Mexico, US officials agree on security plan to protect avocado inspectors

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By Cassandra Garrison and Lizbeth Diaz

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Officials in Mexico and the United States agreed to new security terms to protect U.S. health safety inspectors of avocados and mangos after an incident earlier this month prompted a pause on the checks, the governor of Mexico’s top avocado growing state said on Monday.

Avocados, in particular, are a top Mexican farm export worth billions of dollars each year, as demand among U.S. consumers has steadily grown in recent years.

U.S. inspections of the two fruits were suspended a little over a week ago after a security incident in western Michoacan state, Mexico’s top avocado grower, which put exports to the country’s northern neighbor at risk.

Following a meeting, Michoacan Governor Alfredo Ramirez and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar told reporters that the two nations would also collaborate on curbing illegal deforestation, as well as environmental certification for farm products and labor issues.

“The Mexican government’s plan is to work hand in hand with us to ensure that each of our employees is safe so that they can do their job,” said Salazar.

The officials did not share specific details of how security would be enforced.

Mexican Agriculture Minister Victor Villalobos also participated in the meeting. He suggested that in future Mexican inspectors could take the place of the U.S. personnel who currently handle the checks.

Michoacan has for years dealt with extortion rackets perpetrated by powerful organized crime groups seeking to profit from the lucrative agricultural trade.

Senior Mexican officials have said a June 15 incident involving U.S. staff stemmed from a protest by local police in which the inspectors were not allowed to pass. Ramirez has previously said the inspectors were “improperly detained.”

The new security plan also features coordination with Mexico’s main avocado exporters association APEAM, officials said on Monday.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A worker shows avocados hanging off a tree at a plantation in Tingambato, Michoacan state, Mexico June 18, 2024. REUTERS/Ivan Macias/File Photo

APEAM declined to comment on the new security plan.

On Friday, Salazar released a statement announcing inspections were gradually restarting, but important issues remained outstanding.