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Free-trade party dip

Comprehensive immigration reform comes to Mexican avocados.

February 06, 2007

FREE TRADE has never tasted so good. After 93 years, the last U.S. barrier to avocados imported from Mexico has been lifted. As of Feb. 1, Californians, Hawaiians and Floridians can now join their fellow Americans in enjoying the fruits of a competitive market for party-dip ingredients.

The ban on avocados from south of the border dates to 1914, when U.S. agricultural officials barred them because they found that some avocados from Mexico carried fruit flies that could infest U.S. avocado orchards. Outraged Mexican officials maintained that it was all a yanqui plot to corner the guacamole futures market (which had yet to grow to Super Bowl-sized proportions), but Mexican farmers switched to growing Hass avocados, which are less hospitable to fruit flies. Still, the ban persisted.

Many decades later, however, the competition was back on. The North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994, and in 1997, the U.S. agreed to allow the importation of Mexican avocados in a few states if Mexico agreed to take some U.S. cherries, which Mexico had banned in 1992 because (of course) they carried pests. By 2005, people in 47 states were dicing, mashing or simply peeling and eating (yes, it happens) avocados from Mexico. In California, Florida and Hawaii, which are allowed to protect their own avocado farmers, the ban persisted until 2007.

It expired Thursday -- and just in time. The Super Bowl was Sunday, which meant lots of eating, and last month's cold snap did serious damage to the state's avocado crop. The California Avocado Commission, a trade group, estimates farmers will lose about 25% of their crop this year.

And the commission, despite its name, welcomes the aguacates. Apparently, Americans' addiction to avocados is so strong it overpowers the principles of economics. When avocados are involved, supply and demand mean nothing, says the commission: No matter how many avocados there are, we eat them. Avocado consumption nationwide has ballooned 300 million pounds in the last three years, to a billion, but despite the flood of avocados on the market, the price varied only by 1% per avocado.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon noted that Mexico would rather send its avocados to the U.S. than send its avocado farmers. So it's good news for everyone -- not just football fans, who, after all, have only one meaningless game left to watch. Pass the chips, please.

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