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Mexico-US Agricultural Trade

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June 24, 2020

Mexico-US trade totaled $671 billion in 2019, when the US exported goods and services worth $299 billion to Mexico and imported goods and services worth $372 billion from Mexico, that is, the US trade deficit with Mexico was $73 billion.

The US also has a trade deficit with Mexico in agricultural commodities. The US exported agricultural commodities to Mexico worth $18.5 billion a year between 2016 and 2018, and imported agricultural commodities from Mexico worth $24.5 billion a year, for an agricultural trade deficit of $6 billion a year.

Most US agricultural exports to Mexico are $5.6 billion worth pork and other animal products, corn and grains worth $5.2 billion, and soybeans and other oilseeds worth $3 billion. Agricultural imports from Mexico were dominated by fruits worth $6.5 billion led by avocados, vegetables worth $6.7 billion led by tomatoes, and beverages worth $3.7 billion led by beer.

Over the past decade, the value of US horticultural imports from Mexico tripled, from $5 billion a year to $15 billion a year. The value of avocado imports increased five-fold, and the value of fresh tomatoes almost doubled.

The value of Mexican avocado imports increased almost five-fold over the past decade

The value of Mexican avocado imports increased almost five-fold over the past decade
Product 2006-08 2017-19 Change
Value Volume Value Volume Value Volume
U.S. dollars (millions) Metric tons (thousands) U.S. dollars (millions) Metric tons (thousands) Percent
Total, horticultural products 5,275 5,591 14,772 11,541 180 106
Avocados 374 188 2,287 885 512 372
Other fruit, fresh or frozen 1,214 1,564 4,357 3,283 259 110
Fruit juice 173 436 449 793 159 82
Nuts and nut preparations 177 56 734 124 314 121
Tomatoes, fresh 1,007 927 1,962 1,667 95 80
Peppers, fresh 553 493 1,089 969 97 96
Other vegetables, fresh 1,217 1,409 2,840 3,096 133 120
Vegetables, prepared or preserved 281 230 477 316 70 38
Vegetables, frozen 254 267 542 378 113 41
Pulses 23 21 33 31 45 45

One reason Mexico is exporting more fruits and vegetables to the US is that production in Mexico increased. Mexico’s production of vegetables rose almost 60 percent over the past decade, led by 13 percent more tomatoes and nine percent more green peppers. Mexico’s production of fruit rose almost 30 percent.

Mexico exports over half of its production of three vegetables: cucumbers, asparagus, and broccoli, .The share of Mexican production of these vegetables that is exported is falling, meaning that Mexicans are consuming more of these vegetables. On the other hand, a rising share of the avocados produced in Mexico are exported, about 44 percent of total production in recent years. Similarly, Mexico exports less than half of the tomatoes it produces to the US.

The share of Mexican fruits and vegetables destined for the US varies by commodity

Share of Output Destined for U.S. Market
Product 2006-08 2016-18 Change   Product 2006-08 2016-18 Change
Percent Percentage Points     Percent Percentage Points
Cucumbers 77.9 74.0 -3.9   Onions 14.5 21.9 7.3
Asparagus 95.3 60.7 -34.6   Mangoes 12.4 20.9 8.5
Broccoli 88.5 69.3 -19.1   Oranges 8.2 17.7 9.4
Strawberries 62.1 42.9 -19.2   Bananas & plantains 2.2 16.5 14.3
Tomatoes 42.4 46.9 4.5   Papayas 11.6 16.1 4.5
Lettuce 25.5 46.3 20.8   Pineapples 5.5 8.9 3.4
Watermelons 34.4 46.2 11.8   Sweet corns 4.5 5.6 1.1
Avocados 19.9 44.4 24.5   Lemons 2.7 3.1 0.4
Peppers 28.7 36.0 7.3   Apples 2.6 0.4 -2.2
Blackberries 27.7 29.6 2.0   Nopalitos 0.2 0.3 0.1

Mexico is a world leader in protected culture farming, using greenhouses and other structures to protect plants from weather and pests. Many of the tomatoes and other vegetables that Mexico exports to the US are grown in protected culture structures, where yields are much higher than in open fields and there are fewer insect and weed pressures.

Sinaloa produces almost 30 percent of Mexico’s average 3.5 million tons of tomatoes each year but, because Sinaloa tomatoes are grown both in open fields and under protected culture, average yields of 70 tons a hectare are less than in Puebla and San Luis Potosi, where a higher share of tomatoes are grown under protected culture.

Sinaloa produces 30 percent of Mexico’s tomatoes, but yields are highest in the protected culture of Puebla

Sinaloa produces 30 percent of Mexico’s tomatoes, but yields are highest in the protected culture of Puebla
State Annual Average Production Change Yield Change
2006-08 2016-18 2006-08 2016-18
MT Percent MT MT/HA Percent MT/HA
San Luis Potosi 126,687 347,013 174 220,326 37 121 223 84
Sinaloa 797,745 983,400 23 185,655 43 70 64 27
Puebla 19,937 132,894 567 112,957 20 154 673 134
Zacatecas 98,464 189,263 92 90,800 38 64 69 26
Guanajuato 8,226 92,873 1,029 84,646 19 98 412 78
Other States 1,209,620 1,787,827 48 578,208 34 63 83 28
TOTAL 2,260,679 3,533,270 56 1,272,592 37 70 91 34

Most of the imported tomatoes grown in greenhouses are from Mexico, supplemented by greenhouse tomatoes from Canada.

Most US greenhouse tomato imports are from Mexico

Michoacán produces three fourths of Mexico’s average two million metric tons of avocados each year, obtaining an average yield of 11 tons a hectare. Avocado production is expanding fastest in Jalisco, which produces a fifth of Mexico’s avocados and obtains slightly higher yields. Michoacán is the only state allowed to export fresh Hass avocados to the US.

Michoacán produces three fourths of Mexico’s avocados, but production in Jalisco is rising fast

Michoacán produces three fourths of Mexico’s avocados, but production in Jalisco is rising fast
State Annual Average Production Change Yield Change
2006-08 2016-18 2006-08 2016-18
MT Percent MT MT/HA Percent MT/HA
Michoacán 1,011,364 1,572,671 56 561,308 10.9 10.9 0.2 0.0
Jalisco 9,241 171,666 1,758 162,425 9.2 11.1 20.6 1.9
19,704 105,261 434 85,557 10.5 12.1 15.0 1.6
Nayarit 24,126 46,683 93 22,557 8.9 8.8 -0.9 -0.1
Guerrero 11,260 23,338 107 12,078 6.5 6.9 6.2 0.4
Other States 70.829 115,015 62 44,187 7.5 7.6 1.0 0.1
TOTAL 1,146,524 2,034,634 77 888,111 10.5 10.6 1.2 0.1

Production of labor-intensive commodities in Mexico for local consumption and exports is expected to increase. The use of protective culture farming reduces water use and raises yields and, combined with farm labor costs that are a tenth of US farm labor costs, makes Mexican produce competitive with US production.

Mexico’s major comparative advantage remains climate, the ability to produce fresh fruits and vegetables when US farmers except in Florida are not producing. Commodities such as avocados are produced year round, and protective culture is allowing Mexican farmers to extend their production and export seasons.