- By Rachel BrownRachel Brown is a research associate in Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
An unexpected source of sweetness has been injected into U.S.-Pakistani relations. Late last month the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that the first shipment of mangoes imported from Pakistan had arrived in the United States. Previously, Pakistani mangoes had been banned in the U.S. because of concerns they might bring pests into the country.
In celebration of this first shipment, the Pakistani consulate in Chicago hosted a "mango party" at which a large assortment of mango-based delicacies and desserts were served. Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani attended the event and has also sent boxes of renowned "Chaunsa" mangoes to U.S. leaders including the president and various senators. Ambassador Haqqani heralded the event as the culmination of "two years of strategic dialogue with the Americans," in an effort that reached to officials at the highest levels of the U.S. foreign policy establishment including Secretary of State Clinton and the late Af-Pak envoy Richard Holbrooke. Ambassador Haqqani declared, "this is something we are very happy about…at a time when U.S. Pakistan relations are being reported as tense, this is finally some sweet news."
With nearly $250 million in mangoes coming in each year, the United States is currently the world’s largest mango importer. Pakistan is the world’s sixth largest mango producer. Many hope that these mangoes will promote more trade between the U.S. and Pakistan, and mark a transition for Pakistan from aid recipient to equal economic partner.
Across the Pacific, China too has begun to use fruit to further its political and diplomatic aims. The Chinese government has been purchasing large quantities of Taiwanese fruit in an effort to influence the votes of southern Taiwanese farmers. Taiwan has a major fruit overproduction problem. Chinese officials hope that by buying the excess fruit and helping the farmers economically, they may be able to sway them politically and take votes away from the nationalist Democratic People’s Party in the 2012 presidential election.
In May 2005, China announced a "zero-tariff" policy on 15 Taiwanese fruits, a move the Taiwanese government considered "an all-out united front campaign to manipulate Taiwan’s farmers" and one that is aimed "to temper Taiwan’s negative reaction to the passage of the ‘anti-separation law’" (which outlines China’s willingness to violently respond to a Taiwanese declaration of independence). Then in 2008, when Taiwan was overproducing oranges, a Chinese company purchased 1,200 tons of oranges. Between 2009 and 2010, fruit exports from Taiwan to China grew nearly 130 percent. This summer, as Taiwanese banana growers have struggled with overproduction, the Chinese government has once again expressed a willingness to help out. The governor of Shandong province alone has pledged to purchase 5,000 tons of bananas.
Of course, when fruit goes bad it can complicate diplomacy. Last month, nearly 100 Americans contracted salmonella from imported Mexican papayas. Currently, officials on both sides of the border are working hard to make sure that relations between the two countries do not sour as a result of the diseased fruit.