Trump's wall

Trump’s wall could ding you at the supermarket

Trump's wallTrump’s wall could affect your weekly trip to the supermarket. Instead of getting Mexico to pay for his pet project, as he loudly promised during the presidential campaign, Trump is now floating a 20 percent tariff [“border tax,” as he calls it] on all goods imported from Mexico. That’s going to ding you in the shopping cart.

I called my local supermarket today and spoke with the assistant produce manager, Steve. [He works for Dierberg’s, a high-quality, locally owned chain with 25 stores throughout the St. Louis region and Metro East–Illinois region.] I asked him to list all of the fruits and vegetables that—right now, at the end of January in the Midwest—are imported from Mexico.

Topping his list was avocados. That’s a big one all over the US, according to USAID: Currently, the U.S. imports 78 percent of Mexico’s avocado production.

Okay, so if you’re not a regular guacamole maker, that’s no big deal, right? But avocados are only the beginning.

Steve the produce guy then scrolled a little farther down his Excel spreadsheet and found some other items that the rest of us shoppers buy regularly. He reported that most of the varieties of tomatoes in his store also came from Mexico: Beefsteaks, Comparis, Cherubs and others.

That observation also fits national statistics: USDA says that 71 percent of tomatoes sold in the U.S. come from Mexico. Overall, the US imports $4.9 billion in fresh vegetables per year.

He also noted that essentially all of his supermarket’s strawberries, blackberries and raspberries are imported from Mexico at this time of year. And he’s right on trend there, too: According to US Trade Representative statistics, the US imports $4.3 billion in fresh fruit per year. We also bring in $1.4 billion in processed fruits and vegetables from Mexico. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Mexico is the biggest exporter of fresh produce to the U.S. by far, responsible for nearly 70 percent of our vegetable imports and almost 40 percent of fruit imports. (USDA data from 2015 places the number at 44 percent of all U.S. fruit and vegetable imports.)

So, I asked Steve, if Donald Trump imposes a 20 percent tax on these imports, would you raise your prices by 20 percent as well?

“We could,” he said. “And that would hurt.”

But there could also be trouble in the snack food aisle, as well as in the beverage department. The US imports $2.7 billion in wine and beer from Mexico, and $1.7 billion in snack foods. Under the Trump tariff plan, your tacos-and-Corona parties, as well as those wine-and-cheese events, are going to be pricier. And if you’re fond of tequila shots, they’re probably going to cost more, too. [The U.S. imported over $1.3 billion worth of beer from Mexico last year [Statista, 2016] And we import about 79 percent of Mexico’s total annual exports of tequila [Tequila Regulatory Council, 2014]

Did I mention that 15 percent of all sugar consumed in the US comes from Mexico? Think of all the items on your supermarket shelves that have sugar as an ingredient. Then consider what the manufacturers of those items are going to have to do if sugar costs them 20 percent more. Trump’s scheme will be hitting your wallet when you reach for the Coco Crispies and when you grab a family-size pack of Oreos. You could get a double whammy on jars of pizza and spaghetti sauce, where more pricey tomatoes and more pricey sugar co-mingle.

A 20 percent tariff might, indeed, generate much of the estimated $15 billion cost of Trump’s wall, if you add up the total value of the food imports, plus all of the non-food items we import from Mexico and multiply by .20.

But, if Trump gets his way, when you’re at the checkout counter looking at your receipt; as you load your paper, plastic or reusable bags into the trunk of your car; and as you look at your household budget and wonder why you don’t have as much left over at the end of the month, don’t forget that some of the extra cash you left at the supermarket helped fund a chunk of Trump’s wall. How do you like them tomatoes?