In a move that could disrupt a $2.4 billion industry, the United States has temporarily halted safety inspections of avocados and mangoes in Mexico following an attack on two U.S. agricultural officials. The incident, which occurred in the state of Michoacán, highlights the ongoing security concerns in the region, which is a major exporter of these fruits.

According to a statement from U.S. Ambassador Ken Salazar, the two employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) were assaulted and briefly detained while conducting inspections. The officials were released unharmed, but the U.S. has paused inspections until the security situation can be reassessed and improved.

"To guarantee the safety of our agricultural inspection teams, APHIS has suspended the avocado and mango inspections in Michoacán until these security problems have been resolved," Salazar stated.

The inspections are crucial because U.S. regulations require that imported avocados and mangoes be free of diseases that could threaten American crops. The suspension thus poses a significant challenge for Michoacán, Mexico's largest exporter of avocados.

Governor Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla of Michoacán downplayed the severity of the incident, describing it as a protest by local residents rather than a targeted attack on the inspectors. He assured that state forces are providing security for avocado producers and packers and expressed optimism that inspections would resume shortly.

"I hope we have good news in the coming hours," Bedolla told Mexico's Radio Formula, suggesting that the situation could be resolved as early as Thursday.

The producers and packers association in Mexico also released a statement, emphasizing that the incident was unrelated to the avocado industry. They are working closely with government officials from both countries to resume exports as soon as possible. The association has previously warned that its members are frequent targets of violence and extortion by organized crime groups.

This isn't the first time security issues have affected avocado exports from Michoacán. In February 2022, the U.S. temporarily suspended inspections after a plant-safety inspector received a threatening message. The recent suspension echoes those concerns and underscores the precarious balance between agricultural trade and security in the region.

Despite the current pause, exports of avocados and mangoes already in transit will not be affected. Additionally, avocados from Jalisco, the second Mexican state authorized to export to the U.S., will continue to flow into the American market.

A prolonged suspension, however, could have a significant impact on the avocado market, which has seen growing demand in the U.S. in recent years. The USDA has stated that inspections will remain paused "until the security situation is reviewed and protocols and safeguards are in place."

Governor Bedolla has been in constant communication with U.S. officials, providing assurances that export conditions are secure. He expressed hope that the suspension could be lifted swiftly, potentially within a few days.

"I hope that with the measures we are taking together with the U.S. embassy... the exports of this valuable product to the United States can be resumed in the next few hours," Bedolla said in an interview. "It could reopen Wednesday or Thursday, perhaps even today."