ROMÁN JUÁREZ has expanded his tomato farm a number of occasions since beginning it 15 years in the past. It now spans two separate websites in a rural space of the state of Puebla, south-east of Mexico Metropolis. In a superb season, every one of many 38,000 vegetation he grows in his giant, greenhouse-like tents can produce as much as 160 tomatoes. Though farming may be dangerous, Mr Juárez is prospering, largely as a result of since 2016 he has exported his produce to america. “We do enterprise the place there’s enterprise,” he says.
This 12 months Mexico is predicted to export 1.8m tonnes of tomatoes to its northern neighbour, a file. Final 12 months exports of tomatoes alone have been price round $2.3bn. Tomatoes are probably the most placing—and the biggest—instance of an even bigger development. Mexico exported agricultural items price $39.5bn final 12 months, round 10% of the nation’s complete exports. Agriculture, which accounts for 4% of Mexico’s GDP, grew by 2% final 12 months, even because the economic system as an entire contracted by 8.5%.
Mexico has exported meals for hundreds of years. However the newer growth has its roots within the North American Free Commerce Settlement (NAFTA, now outmoded by america–Mexico–Canada Settlement, the USMCA), which got here into pressure in 1995. Again then Mexican exports of tomatoes have been valued at simply $406m. Agriculture was “the ugly duckling” of the Mexican economic system, says Juan Cortina of the Nationwide Agricultural Council, which represents producers.
Two issues modified this. For a begin, culinary tastes developed. “Immediately Individuals need [produce] year-round, not simply seasonally,” says Philip Martin of the College of California, Davis. Mexico’s hotter local weather means it may well develop sure produce when america can not, and in greater portions than California or Florida. Mexican farmers have additionally invested in methods to guard their crops, typically in partnership with huge American firms. Most use tunnels or plastic hoops fairly than open fields, which may scale back pests and improve yields.
However it’s not all plain sowing. Mexican producers’ exporting prowess has irked American farmers, and generated accusations of unfair authorities assist. As a part of USMCA negotiations, American officers beneath Donald Trump’s administration tried to make it simpler to use defensive tariffs on seasonal vegetables and fruit. They failed, however then requested america Worldwide Commerce Fee to research imports of strawberries, bell peppers and squash.
The tomato commerce can be embattled. In 1996, earlier than American tariffs on tomatoes have been totally phased out beneath NAFTA, America’s Division of Commerce launched an investigation into whether or not Mexican tomato-growers have been promoting their wares too cheaply. That led to a sequence of “suspension agreements” by which Mexican exporters agreed to minimal costs, the latest of which was hashed out in 2019.
Past sustaining calm commerce relations, extra may very well be completed to spice up agriculture. Farmers would profit from higher expertise, resembling improved irrigation programs. Aurelio Bastida of the Autonomous College of Chapingo reckons that the federal government must have insurance policies that combine each agriculture and the atmosphere. Mexican agriculture is weak to local weather change. It already suffers from extreme water shortages. And whereas farmers whose crops are exported are doing properly, lots of those that cater to the home market are struggling.
If the trade is to increase, Mexico should export its meals to different nations along with america. That ought to be straightforward: by some counts Mexico is a signatory to extra free-trade agreements than another nation.
However the insurance policies of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who appears eager to show the clock again to the Nineteen Seventies, might stifle that potential. Final 12 months a few of the funding for the company that certifies meals as secure—a prerequisite for many exports—was lower. Such counter-productive parsimony might imply that agricultural exports wither, fairly than bloom.■
This text appeared within the The Americas part of the print version beneath the headline “Reaping the rewards of commerce”