January 18, 2024

United States, Canada, and Mexico: Support Investigation of Mexican Avocado Exports

Impunity for Avocado-Driven Illegal Deforestation Violates Regional Trade Agreement

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(San Francisco, January 18, 2024)—The United States, Canadian, and Mexican governments should support an international probe into impunity for environmental law violations connected to avocado production in Mexico, Climate Rights International said today in a letter to each country’s top environmental official.

In February 2023, an anonymous Mexican citizen filed a complaint under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) alleging that Mexico is violating the trade deal’s requirement to “effectively enforce its environmental laws.” The complaint focuses on illegal deforestation and unsustainable water use for avocado production in the state of Michoacán, the hub of Mexico’s avocado industry, which produces most avocados sold in the United States.

“Our research shows that Mexico is failing to enforce its laws against illegal deforestation and water theft in the avocado export industry,” said Brad Adams, Executive Director of Climate Rights International. “This failure violates Mexico’s environmental obligations under the USMCA trade deal.”

A 250-page report released by Climate Rights International in November 2023 documents how avocados grown for export to the United States, Canada, and other major markets are fueling widespread illegal deforestation, water shortages, and other abuses in Michoacán and Jalisco. These are Mexico’s two biggest avocado-producing states and supply all Mexican avocados exported to the United States. The report also documents the near total impunity for that environmental destruction.

The Secretary of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC)—an international body established by the United States, Mexico, and Canada—has recommended launching an investigation into the allegations in the complaint. The Secretary of the CEC can only act on that recommendation if authorized by at least two of the three members of the Council of the CEC. Climate Rights International addressed the letter to Council’s three members: the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and Mexico’s Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources.

U.S. authorities and corporations also bear significant responsibility for the deforestation in Mexico, Climate Rights International said. U.S. officials routinely certify for export Mexican orchards containing illegally deforested land, which in turn supply leading U.S. importers and supermarkets, who are basically ignoring the problem.

“The close connection between the United States and the environmental harms being carried out with impunity in Michoacán makes it especially urgent and necessary for the U.S. government to act to address the problem,” Climate Rights International’s letter to U.S., Canadian, and Mexican environmental officials said.

If the investigation proceeds, U.S. agencies are required under federal law to review the results—called the “factual record”—and may request enforcement actions.

The United States, Canada, and Mexico have a shared commitment under the Paris Agreement to reduce deforestation as part of their broader commitment to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. All three countries also signed the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, in which they committed to promote trade policies “that do not drive deforestation,” and the New York Declaration on Forests, in which they committed to help meet the “private sector goal of eliminating deforestation from the production of agricultural commodities.”

“Mexican citizens should not need to appeal to a multilateral trade body to preserve their forests and water,” said Adams. “But since the government is allowing widespread environmental damage and related harm to local residents, the USMCA’s environmental provisions should be activated to set the avocado industry on a law-abiding and rights-respecting track.”

Photo credit: 2023 photograph by Climate Rights International of deforested area

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