As Nafta Teeters, the Future of Breakfast Is Uncertain
Say a prayer for avocado toast
As a candidate, Donald J. Trump frequently pledged to renegotiate America’s trade deals. Less than a week into his presidency, he’s already shown he wasn’t kidding. On Monday, he withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Now, he plans to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with our neighbors to the north and south. The question on all of our minds, of course, is what that means for breakfast. What does Nafta have to do with breakfast? A lot, actually. Since 1994, Nafta has allowed all sorts of goods to move easily between Mexico, Canada, and the US by eliminating tariffs. A lot of what’s come into the US is food, including the fruit you eat first thing in the morning and the vegetables you put in your omelet.
According to a US Department of Agriculture report, fruit and vegetable imports from Canada to the US increased from $318 million in 1993, just before Nafta, to $3.1 billion in 2013. Mexico’s exports of fruit and vegetables—including juice—here have more than tripled in that time.
In the Nafta era, Canada has become an important supplier of fresh tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, mushrooms, and potatoes to the US. Mexico, meanwhile, has become an increasingly important supplier of limes, papayas, watermelon, squash, and tomatoes.
When it comes to renegotiating Nafta, Bloomberg reports, President Trump may not be too interested in agriculture, per se. He’s more likely to want to re-write the rules regarding procurement—the ability of Canada and Mexico to bid on US government contracts—and the auto industry. But if Trump puts a big tax on agricultural imports, it could mean lower supplies of some of our favorite breakfast foods and higher prices for consumers.
Opening up trade in the 1990s hasn’t simply changed where we get our food; it’s changed what kind of food we eat. Take avocados, for example. Mexican avocados were banned in the US in 1914. The ban was only lifted in 1993, the Financial Times reports, in the run-up to Nafta. As a result, Americans started eating avocados like crazy. According to the USDA, avocado consumption per person jumped from 1.4 pounds in 1990 to 6.9 pounds in 2015.
A tariff on Mexican imports would severely impact the avocado industry. Mexican avocado producers, understandably, are kind of freaking out. And you should be too, if you like your avocado toast.
“No other country can supply such quantities. If the Trump administration puts up obstacles, there will be lower supply that no one else can cover, and higher costs,” Ramón Paz, strategic adviser at Apeam, the Mexican avocado producers and packers association, told the Financial Times.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto wants Nafta to remain tariff-free. If Trump doesn’t agree, though, there’s a chance Mexico could just skip the long and unsatisfying negotiation process altogether and pull out of the agreement entirely.
“There could be no other option,” Mexico’s economy minister, Ildefonso Guajardo, said Tuesday. “If we go for something that is less than what we have, well, then there is no sense in staying.”
Negotiations are looking even more imperiled this morning after Trump threatened to cancel a meeting planned with the Mexican president. Trump is furious since Peña Nieto restated his country would not pay for a proposed border wall.
Mexico could very well try its luck selling its food to other countries. Europeans are already falling in love with avocados, and China might be getting on board as well. Where would that leave American breakfast? It would, like a lot of things in Trump’s America, be a departure from what we’ve gotten used to in the last two decades. It might not be great, though, which would be a shame. Trump’s mantra is America First, but who’s going to stand up for Breakfast First?