dispute over avocados comes at a time of heightened trade tensions between the neighbouring countries over issues ranging from proposed US electric vehicle subsidies to a Mexican plan to concentrate the electricity market and lithium production in state hands.

Since last week’s suspension, US officials, Mexican state and federal governments and the producer’s association held talks to try to reach a deal on how to keep US inspectors safe.

Michoacán Governor Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla on Thursday said he proposed an independent intelligence group within the avocado producers, packers and exporters association, in addition to a security unit made up of National Guard and state security officials. The industry generates some 300,000 jobs in the state, he said.

Kenneth Smith Ramos, who was Mexico’s chief negotiator for the US, Mexico and Canada trade deal and is now a partner at trade consulting firm Agon, said Mexican authorities and industry had acted quickly. He said he hoped there had been lessons learned from this experience that could apply to other crops too.

“It is a serious issue because you start seeing a spilling over of the security problems that Michoacán has,” he said. “It is something that should put up a red flag in Mexico in terms of making sure that there is proper co-ordination at all levels of government.”

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