" [The m]ajority of consumers feel that New Mexican grown chile is better than chile grown in Mexico and…other foreign countries."—New Mexico Chile Association 2009 consumer survey
As much as Santa Feans love their “buy local” mantra, international trade is crucial to New Mexico’s economy. Foreign-owned companies employ one in 50 New Mexico workers, according to the most recent available figures from the US Department of Commerce. According to a July Brookings Institution report, Albuquerque has become the most export-dependant metro area in the Mountain West.
Unfortunately, the rest of the world is in a recession, too.
Exports from this state—chiefly crude oil, aircraft engines and circuit boards—declined by $1.5 billion last year. So far, 2010 is looking somewhat better for companies selling abroad, according to census data for May. But New Mexico’s overall share of US export trade, which was always a tiny number, has declined further in the past several years—from .3 to .1 percent—and is not recovering at the same pace.
Sometimes, trade is about more than dollars. It’s also about dignity. And New Mexico’s pride is at risk, too. The state’s fifth fastest-growing foreign import is “fruits of genus capsicum or pimenta, fresh/chilled.” That is to say, chile. Chile imports increased by 45 percent to $30 million last year.
According to the New Mexico Chile Association, the industry is in crisis thanks to competition from countries with lower labor costs and reduced regulation—particularly China. A 2009 association survey found that most restaurateurs in the state thought it was important to buy and serve New Mexico-grown chile, but only one-third were “very willing” to pay an extra 20 cents on the dollar for it.
Another import on the rise: “personal weighing machines/household scales.” New Mexicans spent $17 million to import these items in 2009, up $5 million from the prior year. Either people are worried about their figures (too much Chinese chile?), or the medical marijuana industry is making a major capital investment.