Costa Rica eases entry requirements for Mexican avocados

Costa Rica will receive Hass avocados from Mexico in containers, as long as they come certified as free from sunspot or that they come from areas that have been certified free from this pest.

This follows on from a decision adopted by the State Phytosanitary Service (SFE) that was notified in mid-October to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures of the WTO confirmed in a document that it had received this notification on October 16. Since then, the interested parties have a 60 business days deadline to comment on the measure, which expires on December 22.

According to the Minister of Foreign Trade, Alexander Mora, this is as flexible as Costa Rica can be in the conflict over the avocado trade with Mexico.

Marco Vinicio Jimenez, the director of SFE, said that Mexico had three possibilities. They can send the fruit with a certificate guaranteeing that it has no sunspot, or with a certificate that states the product comes from areas that are free of this pest, or, finally, comply with the rules agreed bilaterally by both countries.

Costa Rica reserves the right to carry out internal analyses to determine that the fruit does not have the disease. In addition, Costa Rican technicians must corroborate in Mexico the health status of the farms declared free of the disease.

The president of the National Chamber of Exporters and Importers of Perishable Products, Randall Benavides, said that analyzing the fruit in Costa Rica was problematic, as a rejection there could cause losses of $60,000 to $70,000 in a single shipment.

Therefore, he requested that the laboratory tests be done only in the country of origin, in this case Mexico, and not in the country of destination.

Costa Rica stopped issuing permits to import Hass avocados from Mexico and eight other markets on May 5, 2015. Apart from Mexico, the measure was applied to Australia, Spain, Ghana, Guatemala, Israel, South Africa, Venezuela, and the state of Florida, in the United States.

The SFE said they had taken this measure to protect the country's phytosanitary status, as the sunspot, a viroid that attacks Hass avocados, has not been detected in Costa Rica and its presence has been found in those markets.

Mexico and other countries affected by the measure demanded Costa Rica's decision. This started a commercial conflict until the Mexicans brought the matter before the WTO. On July 15, 2015, Mexico and Guatemala presented the issue to the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures of the WTO as a commercial concern.

On March 8 of this year the Mexican government formally requested the opening of a process in the WTO. The consultation period is over and Mexico has the power to request that a panel of arbitrators solve the issue, but it still hasn't made that request.

Best offer
Minister Mora said that the response Costa Rica sent to the WTO was the best possible proposal Costa Rica could do. "The other option would be to suspend the May 2015 agreement altogether, which is not possible, according to phytosanitary authorities," said the minister of foreign trade.

He also said that the WTO provided the interested nations with a period of 60 working days to comment if they accepted or rejected the measure sent by Costa Rica. After that period, which expires on December 22, the Costa Rican measure enters into force.

He added that, in case of receiving comments, Costa Rica would decide if they accept them and incorporates them into the resolution or if it doesn't. Either way, the resolution will be enforced.

Randall Benavides, president of the Chamber of Exporters and Importers of Fresh Products, considered that Costa Rica's decision to test the fruit in Costa Rica did not facilitate the situation and that it would hinder the eventual arrival of Mexican avocados.

"If they really want to give an opening to Mexican avocados, the tests should be carried out in the country of origin to avoid the importers eventually having to assume losses," Benavides said.

In these circumstances, he added, I don't think Costa Ricans will be able to eat Mexican avocados in December.


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