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Profusion of fresh products all year

NAFTA promotes consumption of fruits and vegetables in the US

American football fans and Americans looking for a healthy diet can thank the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for guacamole. 

Thanks to these commercial agreements, Americans can buy avocados to make guacamole anywhere from New York to Los Angeles.

That's not the only product they can find thanks to the NAFTA. US supermarkets are flooded with mangoes, papayas, and peppers with the Mexico seal on them. NAFTA, which is fiercely criticized by President Donald Trump, has changed America's eating habits.

Thanks to NAFTA, which the United States, Mexico, and Canada are renegotiating at the behest of Trump, the offer for consumers has radically changed in twenty years. Now, there is a greater profusion of fresh fruits and vegetables at any time of the year.

"I'm 49 years old and I remember that when I was little I would ask my mother for strawberries in winter. And my mother would answer they weren't in season," stated Jaime Chamberlain, the director of JC Distributing, a family business specializing in the import and distribution of fruits and vegetables from Mexico. "Now there is a generation that will never notice this seasonal lack of fruit," he said.

NAFTA did not seek to change the diet of Americans, says Steven Zahniser, an economist and researcher with the US Department of Agriculture. However, there is a correlation between this agreement and an increase in the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, because the NAFTA eliminated all customs tariffs among the three countries, he said.

The tariffs were astronomical prior to the entry into force of the NAFTA in 1994, said Chamberlain. For example, melons were taxed at 30%, and tomatoes at around 20%.

It was difficult to export to the United States under these conditions so consumers didn't have so much access to fresh, varied, and affordable products. Only three or four Mexican states sold their products to the US market.

Today, all states in Mexico send their fresh produce to their neighbors, stated Chamberlain.

"There has been a fantastic growth in Mexican agriculture, which ultimately benefited both American and Canadian consumers," he said.

Super Bowl
The Mexican avocado is the clearest example. The avocado, which was almost banned until 1993 in the United States due to phytosanitary reasons, is now being consumed en masse in the US after the NAFTA.

Its consumption has tripled since the treaty entered into force, according to the Department of Agriculture.

The United States has even become the world's largest importer of avocados to meet growing demand. 25 years ago, avocado imports were nil. Today the US imports up to US $1 billion per year, says Zahniser.

The large Mexican community in the United States helped popularize the consumption of avocado in sandwiches and salads, but especially in guacamole, currently the most popular appetizer for the Super Bowl.

"You can find guacamole in all restaurants, not only in Mexican restaurants. It's a very healthy snack," Chamberlain said.

The avocado's health benefits also helped increase its consumption, stated Agnes Perez, an economist of the US Department of Agriculture.

"The increased awareness of the benefits of 'healthy fats', such as the monounsaturated fats found in avocados, have also played a role in the increase in demand," he said.

The campaigns to promote a balanced diet also contributed to increase the American demand for berries, which in the last 15 years have been considered as a superfood for the brain.

The overwhelming demand for strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries is one of the successes of the Mexican agricultural sector along with that of avocado, said Chamberlain.

The NAFTA is also a formidable laboratory for experimenting with new varieties of fresh products, such as the mini-peppers that now fill supermarket stalls, he said.

In a country like the United States, where a third of adults are obese, the challenge, he said, is to offer attractive fruits and vegetables that make you want to eat them, but that are also tasty.

"Thanks to the NAFTA, chef's can find all the ingredients they need 365 days a year," he said. However, the consumer makes the final decision.

"NAFTA has made things more affordable, but it's up to you to buy and eat them," he said.

Source: AFP

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