Although Costa Rica’s population is small, just under 5 million people, they represent a very large export market for avocados. Costa Ricans consume 15.5 thousand tons of avocados every year, and up to this year, 12 thousand of those came from Mexico, a worldwide leader in avocado production.
This year however, Costa Rica’s health and safety authorities have placed an embargo on avocados coming from Mexico. They argue that these crops are infected with the ‘mancha del sol’ disease, also known as the avocado sunblotch viroid or ASBV. ASBV is a disease that primarily affects avocado trees, it causes trees to have lower yields and lower quality fruit.
The embargo caused Costa Rica to recur to lower quality avocado producers such as Chile and Peru, which also made the fruit very expensive to the average Costa Rican consumer. This means Ticos can’t get their hands on affordable Hass avocados, the most popular species worldwide, famed for its creamy texture and durable skin that allows its easy shipping.
Non-surprisingly, Mexican exporters are outraged. Initially they argued that Costa Rica had an agenda as they banned imports from Mexico, they used ASBV as an excuse to protect the small local avocado industry against overwhelming competition. But as Costa Rica insisted on ASBV, which has never entered their territory, Mexican producers reassured them of the quality of their product, and declared that Costa Rican health and safety authorities must have made a mistake when they diagnosed their product with ASBV.
“We think we are right because are producers are always careful (…) with our great selection of products we are always satisfying consumers worldwide.” Said Mexican Minister of Agriculture Jose Calzada.
Since then Mexico has taken the case to the World Trade Organization, alleging a violation to existing agreements between Mexico and Costa Rica. With bilateral meetings ending in complete failures, the WTO’s decision will provide the definitive answer to the debacle.
For now, the only real losers are the Costa Rican consumers, which have been deprived of their preferred avocado variety, and as prices soar, will have to adjust to a world without avocados.