On Sept. 27, the Department of Commerce announced its intention to scuttle the 16-year tomato suspension agreement that has provided stability to the marketplace.
In a flurry of letters in mid-September, congressmen from the important swing state of Florida demanded that the Department of Commerce immediately terminate the agreement and anti-dumping investigation.
Florida didn’t get all it wanted, but it has set the stage to get what it wants.
While the suspension agreement has been in place, Mexico’s tomato industry has made great strides in producing tomatoes that consumers want and crave.
Supermarket shelves have abundant varieties, from cocktail tomatoes to tomatoes on the vine, from multicolored heirlooms to pear-shaped varieties.
Using sophisticated seeds from U.S., Israeli and Dutch seed breeders, Mexico has even been able to improve the shelf life and flavor of standards such as romas and round field tomatoes.
Meanwhile, Florida largely relies on old technology — picking tomatoes green, storing them for long periods and gassing them with ethylene to turn them red, but not really ripe.
Shoppers are wise to this and have been bypassing Florida tomatoes, which is the real reason for the amazing growth in Mexican tomato volumes.
The announcement by the Department of Commerce potentially paves the way for Florida growers to achieve their goal — to file a new anti-dumping suit and effectively block Mexican tomatoes from the market.
These growers stand to reap huge financial gains by cornering the winter and early spring tomato market — at the expense of U.S. consumers.
Florida claims that 80 U.S. growers represent 90% of the U.S. production, and that this is basis enough for terminating the agreement. The Department of Commerce decided to ignore refuting evidence from the Mexican growers, and rushed its decision.
What this whole case boils down to is a select group of U.S. growers using protectionism to cut their competitors’ throats.
The building pressure from the Florida industry and its congressional delegation the closer we get to election day has been wholly inappropriate.
The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas sent a letter to President Obama stating as much, but unfortunately we were ignored.
So were the 370 other letters from U.S. entities stating that they preferred the stability that the tomato trade pact has brought to U.S.-Mexico relations.