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Rising Fruit and Vegetables Imports from Mexico

May 16, 2018

Americans are consuming more fruit and vegetables imported from abroad. About half of US fresh fruit (53 percent in 2017) and almost a third of US fresh vegetables (31 percent in 2017) are imported.

Mexico supplied 48 percent of the imported fresh fruit and 68 percent of the imported fresh vegetables in 2017. The US imported $11.6 billion worth of fresh produce from Mexico in 2017, including 53 percent fruit and 47 percent vegetables.

Averaging several years of data removes year-to-year fluctuations and makes comparisons over time more reliable. Between 2012 and 2014, the US imported fruits and nuts from Mexico worth $3.8 billion a year; by 2015-17, Mexican fruit and nut imports increased over 55 percent to $6 billion a year.

Avocados worth $1.9 billon a year were the leading Mexican fruit import between 2015 and 2017, followed by raspberries worth $555 million, strawberries worth $515 million, and grapes worth $410 million a year. The value of raspberry imports from Mexico rose over 110 percent between 2012-14 and 2015-17, and the value of avocado imports was up 85 percent in this period.

Vegetable imports rose 20 percent between 2012-14 and 2015-17 to $5.8 billion a year, led by fresh tomatoes worth $1.8 billion, bell peppers worth $565 million, and cucumbers worth $460 million a year. Other significant fresh vegetable imports were asparagus worth $350 million a year, squash worth $330 million, and onions worth $315 million. The value of onion imports rose 40 percent between 2012-14 and 2015-17 and the value of asparagus and bell peppers each rose 35 percent.

Will the share of Mexican fruits and vegetables in the US continue to increase? Mexico has the land, water, and infrastructure to produce fruits and vegetables for export, but is running out of local labor. Most of the farms that grow fresh produce to export are in northern and central Mexico, where a combination of slower population growth, improved educational systems, and expanding nonfarm job opportunities means there are fewer workers available to be seasonal farm workers.

Mexican farmers rely increasingly on internal migrant workers to fill seasonal farm jobs, recruiting often non- or limited-Spanish speakers from mountainous areas of nearby states or in southern Mexico to harvest vegetables and pick berries. Recruiting workers from far away is risky, as naïve workers may be exploited by recruiters who charge them fees or make false promises.

Many farmers ask their current workers to bring friends and relatives, while others send recruiters to areas with workers and arrange for their transport to housing on or near their farms. Echoing US farmers who compare Mexican-born and US-born farm workers, Mexican farmers praise the work ethic of internal migrants from the southern states, saying that they want “to work” and willingly accept overtime and Sunday work schedules, while local workers may work one day and not the next.

The labor challenge for Mexico’s export-oriented farms may be similar to that in the US, viz, where to find seasonal workers to harvest their crops. Fewer workers and rising wages are increasing the interest of farmers on both sides of the border in labor-saving machines, so that Mexican and US producers of fresh fruits and vegetables may adopt labor-saving machines at the same time.

The chart below highlights the fact that, even though the US imports about $6 billion worth of Mexican fruit and almost $6 billion worth of vegetables, the value of fruit imports has been rising much faster than the value of vegetable imports, with raspberry imports rising over 100 percent and avocados and strawberries each rising over 80 percent between 2012-14 and 2015-17. Vegetable imports rose by almost 20 percent, and bell pepper imports were up a third.

U.S. produce imports from Mexico, 2012-14 versus 2015-17
    Value Change Volume Change
HS code Commodity 2012-14 2015-17     2012-14 2015-17    
    Millions of U.S. Dollars   Percent Thousands of Metric Tons   Percent
07 Edible vegetables & certain roots & tubers 4,871 5,793 922 19 4,735 5,538 803 17
0702 Tomatoes, fresh or chilled 1,625 1,827 202 12 1,386 1,553 167 12
070310 Onions and shallots, fresh or chilled 226 317 91 40 263 316 53 20
070490 Edible brassicas (cabbages, etc.), nesoi, fresh or chilled 176 276 100 57 220 285 65 30
070511
070519
Lettuce, fresh or chilled 157 226 68 44 147 197 50 34
0707 Cucumbers and gherkins, fresh or chilled 415 462 48 11 578 681 103 18
0708209010 Beans (Phaseolus spp.), fresh or chilled, nesoi 58 59 2 3 42 48 6 15
070920 Asparagus, fresh or chilled 258 350 91 35 109 126 17 15
0709602010
0709602090
Chile peppers, fresh or chilled 273 277 4 1 376 429 53 14
0709604015
0709604025
0709604035
0709604065
0709604075
0709604085
Sweet Bell-type peppers, fresh or chilled 423 564 142 34 288 452 164 57
0709902000
0709932000
Squash, fresh or chilled 293 329 36 12 313 393 80 26
0710809722
0710809724
0710809726
Broccoli, frozen 221 246 25 11 194 195 2 1
  Other vegetables, roots, and tubers 747 860 113 15 818 862 44 5
08 Edible fruit & nuts, citrus fruit, or melon peel 3,832 6,019 2,187 57 3,038 3925 887 29
0802901500
0802901000
Pecans, fresh or dried, shelled or in shell 292 504 212 73 51 64 13 27
0803002020
0803900025
0803900035
Bananas, fresh 106 136 30 28 246 326 80 32
080440 Avocados, fresh or dried 1,016 1,876 860 85 515 788 273 53
0804504040
0804504045
0804504055
0804506040
0804506045
0804506055
Mangoes, fresh 205 250 45 22 253 288 35 14
0805503000
0805504000
Limes, fresh or dried 234 348 114 49 428 549 121 28
080610 Grapes, fresh 345 412 66 19 141 157 16 11
080711 Watermelons, fresh 250 270 20 8 508 623 115 23
080720 Papayas, fresh 71 85 15 21 116 157 41 35
081010 Strawberries, fresh 347 513 167 48 157 157 1 0
0810201020
0810209020
Raspberries, fresh 262 556 294 112 33 72 39 117
0810201040
0810209030
0810209040
0810209090
Blackberries, mulberries, and loganberries, fresh 194 287 93 48 56 76 21 37
0810400024
0810400026
0810400028
0810400029
Blueberries, fresh 47 166 119 254 6 17 12 206
081110 Strawberries, uncooked or cooked by water, frozen 119 150 31 26 82 93 11 14
0811905200 Mangoes, uncooked or cooked by water, frozen 46 65 18 40 36 35 -1 -2
  Other edible fruit and nuts, citrus fruit, or lemon peel 298 401 103 35 411 521 110 27
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Statistics, as compiled by IHS Markit (2018) and USDA/FAS (2018a).