Summer Could Dull Impact of US/Mexico Tariffs on Produce

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A US-imposed tariff on Mexican imports is scheduled to take effect next week, but for most horticultural products the brunt of the impact is still months away. That’s because imports of Mexican-grown products such as tomatoes, berries, and peppers peak in March and then fall sharply in the summer months.

Horticultural products made up nearly three-quarters of agricultural imports from Mexico by value over the past five years, and 10 major groups accounted for half of dollar-denominated horticultural imports in the period. Total US agricultural imports from Mexico amounted to $26 billion in 2018.

The value of horticultural product imports from Mexico has increased sharply, shown on the left chart above. On the right, historical avocado (blue) and lime (green) imports, shown here stacked by time, are among the few products that are imported year-round.

As US domestic production picks up in the summer months, demand for Mexican imports wanes. Imports of tomatoes, berries, peppers, nuts, grapes, asparagus, and watermelons peak in winter and early spring. So, most of this year’s imports have already entered the US.

A few products from Mexico are imported year-round, including avocados and limes, meaning these products are more exposed to any tariff impact over the next few months. Mangoes may also be hit, as their peak import season continues through August.

Mexican and US officials began talks this week in an effort to avert the US-imposed import tariff, which is scheduled to start at 5% and increase five percentage points a month into the fall. If a deal isn’t reached, a top tariff rate of 25% would come into effect around the time imports of Mexican horticultural products typically pick up steam.

In the charts below, import values, stacked by time, illustrate the seasonal nature of Mexican imports of a host of horticultural products.

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