Our story starts at JFK Airport with a man unsuccessfully trying to sneak a bag of Indian mangoes into the country. Stuck with his loot, he ate three or four kilos rather than trashing them.
Also though, he influenced U.S. India trade negotiations.
The Mango and Motorcycle Trade
India is the home of the world’s tastiest mangoes. The U.S. is not.
So, after our mango “smuggler” met his son, Bhaskar Savani at the airport, they decided to do something about the ban. In our shorter version of a long story, Dr. Savani (a U.S. dentist) made sure that President George Bush tasted the King of Mangoes, the Alphonso, before a 2006 trip to India. While there he negotiated a trade deal that was reputedly all about nuclear power.
However, because George Bush really liked those Indian mangoes, they also talked about fruit. The U.S. wanted more Harley-Davidson motorcycles to go there but they were blocked because of their emissions. And India wanted more mangoes to go to us but we banned them because of the mango seed weevil. The result? They agreed to let the motorcycles in if Harley complied with European Union emissions standards. And we said okay for the mangoes if they were irradiated before coming here.
Yes, we had a deal.
Our Bottom Line: The Fruits of Trade
As economists we would say our story is about comparative advantage. As consumers, it takes us to variety.
Comparative advantage: India has the comparative advantage for growing mangoes. First expressed by 19th century economist David Ricardo, comparative advantage just means devoting your land, labor, and capital to whatever you do better. Then when others make what you don’t create and they too do it better, everyone is more productive.
Variety: Because of our 2006 trade deal with India we got access to the world’s best mangoes. Similarly, because of NAFTA, the amount of fruit and vegetables we eat from Mexico and Canada has multiplied geometrically. Or, thinking of a non-NAFTA world, please just imagine supermarkets with many fewer Hass avocados, cantaloupes, grapes, mangoes (not as good as India’s), papayas, limes, strawberries, and watermelon.
In addition, when you look at all the fruit we eat, 53.1% is imported (2016). For vegetables the total is 31.1% (2016):
Where does that leave us? I’m going to look for Indian mangoes.
My sources and more: Always, interesting, Gastropod had a wonderful podcast on the mango. Only the beginning, the podcast took me to more on the motorcycle connection at Munchies and to the NY Times. Then, to complete the picture, I recommend this NY Times article on fruit and vegetable imports.