Nearly two decades after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect, Mexican apple growers are arguing that too many American apples heading south have pushed their industry to the brink of collapse – And they’re taking matters into their own hands. Bridget Huber reports for the Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN) on PRI’s The World and at the Seattle Times from the Mexican state of Chihuahua, where some 70 percent of Mexico’s apples are grown.
The story follows Vicente Robles, a 71-year old farmer who is cutting down most of his orchards after 50 years in the business because the apples are no longer profitable. By the time Robles and other Mexican growers were ready to sell their fruit this year, markets were already filled with U.S. apples. Robles took much lower prices for his crop and is now in debt, unable to repay the costs of production. “I’ve spent my whole life working here,” says Robles. “And now, I’ve arrived at this point and my orchards don’t even give me enough to live on.”
“Chihuahua’s apple industry–which employs about 35,000 people–tried to get the Mexican government to suspend U.S. imports,” reports Huber. “In February, growers staged what they called a ‘survival march.’ Others dumped apples in the streets in protest. The Mexican press was sympathetic. A local newspaper headline read: ‘Gringo apples: Ugly, Old and Cold.’”
Hubert reports that Senator Patricio Martínez from Chihuahua, standing on a box of unsold apples on the senate dais in Mexico City, unsuccessfully tried forcing federal action. He also accused the U.S. of illegally “dumping”– selling apples at a price lower than production.
Rebecca Lyons, the International Marketing Director for the Washington Apple Commission, believes there is room for both industries in the Mexican market, Huber reports. Lyons says the Mexican apple growers did not use good management practices, resulting in excess fruit.
NAFTA has facilitated trade between Mexico and the U.S., but some believe, as in this case, it is harming Mexico.
“[I]t strips the government of a series of very important development tools that the United States, of course, had during its period of development,” Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas program at the Center for International Policy in Mexico City, tells Huber. “These include the ability to protect strategic sectors, and if there’s any strategic sector, the production of basic food would be one.”