您现在的位置: 纽约时报中英文网 >> 纽约时报中英文版 >> 商业 >> 正文


更新时间:2018-3-30 22:07:40 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

How the Avocado Became the Fruit of Global Trade

Under the volcanoes in Mexico’s Michoacán state, violent cartels are fighting to dominate a shadowy and lucrative market. One gang, called La Familia Michoacana, announced its presence about a decade ago by tossing five rivals’ heads onto a dance floor in the town of Uruapan. The Knights Templar muscled in next, spouting a chivalric code of honor as it taxed, extorted and kidnapped farmers and usurped their land. Mexican security forces and local landowners have tried to fight back, but warring cartels continue to splinter and proliferate. In March, an armed group known as Los Viagras — apparently named for the way their leader’s heavily moussed hair stands up — wreaked havoc by burning dozens of vehicles and effectively shutting down the state’s main highway. One conflagration took place not far from where an American businessman named Steve Barnard owns a packing plant in Uruapan. “It’s too dangerous to drive on the roads,” Barnard says. The farm owners “have to be very careful not to get kidnapped.”

在墨西哥米却肯州的火山脚下,暴力团伙都在争夺一个神秘且利润丰厚的市场的控制权。约十年前,其中一个名为米却肯家族(La Familia Michoacana)的帮派,将五名对手的脑袋扔到了乌鲁阿潘城的一家舞厅,宣示了自己的存在。接着,圣殿骑士(The Knights Templar)挤了进来,在课税、威胁和绑架农民,侵占他们土地的同时,大谈骑士准则。墨西哥安全部队及当地的土地所有者曾试图回击,但相互交战的暴力集团继续分裂,数量激增。3月,一个名为伟哥帮(Los Viagras,这个名字显然来源于该组织头目抹了大量摩丝而竖起的发型)的武装组织烧毁数十辆汽车,导致该州的主要高速公路关闭,造成巨大的破坏。其中一场大火发生的地点,距离美国商人史蒂夫·巴纳德(Steve Barnard)在乌鲁阿潘的包装厂不远。“在路上开车太危险了,”巴纳德说。农场主“必须要非常小心,才不会被绑架”。

The precious commodity that drives Michoacán’s economy and feeds an American obsession is not marijuana or methamphetamines but avocados, which local residents have taken to calling “green gold.” Mexico produces more of the fruit than any country in the world — about a third of the global total — and most of its crop is grown in the rich volcanic soil of Michoacán, upland from the beaches of Acapulco. It is one of the miracles of modern trade that in 2017, Mexico’s most violent year on record, this cartel-riddled state exported more than 1.7 billion pounds of Haas avocados to the United States, helping them surpass bananas as America’s most valuable fruit import. Nine out of every 10 imported avocados in the United States come from Michoacán.


The real marvel of Mexico’s avocado trade, however, is not so much its size as the speed of its sudden growth. Avocados have been cultivated in Mexico for around 9,000 years. (When Spanish conquistadors first encountered the oblong fruit in the early 16th century, they called it aguacate, after ahuacatl, an Aztec word that means testicle.) Despite this deep history, Mexico exported very few avocados — and none at all to the United States — through the 1980s, when Barnard’s California-based company, Mission Produce, opened the first avocado-packing plant in Uruapan. The United States had banned Mexican avocados since 1914 over fears of an insect infestation and cheaper competition. But in 1994, Mexico, Canada and the United States enacted the North American Free Trade Agreement — and soon thereafter the United States began lifting its ban.

然而,墨西哥牛油果贸易真正的奇迹并非其贸易规模,而是它突然间的增速。牛油果在墨西哥已经有约9000年的历史了。(当时西班牙征服者于16世纪早期第一次见到了这种椭圆形的水果,他们根据阿芝特克人形容睾丸的词“ahuacatl”,将其称之为“aguacate”。)尽管有着悠久历史,但整个1980年代,墨西哥的牛油果出口量非常少——对美国则完全没有出口。当时巴纳德总部位于加利福尼亚的公司“使命生产”(Mission Produce)开设了乌鲁阿潘的第一家牛油果包装厂。由于担忧会出现虫害和廉价竞争,美国自1914年开始禁止进口墨西哥牛油果。但在1994年,墨西哥、加拿大和美国通过了《北美自由贸易协议》(North American Free Trade Agreement)——那之后不久,美国就取消了禁令。

An avocado explosion followed. In 1994, Americans consumed a little more than one pound of the fruit per person per year — almost all from California growers, whose harvest comes only in the summer. Today, that figure is up to seven pounds per person year-round. Fueled by a growing Latino community and Hollywood stars promoting the health benefits of the fruit’s unsaturated fats (Miley Cyrus has an avocado tattoo on her arm), America’s avocado craze has intensified every year. An estimated 135 million pounds of avocados were consumed in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl last month. (The Super Bowl is America’s top avocado day, just ahead of Cinco de Mayo.) “The boom caught everybody by surprise,” says Barnard, whose company is the world’s largest avocado distributor. “We’re really scrambling. We’re growing at 10 to 15 percent per year, but we still can’t keep up with demand.”

一场牛油果大爆发随之而来。1994年,美国人每人每年购买了一磅多这种水果——几乎全部产自加利福尼亚的种植户,他们的收获季只有夏天。如今,这个数字已经增长到了七磅。受不断增长的拉丁裔群体和好莱坞明星对这种水果所含不饱和脂肪的宣传(歌手麦莉·塞勒斯[Miley Cyrus]的胳膊上有一个牛油果文身)所推动,美国的牛油果狂热逐年加剧。上个月的超级碗前几周,美国人购买了约1350万磅牛油果。(超级碗是美国最大的牛油果日,略微领先五月五日节[Cinco de Mayo]。)“这种增长让所有人都很吃惊,”巴纳德说,他的公司是世界上最大的牛油果分销商。“我们真的手忙脚乱。我们每年的增长速度为10%到15%,但还是无法跟上需求。”

Donald Trump has often railed at Nafta as “the worst trade deal ever.” But his focus on the loss of United States manufacturing jobs — felt keenly in the auto and textile industries — misses one of Nafta’s far-reaching benefits: the huge lift it has given to agricultural trade and consumer satisfaction in all three countries. Under Nafta, avocados have led an influx of year-round Mexican produce that has filled the seasonal voids in United States grocery stores and changed the way Americans eat. The avocado boom has caused environmental damage — some of Michoacán’s pine forests have been thinned out for avocado orchards — but it has been good for Americans gorging on guacamole in wintertime and Mexican farmers fending off the urge to join the drug trade or immigrate to the United States. According to a 2016 study commissioned by a marketing group for buyers and producers of Mexican avocados, the avocado supply chain has also created nearly 19,000 jobs in the United States and added more than $2.2 billion to the gross national product.


Even California growers, once vociferous opponents of Mexican imports, are happy with the situation. Land and water are too scarce to expand their seasonal harvests — which are around 10 percent of Mexico’s annual production — but surging demand and prices have buoyed their businesses, too. “Avocados are Nafta’s shining star,” says Monica Ganley, an expert on Latin American trade and the founder of Quarterra, a consulting firm based in Buenos Aires. “But it’s important to remember that the benefits flow in both directions.” Under Nafta, United States agricultural exports to Mexico have expanded nearly fivefold, to $18 billion, with sales of American corn, soybeans and dairy products booming south of the border. “Trade is a multiplier, not a zero-sum game,” Ganley says. “We tend to overstate how much Mexico is dependent on the U.S. But American producers may have more to lose than Mexican producers if Nafta disappears.”

就连曾经强烈反对墨西哥进口的加州种植者也对这种情况感到满意。加州的土地和水太过稀缺,无法扩大季节性收成——他们的年产量大约是墨西哥的10%——但是高涨的需求和价格也提振了他们的生意。“牛油果是北美自由贸易协定的明星,”布宜诺斯艾利斯咨询公司Quarterra的创始人、拉丁美洲贸易专家莫妮卡·甘利(Monica Ganley)说。“但重要的是,要记住,好处是双向的。”由于《北美自由贸易协定》,美国对墨西哥的农业出口增长了近5倍,达到180亿美元,美国的玉米、大豆和奶制品在边境以南销售旺盛。“贸易是一种倍增,不是零和博弈,”甘利说,“我们往往夸大了墨西哥对美国的依赖,但如果《北美自由贸易协定》被取消,那么,美国生产商的损失可能会比墨西哥生产商更沉重。”

Trump hasn’t killed Nafta yet. But as negotiations over a revamped agreement head into their eighth round, a trade war looms. The United States decision last month to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on most countries hangs over the talks, as do the planned trade sanctions against China. Trump offered temporary exemptions to Canada and Mexico, but only with the proviso that they remake Nafta to his liking. Even within the talks, avocado growers in Mexico and California worry that new anti-dumping duties proposed by the United States side could lead to a tit-for-tat retaliation that would harm both sides. “Once it starts,” Barnard asks, “where does it end?”


So long as global demand keeps growing, though, the avocado seems almost impervious to upheaval at home and abroad. The violence in Michoacán, for example, has not curtailed the avocado industry’s goal of increasing exports to the United States by 15 percent this year. Nor would new tariffs necessarily stop Mexican avocado imports: The United States can’t sate its appetite for avocados elsewhere (no other producer is big enough), and the Mexicans have no other market so big and so near. The price of guacamole and avocado toast would go up again, but consumers already showed last year, during a spike in prices, that they might be willing to pay more. The bigger effect might be that avocado producers heighten their efforts in other developing markets, especially the one with most potential: China.


When I lived in Shanghai, I often bicycled to an open-air grocery store run by a woman everybody knew simply as the avocado lady. She was one of the first grocers in the city to carry what is known in Chinese as “butter fruit,” though her clients were mostly grateful expatriates like me or Chinese returning from abroad. Even on days of heavy storms or bitter cold, this hardy entrepreneur was always in her shop before dawn, wearing rubber boots and tallying prices with a pencil. I never learned her name, but last year, in an unnecessary bit of marketing, she hung a crudely painted sign — “The Avocado Lady” — in front of her store.

在上海住的时候,我经常骑自行车去一个露天食杂店。食杂店的老板是个女人,大家都叫她牛油果阿姨。她是上海最早卖牛油果的食杂店老板之一,但她的客户主要是像我一样心存感激的外国人,或是从国外回来的中国人。哪怕是狂风暴雨或严寒刺骨,这位顽强的企业家总是天不亮就到店里,穿着橡胶靴,用铅笔计算价格。我一直不知道她的名字,但去年,她进行了一点不必要的营销,在食杂店前面挂了一个涂刷粗糙的牌子,上面写着“The Avocado Lady”。

A decade ago, avocados were virtually unknown in China. The country imported only two tons in 2010; last year, it brought in 32,100 tons. The trend accelerated in 2017 when KFC ran an ad campaign for its avocado wraps called “Green Is Going Red” (to be hot, that is). It featured a pop star sporting an avocado mustache. The wraps didn’t sell so well, but the ads made avocados cool for China’s millennials.


Mexico was China’s largest supplier of avocados until last year, when it was surpassed by Chile. (Peru is moving in quickly, too.) In the future, the competition may come from China itself. With state backing, some Chinese businessmen are developing avocado plantations in the southern province of Guangxi. If they can come up with an avocado that matches the Latin American variety, at a lower cost, then the global market could shift.


For now, though, China is adjusting. Most avocados sold there are hard and green — often to the confusion of the uninitiated. To solve this problem, Barnard’s Mission Produce built China’s first “ripe center” in Shanghai last year, with another to follow in Shenzhen next year. And Barnard is dreaming big. “If I could put four avocado chunks in every bowl of noodle soup in China,” he muses, “we wouldn’t have enough avocados in the world.” Only Mexican production would come close. And who knows? If American trade policy lurches toward a trade war, the farmers under the volcanoes in Michoacán might be eager to start sending their harvests to China instead.

但目前,中国正在调整。中国卖的牛油果大多又硬又绿,这常常让外行感到困惑。为了解决这个问题,巴纳德的使命生产公司(Mission Produce)去年在上海建立了中国首个“催熟中心”,明年还将在深圳再建一个。巴纳德理想远大。“如果在中国的每一碗汤面里放四块牛油果,”他想,“全世界的牛油果都不够。”只有墨西哥的产量接近。而且谁知道呢?如果美国的贸易政策转向贸易战,米却肯州火山下的农民可能会迫不及待地开始把他们的收成运往中国。