Imports of Fresh Produce from Mexico Will Continue to Grow

U.S. consumers’ demand for year-round availability of virtually all fresh produces has fueled increased fresh produce imports from Mexico.

According to a recent report prepared by Wilma V. Davis and Gary Lucier of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, Mexico accounted for 77 percent of U.S. fresh produce import volume, and Canada represented 11 percent.

Over the past two decades, the volume of fresh produce imported by the United States, primarily from Mexico and Canada, rose nearly 200 percent, highlighted the report. Likewise, the value of fresh produce imports grew to exceed fresh exports by $7.6 billion, more than double the same figure a decade earlier.

An analysis of domestic census and trade data shows Mexican and Canadian producers have dominated the U.S. import market by offering protected culture—or greenhouse—imports and organic options, which increased choices for consumers. While conventional and field-grown fresh produce still accounts for most imports, organic and greenhouse produces are expanding market reach, reported Davis and Lucier.

According to the 2019 Census of Horticulture, U.S. greenhouse bell pepper production increased 508 percent since the 2009 census, rising from 2 million pounds to 11 million pounds in a decade. U.S. greenhouse cucumber production increased 92 percent to 51 million pounds from 27 million during the same period.

Bell pepper imports increased 141 percent to 881 million pounds in 2019 from 366 million pounds, and cucumber imports rose 175 percent to 386 million pounds from 141 million pounds. Despite these gains in U.S. greenhouse production over the past decade, greenhouse imports still dominated the market.

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For years, U.S. growers of fresh field-grown warm-season produces have been challenged by import competition. USDA, ERS has published studies detailing the nature of competition between Mexico and Florida in the winter fresh produce market.

The study pointed out that trade agreements have also influenced annual increases in fresh produce import volume. Fresh market produces move tariff-free within the North American market under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), formerly the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Other trade agreements, such as the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement and the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), have also provided access to increased supplies of fresh produces. Trade data shows that over time, this resulted in increased bilateral trade with the United States and vaulted Peru and Guatemala into the top five foreign sources of fresh produces.

Although this USDA Economic Research Service study focuses on specific fresh produce markets, import competition is an issue for the entire U.S. fresh produce industry, wrote the authors. Market window creep, liberalized trade agreements, comparatively lower foreign exchange rates, and increased per capita consumption have all combined to fuel annual increases in fresh produce import volume.

Given persistent decades-long trends, import gains as a portion of total supply are expected to continue within the fresh produce industry.