May 15, 2020
George W. Bush, the 43rd U.S. President, may be remembered for a few things: his response after 9/11, leading America into a global recession, and starting a war on terror. But for some South Asians, he’s also remembered for something else: ending a 17-year-long American ban on Indian mangos.
The Indian mango has a complicated diplomatic history. Mangos from India were banned in the U.S. from 1989 until 2006, and have not been widely available since, due to stringent regulations and inspection requirements. While mangos are an extremely popular fruit in South Asia, the fruit is largely ignored in the United States. Americans overwhelmingly prefer fresh bananas and apples, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In 2020, on the heels of a poor crop and COVID-19, there was concern Indian mangos might not even make it to the U.S. Farmers estimated a low mango yield — for example, Alphonso mango yield in 2020 was only 50% the usual — citing high rainfall that has damaged crops and the coronavirus lockdown, which has limited the movement of migrant labor.
The U.S. first banned Indian mango imports in 1989 over pest concerns. It took almost 17 years for Indian mangos to enter America again. In 2006, Bush and then-India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed a nuclear pact that included concessions for Indian imports of American Harley-Davidson motorcycles in exchange for allowing American imports of Indian mangos — a sort of “mango nuclear deal.” Bush ate an Alphonso mango during his visit, calling it a “hell of a fruit.” The first Indian “mango nuclear deal” shipment to the U.S. arrived in April 2007 — the “most eagerly anticipated fruit delivery ever.”