Before NAFTA went into effect, Americans ate around one pound of avocados per person each year. These days, thanks in small part to a Millennial obsession with avocado toast, Americans eat an average of seven pounds of avocados every year. In a brilliant marketing move, Trader Joe’s offers affordable bags of “Teeny Tiny” avocados so we can puree, spread, or mash individual portions into smoothies or single serve guacamole without wasting any green, nutritional gold. Though NAFTA created year round access to fresh avocados, the latest NAFTA negotiations could wreak havoc on the cost and availability of supply to satisfy our avocado habit.
Citing concerns over possible infestations from seed weevils, the United States banned avocado imports from Mexico — for 83 years, between 1914 to 1997. In the context of free trade agreement negotiations, the United States and Mexico agreed to a controlled and heavily monitored lifting of the ban, opening the door to the U.S. market for Mexican producers. The increased competition was met with resistance particularly from Southern California avocado farmers, but over time, consumer demand has swelled to create significant opportunities for all growers.
Geographic and climatic factors naturally limit the volume of avocado production in the United States. Generally, the two locations where avocados can be grown are Southern California and Florida. California grows the kind of avocados American consumers are used to: brown, bumpy, Hass avocados. Florida grows a variation, referred to as “green” avocados. Mexico’s climate permits nearly 12 months of production. Today, 82 percent of the avocados we consume in the United States arrive here from Mexico.
A 2016 study by Texas A&M University concluded that, “avocado imports have positive and economically important effects on the U.S. and state economies,” adding as much as $3.5 billion in economic output, $1.2 billion in labor income, $594 million in taxes, and 18,695 jobs to the U.S. economy in 2015. California and Texas have benefitted the most.
What if there’s no more NAFTA?
If NAFTA were revoked, Americans would still need to buy from Mexico to avoid a major shortage of the avocados they love — but it would cost much more to do so. Some of us might be willing to pay an extra couple of dollars for already overpriced avocado toast in cafes, but can the rest of us afford another couple of dollars every time we order guacamole at Chipotle?
Andrew Lepczyk is candidate for masters degree in international economics at American University and served as a research intern for the Scholl Chair at CSIS.