America Trades session details U.S.-Mexico tomato pactMcALLEN, Texas — The new tomato suspension agreement’s arrival came just in time to make it the hot topic at the third annual America Trades Produce conference.

This year’s ATP conference drew around 350 attendees, said Mission-based Texas International Produce Association president Bret Erickson, and a March 7 session detailing floor prices, package and labeling requirements and documentation mandated under the new agreement (established March 4) drew attendees and produced heated discussion.

The conference is a joint venture between TIPA and Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

Details came out about potential pitfalls for shippers and importers under the revamped suspension agreement, and session co-moderator Lance Jungmeyer, FPAA president, stressed the importance of record keeping for all handlers.

Along with two seasonal per-pound reference price tables (from 31-59 cents Oct. 23 to June 30 and from around 2.5-4.7 cents July 1 to Oct. 22 depending on method used to grow and pack), comes expanded requirements for box labeling, Jungmeyer said.

While the wording of the agreement mentions “controlled environment,” Jungmeyer said box wording should be “greenhouse,” for example, for any tomatoes grown indoors, as described in the Florida Tomato Marketing Order.

Grape, cherry and heirloom varieties must be now be labelled “specialty,” Jungmeyer said.

These new requirements complicate matters for repackers, who might import bulk tomatoes before putting them in clamshells, said Martin Ley, vice president of Nogales importer Del Campo Supreme.

Ley, who moderated the session with Jungmeyer, also stressed the importance of documentation.

The fact that the tomato suspension agreement had been in place for 16 years with no violations cited by U.S. regulators is cause for concern, Ley said.

With four specific divisions of tomatoes, where the previous agreement had one, chances are good a company will catch the attention of Department of Commerce regulators, and whoever buys or receives tomatoes will be responsible under Persihable Agricultural Commoties Act, Ley said.

“Someone will be a guinea pig,” he said.

Regarding criticism from some session attendees that the agreement creates too many burdens for importers, Ley was a bit fatalistic but optimistic for the long term.

“This is not about fair,” Ley said. “It’s about what it is.”

Despite the challenges the new suspension agreement may pose for shippers and importers, Ley said Mexico’s tomato industry has a track record of using regulatory requirements as an incentive to modernize and improve its practices.

“I’m convinced it’s going to make Mexico better,” he said of the new regulations.