(Oct. 28) As if we didn’t know it already, Mexico is here to stay as a force in the U.S. produce market.

That fact was further cemented by the announcement of the MexBest initiative, which aims to boost the image and quality of Mexico’s fresh produce.

Among several aspects, MexBest includes a seal of quality for exporters, a 5 a Day-style promotional program for its citizens and the start of a direct buying program to link retailers with Mexican producers.

The program was unveiled by Javier Usabiaga, Mexico’s secretary of agriculture, at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit 2002 on Oct. 11-15 in New Orleans.

Along with the eight-piece mariachi band and five-person cooking crew in his entourage, Usabiaga brought along the most extensive representation of Mexico’s industry — more than 200 people — in recent memory, if not ever.

Even the financial sector was on hand, touting the FACE Agricola program, which came about to support direct buying. To assure that growers who sell to U.S. and Canadian retailers have necessary capital to work with, financial institutions can purchase the growers’ accounts receivables and provide a discounted payment within 48 hours of receiving a retailer’s acknowledgement of payment.

The MexBest initiative was timed to the opening of the first Mexico office of the Fruit & Vegetable Dispute Resolution Corp. and implementation of produce inspection services in major cities.

Mexico takes its image-building seriously. U.S. television news shows deriding the quality and safety of Mexican produce have presented the industry in a negative light. Now, Mexican hass avocados are the first to be certified to carry the seal, which reads “Mexico Calidad Selecta,” or “Mexico Select Quality.”

As the North American marketplace continues to evolve, the effort by Mexico to stake its reputation on product quality, financial accountability and increasing consumption is well-advised.