Facing U.S. headwinds, Mexico's berry industry seeks to diversify

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Facing U.S. headwinds, Mexico's berry industry seeks to diversify

It may be time for Mexican berry exporters to consider other destination markets, reports Forbes. Moving away from its traditional focus on North American markets, shippers of blueberries, strawberries and raspberries are now looking for opportunities in the Middle East and Asia.

This comes as the U.S. ramps up investigations on imported products.

The North American country - Mexico's key export destination, making up 97% of all berry exports along with Canada - has accused Mexican companies of poor labor practices and of violating anti-dumping laws.

Under the recently implemented Agreement between the United States of America, the United Mexican States, and Canada (USMCA), which replaces NAFTA, countries can sanction imports of from any nation believed to be in violation of those rules.

The past couple of years have not been easy for the Mexican berry industry, according to Aldo Mares of Green Gold Farms told Forbes.

"Blueberries, strawberries and raspberries are now even more susceptible because they are part of a list of ten products that the U.S. is accusing us of using child labor and forced labor. And that could cause a lot of imports to be shut down," Mares was quoted as saying.

Imports into the U.S. have been a controversial topic, with major berry-producing states like Florida and Georgia pushing to protect domestically produced berries.

Along with contention over fresh blueberries, the U.S. recently began an investigation on Mexican frozen raspberries, spear-headed by producers in Washington state. Legal processes are anticipated by Mexican exporters in upcoming months.

Such challenges with commercialization are the biggest struggles for Mexican berries, said Mares. Specifically, with blueberries, "now it is more worrisome because they are at risk of being dictated on a state-by-state basis", he outlined.

Further, antidumping investigations proposed by U.S. producers could be pushed forward to eliminate competition from Mexican imports, he told Forbes.

Covid-19 pricing and complications

Apart from global market policies putting Mexican berries in turmoil, prices for berries have remained low. In response, Mexican producers are investing in further technology to boost production.

Another challenge faced by Mexican exporters is the ongoing Covid-19 health crisis.

"Beginning in April and May we had to adjust supply and demand. What that implied was that we had to eliminate up to 30% of our product - a lot of that went to food banks and other places," Mares was quoted saying.

As berry prices declined, the sector kept up and was able to stay afloat and relatively secure.

However, this came amid definite uncertainty and ongoing worry for the Mexican berry industry.

"It's something we're very worried about...we see that the economy is deteriorating and this uncertainty is something that's going to be an ongoing issue for us. And on top of that, the borders, although they haven't been closed, are creating complications because banks aren't providing credit or have become extremely cautious with our products," he told the publication.

Questions of investing and having sufficient capital to move forward as an industry is a serious challenge at the moment.

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