Department of Commerce Plans to Withdraw from the Tomato Suspension Agreement
- by Maggie Mead
NOGALES, AZ - The tomato situation in Mexico is getting a whole lot more complicated, as the Department of Commerce announced its intent to withdraw from the Tomato Suspension Agreement, according to the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA). The association claims that up to 33,000 American jobs will be at risk and tomato prices for U.S. consumers will rise.
According to the FPAA press release, a small group of wealthy tomato farmers associated with the politically connected Florida Tomato Exchange (FTE) are pushing for changes to interstate commerce norms, in an attempt to dominate the tomato market. The FPAA recently submitted a letter to Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to voice its concerns.
“The truth appears to be that leaders of the Florida Tomato Exchange (FTE) are on a campaign to portray themselves as the victims to trade while leveraging U.S. trade law to corner the market and drive out competition,” said FPAA President Lance Jungmeyer in a press release.
The FPAA has estimated that even with a conservative 5 percent reduction in supplies of Mexican tomatoes, consumers would wind up paying up to 25 cents more per pound at the grocery store, or up to $790 million per year more for tomatoes, according to a cited University of Arizona report.
“This decision has an immediate bearing on the future of our businesses,” wrote Jungmeyer in the letter to Secretary Ross. “Our sole purpose is to fulfill the needs of American consumers, who have voted with their pocketbooks and taste buds in favor of Mexican tomatoes.”
America’s demands for vine-ripened tomatoes, tomatoes-on-the-vine, romas, cherry and grape tomatoes, and organics in recent decades has been increasingly filled by farms in Mexico—a region with a climate uniquely suited to tomatoes. A supply chain has built up that supports over 33,000 U.S. jobs and nearly $3 billion in U.S. GDP.
The FPAA urged the DOC to continue the Tomato Suspension Agreement, which prevents expensive duties on Mexican tomatoes, ensuring continued supplies of consumers’ preferred tomatoes. The letter also makes major claims about the nature of the FTE’s interest in pulling out of the Suspension Agreement.
“In the tomato suspension agreement case, our members are being besieged by a handful of wealthy Florida tomato grower/importers intent on reducing competition from their U.S. import competitors,” the letter said.
Florida farmers continue to grow gassed-green tomatoes—a process from before World War II, where tomatoes are picked green and then artificially “de-greened” in gas rooms with ethylene gas. Consumer demand for the gassed tomatoes has soured, with shoppers instead preferring vine-ripened tomatoes from other growing regions. The FPAA claims that instead of focusing on Mexico, the FTE should be looking internally to improve the products it is delivering to consumers.
“Meanwhile, Florida Tomato Exchange and its handful of large, wealthy growers blame Mexico for their change in production totals over the last 15 years, instead of pursuing innovations that would win consumer favor,” said the letter.
According to the press release, the FTE claims harm coming from Mexican tomato imports, despite having been driving investments and partnerships in Mexico.
“It simply is not fair for Commerce to bow to pressure from these few FTE companies and hold hostage the renegotiation of the Tomato Suspension Agreement,” stated the letter. “This is especially unfair when you consider that a significant portion of these same companies are major growers, importers, purchasers and resellers of the very Mexican tomatoes they claim as the source of their demise.”
AndNowUKnow will continue to deliver updates on the Tomato Suspension Agreement as the story develops.