Recently, the United States Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service temporarily suspended the importation of avocados from the Mexican state of Michoacán.* The suspension was in response to an alleged cell phone threat made to an inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture while conducting inspections in Uruapan, Michoacán, according to APHIS.
Accordingly, APHIS informed the Mexican National Farm Food Health, Safety and Quality Service that it was initiating an investigation to assess the threat and “determine the mitigation measures necessary to guarantee the physical safety of all its personnel who work in Michoacán.”
What stands out is not just how disproportionate the steps the United States took, but also the lack of any connection between an incident that should be a police matter and border closings decided by a plant health agency. Stopping the shipment of hundreds of thousands of tons of avocados looks more like the kind of economic sanction Washington typically applies to countries it wants to submit to its political, economic and ideological policy than an effective measure that would ensure the safety of its agricultural inspectors in our country.
We have to remember that U.S. administrations, Democratic and Republican alike, have resorted to similar measures against Mexico. This was the case with U.S. Tuna II (involving Mexico) starting in 2008, and more recently, threats to impose progressive tariffs on all Mexican exports, in the context of the immigration crisis during the Donald Trump administration.
Today there is no greater cause of friction between Washington and Mexico than the constitutional reform driven by Mexico on the issue of generating electricity. To resolve this, there have been high-level meetings between Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and officials from Washington, and a working group has been established to evaluate the environmental aspects of the common interest in the energy sector.
It would be regrettable as well as unreasonable for the U.S. to deviate from established models of conflict resolution in their bilateral relationship, which implies it must seek a solution to each dispute through established procedures and prevent any of these disputes from infecting all bilateral ties.
America’s understandable concern over the safety of its employees in Mexico, in general, and its sanitation inspectors, in particular, has to be resolved precisely in the domain of public safety, and not in the context of trade.
We hope that the export of Michoacán avocados resumes soon, and that the U.S. resolves the case of telephone threat and imposes appropriate punishment.
*Editor’s note: The U.S.D.A. lifted the ban on Feb. 18.