Interview: Mario Haroldo Robles Escalante – CIDH

Mario Haroldo Robles Escalante is the current director of the Commission for the Investigation and Defense of Vegetables (CIDH), a recognized official of the agricultural organisms; his experience and trajectory has benefited the horticultural sector of Sinaloa and Mexico for five decades.

We present an interview conducted in November by the journalist Antonio Quevedo Susunaga, in the program Brechando of Sinaloa Autonomous University Radio (UAS); in the framework of the Economist of the Year Award given to Mr. Robles by the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences of the UAS.

  1. ¿Could you tell us about your professional experience from its beginnings until today?

I started in the agricultural organizations from my second year of the Economics degree, which helped me in my professional development since the tools that I was learning in the school, I was using them during the time that I was working in the Growers Association of Culiacan (AARC); I was in the Department of Economic Studies and much of my work was the statistical analysis of the export of vegetables, immediately had contact with the tomato problem.

In 1971 I did my thesis work called “The Economic Regulation, Foreign Trade and Restrictions of the United States to the Import of Fresh Tomato”, for which I received a recognition from the National Association of Economists.

In 1979, develop another research that was later published under the title: “The Displacement of the Balance Point as Economic Criterion for the Planning of Tomato Sowing in the State of Sinaloa”

In 1969 I started to collaborate for the National Union of Vegetable Producers (UNPH), of which I was general manager for 18 years, until 1987. During my time at the head of the UNPH I had the opportunity to incorporate 24 producers into the organization from all states of Mexico.

I was a professor at the School of Economics of the UAS between 1970 and 1973, and continue being in the UNPH, it was something that I enjoyed a lot, however due to my commitments in the organization and due to lack of time I could not continue.

From 1997 to date I am Director of the CIDH, an organization of the Confederation of Agricultural Associations of the State of Sinaloa (CAADES), as you can see, I have always worked in the Horticultural Sector.

  1. How do you consider the production of vegetables has evolved?

I think the Sinaloa producers have been very innovative, they have had a great opening to incorporate technology from other countries; the last generation of innovations in the matter of investigation; adapts to the specific conditions of Sinaloa in a way that works, since not always what is best for production in another part of the world will be the best for production in our state and I believe that farmers have had the ability to do so.

I remember very well for example, a transfer of technology that was made in the 70’s and that changed the way of producing, which was made through agreements that we developed with the Volcani Institute of Agricultural Research and with the Hebrew University of Israel for the development of products with a long shelf life and greater firmness that gave us a comparative advantage in terms of consistency, quality, production and yields that was reflected shortly afterwards in the market, in the preference of consumers for the Sinaloa product.

Another important phase of the productive evolution was the implementation of the technology under plastic covers that are now the greenhouses or the shadow houses, not only in Sinaloa, but through the Expoagro itself that was in charge of a certain way of being the showcase so that other production areas of the country came to see how was the production in Sinaloa under protected covers. Now I can say that the production under this scheme is in the whole country, we are the main ones but there is a great diversification, which has allowed Mexico precisely after the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 triplicate the export of vegetables to the United States.

I believe that growers and I have learned in a mutual way, interacting with them has always been a learning experience for me and for them it has been a way of having a different approach, providing strategies that can be useful for solving problems. This has been my objective during my time in the Growers Association, the National Union of Vegetable Producers, the Del Monte Fresh Company and CAADES through the CIDH.

  1. ¿How it has increased and how important is the production of vegetables?

At the present time the export of vegetables has grown a lot worldwide, even other states of Mexico have increased their exports in the last twenty years.

The Sinaloa growers themselves have diversified their production to other states, looking for the ideal conditions for summer crops that it is not possible to have here in Sinaloa, with the intention of having a constant supply throughout the year.

Part of the strengthening and promotion of the horticultural sector was coordinated by the UNPH, through conventions where we had conferences with researchers, specialists and producers to address the main chalenges of horticulture.

They were very large events, since the horticultural sector is related to diverse areas: transporters, brokers, suppliers, sellers of seeds, in short, a highly branched sector.

That is why at that time, we held these conventions where we invited horticulturists from all over the country, supply markets, vegetable distributors, importers from the United States, commercial chains and everyone involved with the value chain of vegetables, these were events where we gave a report of everything that was done in horticultural matter during the year and in some occasions we had the opportunity to have the presence of the President of Mexico, Secretaries of Agriculture and Economy.

They were very important events, with a wide diffusion, where national television and newspapers were present, something extraordinary.

  1. ¿How is the relationship in foreign trade between Mexico and the United States?

For many years we have had negotiations on foreign trade issues with the United States. We have records that in 1936 a group of growers from Sinaloa went to the United States Congress to protest because a tariff problem and later of that for a situation that had to do with trade practices.

In my experience, I started with the issues of dumping demands being a director of the UNPH, in 1970 with a demand from American producers that did not prosper. I was separated from organizations for five years and on my return was to take charge of this division of vegetables, CIDH of CAADES in this area that fascinates me.

The issue of foreign trade started in 1936 but it is something that does not end yet, we have two important issues in this matter, one is an anti-dumping agreement of the tomato that we signed in 1996, derived from an investigation that was made to us, which resulted in the imposition of a 17.5% tariff; to date we have not paid for it, since we signed an agreement by private producers with the United States government to suspend the investigation and subject ourselves to a series of conditions that we have been fulfilling for the last twenty years.

  1. ¿Currently, what is the role of the CIDH in matter of foreign trade with the United States?

In CIDH of CAADES we have the responsibility to take everything related to the horticultural industy, a very varied subject that has to do with: transport, commerce, technology transfer and research; however, much of our work over the last ten years has focused on defending the interests of farmers in various fields.

One of them is the one I mentioned earlier, the case of dumping that is in force, for which we have an agreement, which lasts five years and has to be renewed, the last one we signed in 2013 and expires in next March 2018, the next year we will enter into negotiations with the American government.

To this is added the renegotiation of NAFTA, on which we have an important participation in the meetings of “Cuarto de Junto”, where we were included from the first round of negotiations in Mexico City, after that in Washington, City of Mexico, Otawa, Washington and this week again in Mexico City, where I participate along with Eng. Rosario Antonio Beltrán Ureta, President of the CIDH. In these meetings also participate the President of the National Agricultural Council (CAN) and the president of the Mexican Association of Protected Horticulture AC (AMHPAC), we have an active participation to assist the government of Mexico and the private sector in relation to this negotiation.

There are many negotiating tables; however, our main contribution is in the tables of commercial issues, labor, sanitary and phytosanitary measures and agriculture in general, which has to do with the imports made by Mexico of the United States of grains such as corn, beans, soybeans, etc.

So far the negotiations have been complicated, since the US position has been very hard, President Donald Trump considers that it has to reduce in some way the trade deficit that the United States has with the world, and considers that it can achieve it changing the terms of NAFTA.

  1. ¿Which agricultural products would have the greatest impact with a NAFTA amendment?

The United States Trade Representative (USTR), which represents the negotiations of the White House, recently convened to a public hearing in the United States, where Florida producers presented an initiative to modify the antidumping laws of their country, so that they can be made vegetable and fruit research on a seasonal basis and without having to have national representation.

This means that if this modification becomes effective, immediate tariff measures could be applied, according to the formality of an investigation, but this investigation could be requested from any region or any state, without the need to seek a national consensus or collective demands.

Naturally, this is a very dangerous situation in terms of foreign trade, Mexico, the United States and Canada are members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) which establishes rules that must be respected and the NAFTA must be within these WTO rules. This initiative presented by Florida producers through the USTR is against the rules of trade and I think it will be a proposal that will be materially unacceptable for Mexico, I do not know what the consequence will be, but I think that in no way should Mexico take a step back in that matter.

These conflicts are related to the way the United States wants to handle the terms of trade, Mexico represents only one fifth of the trade deficit that US has with China, that means China has five times more trade deficit than with us than Mexico.

  1. Something you want to add

To thank Eleven Rivers and Radio UAS for the opportunity to use the space to talk about the horticulture in Sinaloa, on the occasion of the recognition that the Faculty of Economics gave for my professional career, in the frame of the 65th anniversary of the founding of the School of Economics of the Autonomous University of Sinaloa.